Eleven-year-old Indian boy Denzyl Dharma is the star of a new local movie Wayang Boy, in which he has to sing Peking opera tunes on top of speaking most of his lines in Mandarin.
In the Mandarin-English movie, the Primary 5 pupil at Gan Eng Seng school plays Raja, a boy from India who tries to fit into his new home in Singapore and stumbles onto a foreign art form - Chinese opera.
"The hardest part about Chinese opera is the singing, sometimes I go off-pitch," he says at a press event for the movie on Tuesday.
He underwent training for about three months before shooting the movie last month.
This is not the first time the talented lad, who can speak Mandarin, has done Chinese opera. Wayang Boy is the feature-length extension of the 40-minute film Wa Is For Wayang (2011), which screened at the Singapore Discovery Centre from October 2011 to earlier this month.
Director Raymond Tan, 41, says a full-length film was also in his plans because he found there were plenty of stories to tell about Chinese opera. He also wanted to raise awareness of the fading traditional art here.
Due to budget constraints, he filmed a short film in 2010, before approaching the Singaporeheadquartered mm2 Entertainment two years later to produce the movie.
The $1-million Wayang Boy, Tan's feature film directorial debut, is slated for release later this year, and also features local actors Chen Tianwen, Kym Ng and Chua Enlai, and Hong Kong veterans Michelle Yim and Law Kar Ying.
The director was blown away by Denzyl's audition in 2010 when the boy was only seven years old.
Tan says: "He recited a few verses of Martin Luther King's famed speech, I Have A Dream. He not only memorised the speech, but also put in emotions. He tried to emote as King did in a YouTube clip he had watched."
Hong Kong star Law, who plays a teacher fighting to keep Raja's school's Chinese opera troupe from shutting down, is similarly impressed by the boy.
Speaking in Cantonese-accented Mandarin in a video clip aired at the press conference, the 67-year- old actor says: "Denzyl's advantage is that he knows how to speak Mandarin. His command of Chinese is about the same as mine, which isn't great. So the two of us can communicate really well."
Denzyl, the only child of a software firm vice-president and a beauty salon owner, studies Chinese as a second language in school and scores an average of 60 marks in the subject.
His father, Mr Yashasvi Joseph Dharma, 43, believes he is cut out for acting: "Denzyl is pretty animated at home, so I thought he could try out acting. When he went for a photo shoot at a talent agency in 2009, the photographer told me that my son was a professional - none of the other kids were so patient during the shoot."
Denzyl exhibited the same ability to endure long shoots during the filming of Wayang Boy.
Director Tan says: "Child actors tend to have quite limited patience. When they get tired on set, they will just say they want to go home. I never heard Denzyl say that he's tired or wants to stop, even after 12 hours of shooting."
Denzyl has already nabbed another acting assignment, a role in a Chinese movie to be shot in Beijing. He is likely to fly over for filming later this year.
Mr Dharma says: "Studies are important, but I don't expect him to get fantastic scores of 90 or 100. To me, I want my son to do what he's interested in. I think he can carve out a good career in acting."
At Denzyl's school, he is already well known among his peers. However, it is not his autograph his schoolmates are asking for.
Denzyl, who hopes to enrol in the School of the Arts after his Primary School Leaving Examination, says: "Some ask me to get autograph of stars. They mostly ask for Kym Ng's autograph."
Wayang Boy will be shown later in the year.
"Denzyl's advantage is that he knows how to speak Mandarin. His command of Chinese is about the same as mine, which isn't great.
So the two of us can communicate really well."
Hong Kong veteran actor Law Kar Ying on his co-star
This article was first published on July 19, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.