3 April 2020
By Ethel Pang
Temujin’s official artwork. Image provided by Isabel Fang.
This February, Yale-NUS College’s alumnus Mr Roshan Singh (Class of 2018) successfully launched a free-to-access, five-part radio drama series titled Temujin: An Audio Drama on Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and other major audio distribution platforms. Adapted from the Central Asian epic Secret History of the Mongols, Temujin unravels the rarely-told story of Genghis Khan (who was once named Temujin) through the lens of his childhood-friend-turned-rival, Jamukha.
The script for Temujin was originally written as Mr Singh’s senior capstone project, winning him the “Outstanding Capstone Project Award for Arts and Humanities” in 2018. For the next two years after his graduation, he continued to work on adapting the script into a professional production. This involved launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the project and recruiting Yale-NUS current students and alumni to work as voice talents, producers and sound designers. The result is a well-reviewed, quality piece of art –– and free to consume, no less.
Undergirding all that however, Mr Singh describes Temujin as “a project driven by love”. After all, much of his inspiration for this project was fuelled by his close friend Amarbold Lkhagvasuren (also from Class of 2018), who later worked on the audio drama as an Executive Producer.
Mr Amarbold Lkhagvasuren (left) and Mr Roshan Singh (right), on their research trip to Mongolia. Image provided by Mr Singh.
Their friendship began in 2014 when Mr Singh and Mr Lkhagvasuren were assigned as suitemates. In 2016, they both decided to do summer programmes at Yale. Mr Singh recounted a pivotal conversation they shared that sparked an idea for the project, “I met someone who was adamant that all of the world’s epics had already been done to death, and that there wasn’t much point in large-scale epics anymore. I conveyed this to Mr Lkhagvasuren – who was furious.”
Mr Lkhagvasuren, who is Mongolian, then passed Mr Singh a full list of readings on his native history – one of which was the Secret History of the Mongols, the oldest surviving work of Mongolian literature – and declared that “The historical Genghis Khan was more interesting than Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”
Since then, Mr Singh has been gripped by the story of Temujin, and he knew that this would be the topic for his capstone project. He started his research in 2016, but only started drafting the script in mid to late 2017, after running into some challenges.
From deciding the narrative approach to having to condense rich materials into a script for a drama, Mr Singh faced several struggles along the way. On a more personal level, he was also unfortunately hospitalised during a critical part of the capstone process.
He shared, “Just as the script finally started coming together and I was preparing to hold auditions for a staging of Temujin, a number of things cropped up. A congenital heart condition started severely flaring up. I was weakened from that and developed a 40-degree fever that had me in intense pain for weeks on end.
I eventually returned to school a couple of weeks from the capstone deadline, and I can’t remember what bit of madness compelled me to try to finish the play––but it came together just on time. We managed to pull together a team of close friends to perform a dramatic reading of Temujin in the Black Box for two fully-packed nights, most of whom actually went on to form the cast for our public release two years later.”
Despite the speedbumps however, Mr Singh describes the journey as one that was surprisingly smooth.
Looking back on his journey, Mr Singh reflected that his learning experience in the College was valuable in producing the audio drama, “Just about every part of this project was an extension of my time at Yale-NUS. The Anthropology classes for example taught me how to do ethnographic research, and how to approach cross-cultural study with respect and care. Literature also helped me with close reading. Even Quantitative Reasoning came in handy during the data processing necessary for the digital marketing and outreach phases of the production.”
Above all, Mr Singh is thankful for the team of close to 30 people––almost all of whom were his peers and friends from the College, who contributed to the final product. He also extends his gratitude to the faculty and staff who provided their invaluable support to the project: Senior Associate Director (Arts), Mr Gurjeet Singh, Assistant Manager (Arts Programmes), Ms Nabila Binte Abu Talib and their team as well as Professor of Humanities (Literature) and Director of the Division of Humanities, Rajeev S. Patke.
Students and alumni who were involved in the production were also glad to be part of what they described as a “Yale-NUS production through and through”.
Behind-the-scenes of recording the audio drama, which was done in the Yale-NUS recording studio. Image provided by Mr Singh.
Scott Chua (Class of 2020), who was involved in the project since its early stages: from providing Mr Singh with feedback on the script, to reading for one of the minor characters in the capstone presentation, to being a full-fledged voice actor for the audio drama, said, “I love that Yale-NUS is a place where an Economics major like myself has the opportunity to get involved in a production like this. I don’t just mean that students are free to use the College facilities like the recording studio, where the audio drama was recorded, but also how the community is steeped in a culture of curiosity––both intellectual and creative.”
In Mr Singh’s case, Temujin marries both. Temujin, other than being a personal triumph of Mr Singh’s, also exemplifies how the College is a space of creative collaboration for students and even alumni alike.