SERIES REVIEW: Halal Gap
Director: Hirzi Zulkiflie and Benjamin Kheng
Cast: Hirzi Zulkiflie, Benjamin Kheng, Adlina Adil, Erwin Shah Ismail, Rusydina Afiqah
Language: English and Malay, with English subtitles
Runtime: 7 minutes
The BenZi Project is a web channel of comedy sketches written, directed and performed by Singaporean talents Benjamin Kheng and Hirzi Zulkiflie. Unlike their standalone sketches, Halal Gap is an episodic series with two episodes available on their YouTube channel.
In the first Halal Gap sketch, Nadia brings her Chinese-Japanese boyfriend, Adam, home for a meal arranged by her dramatic and overly critical mother (Hirzi Zulkiflie). The second sketch takes place during Ramadan when Adam tries fasting for the first time.
Review by Nadia Alang
Interracial relationships have been a plot-driver in a number of Singaporean shows as they are not uncommon in our multiracial society and the complications surrounding them make for good drama. Rarely do we see them framed in a lighthearted manner as in BenZi’s Halal Gap sketches.
Beginning with Adam (Benjamin Kheng) meeting his girlfriend’s (Adlina Adli) mother for the first time, the first sketch centralises a hilarious portrayal of the stereotypical makcik – gossipy, dramatic and judgemental.
Although the situation is exaggerated by the supporting characters for comic effect, the relevance is not undermined – we empathise with Adam as he grasps at straws to gain Makcik’s approval only to be shot down by her quick-fire questions and unnerving glares.
Nonetheless, the reality of the uncomfortable situation is balanced masterfully with hilarious cultural references and bursts of dark humour targeted at the mindsets of today’s society – “Diets are a myth. What if I told you the rice fields were home to micro-organisms and insects? Would you still eat it?” The interaction between Adam and Makcik is also accompanied with impressive videography that pans in and out of their faces for a comical, dramatic effect.
The second Halal Gap sketch, His First Ramadan, comes timely with the Ramadan period and I find it interesting how it veers away from humour in some instances to give time for insight into Adam and Nadia’s relationship.
The visuals in both sketches are impressively striking, with sufficient attention paid to the surroundings of the modern Malay household – plants, ceramics, fabrics mixed with modern paintings and textures. Although packed, the colour palette used makes each scene visually appealing. I appreciate the modern take on Malay culture as well, which is also prominent in the inclusion of Malay food and traditional costumes. The script for the second episode even tackles misconceptions about fasting during Ramadan.
Despite the focus on Malay culture, the script, as well as the interracial cast, make the sketches relatable to the average Singaporean millennial. In fact, the inclusion of socially diverse characters – an Indonesian maid and a handicapped character – shows an acknowledgement of Singapore’s complex society.
In this way, the sketches are not just humorous and creative but also socially inclusive and addresses social issues that commercial shows tend to be more conservative about. This is not limited to the Halal Gap sketches but can also be seen in the other sketches under the BenZi Project.
Overall, it is a pleasant surprise to see local talents from different strands of media coming together not only to entertain but to engage viewers in conversations relevant to social and cultural issues. Granted, I might just reading too much into it – but even taken at surface value, this is still one of the most enjoyable Singaporean comedies I’ve seen in awhile.