Sunday, 24 January 2010

An interview with Bissme S in the Sun, 2007

My Google Alerts led me to discovering this article by an old journalist friend of mine, Bissme S who writes for The Sun. Found it on his blog at If I remember right, it was just before we staged P.Ramlee The Musical.

I guess this was one of the interviews I most enjoyed giving. Thanks for that, Bissme. I'm gonna save this on my own blog for posterity, for my old and gray days, when I someday look back at my life and read about what I did and what I wanted to do, and think back at all the energy and passion I had (have!) and what made me tick.

Bissme says on his blog:
This blog will highlight some of the interesting interviews I have done as a journalist with the sun newspaper. I really believe what makes these interview interesting is not my writing style but their honest answers to the question I have thrown at them. Through their answers and opinions, indirectly I learne more about the society I live in... I learned about their dreams, desires and frustrations. Hope you enjoy reading these interviews as much as I have fun writing them.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tiara Jacquelina (Producer cum Actress)

Our interview took place at the swanky theatre company Istana Budaya. She showed me some of the magnificient set that is going to appeared on the stage. After the touring was over, we sat down for our serious interview. The article appears in the sun on Oct 18 2007

Headline: Tiara's bent on a sparkling life
Bissme S.
Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina has seen major successes in her film and stage work these past several years. Her epic film, the RM20 million Puteri Gunung Ledang, was showcased at the Venice Film Festival and also became the first Malaysian production to be entered for the Oscars in the foreign film category. In 2005, the film won Tiara the Best Producer award at the Asian Film Festival in Singapore and the Best Actress award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival. Made into a stage musical the following year, it swept eight of the 12 theatre awards at the recent Boh Cameronian Arts awards. Tiara goes on to tell the story of P. Ramlee, the legendary entertainer, in P. Ramlee The Musical which opens today at Istana Budaya. BISSME S. learns that Tiara sets the standards and pushes the boundaries in the entertainment industry. Her latest musical is bigger and grander than PGL The Musical, boasting a budget, and cast and crew twice that of the latter. P. Ramlee The Musical promises to match any Broadway show staged here. Tiara divides her time between her career and her responsibilities as wife to Minister in Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohd Effendi Norwawi and mother to Hani Karmila, 10 and Mohd Eridani, eight. She also talks about the difficulty of changing the old mindset, competing in this era of globalisation, and putting Malaysia on the world entertainment map.

theSun: What are the greatest challenges you face in the entertainment industry?
Convincing people to want to change. Convincing people to get out from an old mindset and to think differently from how they ever thought before. There are 10 different ways to skin a cat.
You can do things the way you have been doing all this time. Or you can say to yourself : "Hey, we have never done this in Malaysia and this is only done in Hollywood or the West End. Can we try to do it differently this time?"
It is very difficult to change people's mindset.
Yes. People are so used to the tried and tested way. Nothing will change in this world if we do not push boundaries and say "Let us change". Someone has to take the risk. Someone has to push the bar.

Who do you need to convince the most to change?
It is convincing people all around ... convincing the creative people of this industry, convincing the bureaucrats and convincing even the friends in media. I am sure, earlier, my friends in the media were wondering what this girl is up to.
Everyone must understand this is the age of globalisation and soon, in every aspect, Malaysia is going to compete with the rest of the world - from making cars to making movies. Our competition is no longer other Malaysian production houses. You are competing with the rest of the world.

Why do you say that?
Our people are going round the world and watching things in the West and coming back and saying: 'Why, my own country can't produce anything of quality I can be proud of." It is also a challenge to change the mindset of people who have watched local productions and have lost faith in them. They watched us 10 years ago and gave up on us. I have to tell them: "Why don't you watch us again and let us change your mind."
I am glad I have achieved this to a certain degree. A lot of Malaysians, including the non-Malays, who have never caught a local film for 20 years, have gone to the cinema with aim of catching PGL The Movie.
The musical version had brought a lot of people to Istana Budaya who never knew we had a national theatre.

Why do you think it is difficult to change people's mindset?
A lot of us do not have faith in ourselves. We do not see our own potential. We have the same two hands, the same two eyes, and the brain that is given to great people like Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi. Like them, we are made of flesh and blood. It is what we do with this gift that God has given us (that makes the difference). You can rest on your laurels and accept something mediocre. But I am not that kind of person.

What kind of person are you?
During my schooldays, I was the most confident child who always thinks we can change things and we can make a difference. I want my country to be great. I am the most patriotic person. When it comes to National Day, I am the one who flies the biggest flag and sing the national anthem the loudest. I feel this country has so much potential and it is up to this generation and the generation after us to make that difference.
I want my children to grow up and be so proud to be Malaysians. I want neighbouring countries to say "one day we can be great like Malaysia".

Do you think we can build faith in ourselves and become the best at what we do?
Yes. All Malaysians need is to see one success story and soon they will say, we are also able to do that. I have to be the person to create these success stories so Malaysians will have faith in them.

Do you ever get tired of convincing people to change?
There are days when I do get tired. There are moments I ask myself why I am bothering when no one else bothers and why don't I leave it on other people. At the end of the day I remember what Mahatma Gandhi said, that you have to be the change if you want to see changes in the world.
It is no use preaching. It is no use talking till your mouth is dry. If you do not go out there and shake things yourself, there will be no change.

Do you find there are more critics than supporters in the entertainment industry?
Yes. I wish we have more people who just hold your hand and say: "You can do it! You can be great and I will support you." But it is never an easy ride for anyone who wants to make any kind of change.

Why do you think there are more people eager to pull you down than give you support? Do you think the motivation is jealousy?
I really do not understand it. I think it is the upbringing. Maybe they can't get to the finishing line so the next best thing to do is trip the next person who is getting to the finishing line. If we all group together and say "Look at this guy! He has fallen so let us pick him up and pull him to finishing line together." We should be have this cheering spirit.
When a man is down in the boxing ring and when he hears hundreds of voices cheering him on, he will get up and fight to his last breath. He will try his best to win the match.

People have said you are a little like (former prime minister Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) and love to get involved in mega projects?
(Laughs) The biggest thrill is to be likened to Mahathir. It is not that I want to do mega projects. This particular project happens to be big. I have done smaller projects. For example, I have produced a TV series that showcases the work of young and independent filmmakers such as Osman Ali, Bernard Chauly and Ho Yuhang. When it comes to my small productions, no one talks about them. They only talk about my mega projects.

Some people say you can make the changes because you have the financial resources.
Money helps, of course. If you do not have money, you cannot finance the projects. But money is not everything. In fact, money can be the first mistake and the root of all wrong if you spend it poorly. You could have a million dollars and really squander it on something that is really nothing to shout about. If you look at it, you will feel embarrassed to put your name to it.

What other changes would you like to see take place?
I would like to see the arts given more priority in school. They should include creativity in our school syllabus again. When I was growing up, they (the schools) encourage children to paint ... they encourage children to sing ... they encourage children to dance. To a large extent, that has shaped me to become the person I have become.
Now everyone is chasing 9As, 12As, 16As and 19As and for what? I can't remember how many As I got in school. Definitely, I wasn't the one who got 9As.
But I am a much happier person today, doing what I love and enjoying every minute of my life. I think I have lived a much fuller life. I love to see a child growing up well-rounded.

Many parents may not agree with you.
I know. But let me give you an example. Math was my poorest subject till I took up art. From a F9 case, I got A1. Arts encourage creative thinking and one learns that there is not one solution to a problem.
After taking art, I looked at Math differently. I found other solutions to solve my Math problems. Because of art, I began to see a certain pattern in Math.
It is hard to believe that you do not push your children to get good grades in school.

Aren't you worried that without a solid paper qualification, your children will not have a better future?
I am not the kind of parent who insists that their children should get all As. My only criteria is that they should get decent results so they could enter a university and end up doing what they love. I encourage my children to go for pottery class. My son plays the drums while my daughter takes up the electric guitar.
Employers do look at paper qualifications when they hire people. Your children might be losing out.When you get out in the world, the paper qualifications count for only 50%. I would not deny that when I hire people, I do look at the paper qualifications. But I also look at how you will solve the problems I am facing. That involves creative thinking. How will you represent my company when you go meet my clients. It is about people and social skills. Arts shape your personality, your creative thinking and your social skills.

Do you think the government is doing enough for the entertainment industry?
As much as any government does. Of course, like every art practitioner, I will tell you more can be done. I look at the art renaissance in Singapore and was totally impressed. Once upon a time, people were calling Singaporeans robots. They said: "Your country (Singapore) is a country of robots who have nothing but tall buildings and skyscrapers. What does that say about your people: Do they have a soul? Do they have a spirit?"
Singapore woke up to this fact and said: "Guys, now we are going to prove to the world that we will be the art(s) hub (of) the world." And they did it. They pulled up their socks and the government hired the best professionals from around the world, not bureaucrats, to make that change.

Do you think our country has the potential to be an art hub?
If Malaysia wants to tell the world we have a spirit and soul as high as our Petronas Twin Towers, then we should be an art hub. But we should be hiring the best professionals from around the world to help us to get there.
Stop being small-minded and saying we have the people here. If we had the people here, we would be an art hub a long time ago.
There is nothing to be embarrassed about hiring professionals from outside. Everybody learns from somewhere. Every industry starts from somewhere. We get the best people to show us the way and make the template for us. In future we will run the show ourselves.

What is your view of censorship?
We should realise the time has come for us to practise self-censorship. You can censor what your child watches on Malaysian TV. You can't censor what they watch on DVD and the Internet. You can't control the Internet. You can't control what they hear in school. You have to teach your child what is right and what is wrong and hope for the best.

Let us talk about P. Ramlee The Musical. Why focus on P. Ramlee?
There ae two reasons for it. Firstly, it is to pay tribute to this great man. He was the original dreamer among us all. Thanks to his dream, we have an industry today. This musical is paying a tribute to the founder of the entertainment industry.

What is the second reason?
The generation before us only knew him. The people in my generation and the generation after me never knew the greatness of P. Ramlee and why they called him an icon, a legend, a seniman agung and all those words.
To the younger generation, he sang a few great songs and did a few great films. He is not relevant to the children of today. In order for a legend to have longevity, this is what you have to do - you have to immortalise him in a story. Young people who watch the play will get to know the man behind the name. We tell the sweetness and the sorrow that man had gone through.

What can we expect expect from the musical?
We follow the life of P. Ramlee in three stages. The first stage is when he was a child in Penang and dreaming to be a star. The second stage is when he left for Singapore to start his career and met with success. The third and final stage is when Malaysia and Singapore separated, he came back to Malaysia and here he ended his life.

There is talk you might want to convert the musical into a movie?
Nothing is impossible. I have considered the idea. But for the time being all my attention is on this stage production. I will see the response towards the musical first before deciding on anything else.

You have taken Dick Lee from Singapore and Erin Gutawa from Indonesia to create the music. Don't you trust our own musical talents?
I have decided to use the best and it has nothing to do about not trusting our talents. P. Ramlee is a big name in the region. This is a regional celebration. And the whole region is coming together to celebrate the icon they loved and respected. Our people could learn from them. Every time we borrow a technology, the technology stays with us.

Some people do not agree with your choice of Sean Ghazi playing P. Ramlee because he is not fluent in Malay.
He is my first choice for the role. Malay may not be his first comfortable language. When he breaks into song, everyone will be quiet and everyone will be mesmerised. I know Sean will work very hard to shut his critics up. I know he is a professional. He had worked in the West End, doing shows three years in a row.

The musical director for PGL The Musical, Roslan Aziz, turned down the offer to be the musical director for P. Ramlee The Musical. He felt the latest musical is being put together in a rush and the quality of the production will suffer.
Roslan and I had to part ways. I have no choice but to put up a show during this period. This is the only time slot given to us by Istana Budaya. For me, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
Even if you are given 12 months, things can also go wrong. It is just how well you prepare. In this country some people put up a musical within three weeks. At least we have more than three months to prepare. There is never an ideal situation in any industry. You have to make the best of the situation. You choose the team that believes in you.

If you are not in this line what would you have become?
I would have been a lawyer. I could out-talk anyone. That is what my mother always tells me.

Did you ever think you will be as successful as you are now when you started your career 20 years ago?
I never thought I would come this far. I always dream to be best in whatever I do. If I work, I want to be my own boss. I do not want people telling me what to do. I will tell my children the same thing - if you want to go to any industry, you should own your own business and nobody could tell you what to do.
There is a part of me that is such a rebel and I want to do so many different things in my own way. If I had someone above me that I am answerable too, that will be the death of me.

What role did your parents play in shaping you?
My mother never held me back. She has faith in me. She knew I was ambitious. I told her that I wanted to be very successful and to be the best in whatever I did.
From college days I had been doing business. I paid my way through college. I was doing commercials and ran a talent scout (business). I was hardly 17. People were surprised that I could just walk into an advertising agency and meet the top guys there to promote myself as well as my talents.
I would take my simple camera and go on the road and meet total strangers and encourage them to join my talent agency. It shaped me to be what I am today. I could talk to everyone from the bigwigs in the corporate world to a five-year-old in the street.

What are the greatest misconceptions people have of Tiara Jacquelina?
People who do not know me would probably think I am a hotshot movie star and a cabinet minister's wife who has her head in the clouds. I am as real as anyone else. I bleed like anyone else. I go through life like anyone else. I have never changed. I am the same girl who has gone through the simple life.

I heard that you have gone into the restaurant business.
Yes. It is called The Borneo Rainforest Cafe. It is across the entrance of Sunway Hotel. I went into the business for a selfish reason. I love food and I can go there and eat anytime I want.
Besides we have a good concept. You have great food, including seafood, in the open air and under the stars. If this is successful, I might start another outlet.

So are you starting a chain of restaurants?
Perhaps. Nothing is impossible

1 comment:

Sarah Joan Mokhtar said...

I enjoyed this! People will awaken to the value of creativity soon :)