Sunday, December 15, 2019

Tiara Jacquelina

Headline: Her Own Version 
By Bissme S
TIARA JACQUELINA can be considered the ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber of Malaysia’. Like the celebrated musical theatre genius, she has churned out a handful of entertaining and memorable musicals.
Her career took off in 1988 with her leading role in the horror film Lukisan Berlumur Darah directed by Torro Margens.
She even shared the screen with Patricia Arquette and Frances McDormand in the 1995 Hollywood-produced film, Beyond Rangoon.
That same year, Tiara was named best actress at the 12th Malaysian Film Festival for her role in Ringgit Kasorrga, a controversial film that highlighted a sex scandal between a politician and a model.
But what propelled her to stardom was the 2004 epic fantasy period film Puteri Gunug Ledang. Tiara starred as Gusti Putri, a Javanese princess who falls in love with the Malay warrior Hang Tuah, played by singer M. Nasir. But their love story is full of hurdles and obstacles.
The film received rave reviews and went on to win five awards at the Malaysian Film Festival the following year, including for best director and best screenplay.
The film also earned Tiara the best producer award at the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore, and the best actress award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in South Korea.
Two years later, she was instrumental in turning the film into a musical theatre production, Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical. Tiara reprised her role as Gusti Putri, with Stephen Rahman-Hughes playing Hang Tuah.
The musical proved to be an even bigger hit than the film, winning seven awards at the 5th Annual Boh Cameronian Arts Awards. From 2006 to 2009, Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical was staged in Kuala Lumpur three times, and once in Singapore.
Under her company Enfiniti Sdn Bhd, Tiara has produced other musicals –
P. Ramlee The MusicalThe Secret Life Of Nora and MUD: The Story of Kuala Lumpur.
Two years ago, Tiara took another risk by directing a stage adaptation of the 2016 film Ola Bola, about the Malaysian football team which qualified for the 1980 Olympics.
Many people doubted she would be able to translate a sports film into a musical production, but the spectacle that was Ola Bola The Musical impressed everyone, including the original film’s director Chiu Keng Guan.
Next year, Tiara will revisit the musical that started it all, Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical. This time, she will be directing the production, which she plans to stage at Istana Budaya next July.
In this exclusive interview with theSun, she spoke about her journey thus far.
What can we expect from this restaging of Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical?
“The musical was already a success. I could have restaged Puteri [unchanged]. But I did not want to do that.
“It is easy to repeat something. It is easy to get attached to something that is familiar. When you get attached to things, you can never move on with life. From young, I taught myself to never get attached to things.
“I would like to bring new elements to the show. I am planning to bring a new choreographer, a new interior designer, a new music arranger, and so on. When you change, you will get a new feel. I am planning to make the musical more authentic.”
You are searching for new talents to play Puteri Gunung Ledang and Hang Tuah. Have you found them?
“I have auditioned hundreds of people. Famous celebrities with millions of followers have expressed a desire to play the roles, and were willing to attend the auditions. Or, [complete unknowns] could play Puteri and Hang Tuah.
“Unfortunately, I have not found my Puteri, nor my Hang Tuah. Having [singing talent] is not enough. You have to sing with emotion, constantly, for at least 30 shows.
“That is not easy thing to do. It takes a different set of skills to be a musical star. They are hardest roles I have ever cast.”
What are you looking for in the new Puteri and Hang Tuah?
“My Hang Tuah has to embody the ultimate Malay warrior. In the olden days, Malay warriors were men of their word. A promise is something they held on too.
“My Puteri has to be graceful and has an inner strength. She should be head strong, yet, there should be some fragility to her.”
You put your stamp on the role of Puteri Gunung Ledang. Can audiences accept another actress in the role?
“One of my challenges as a director is to make the audience accept the new actress. It is just like the James Bond films. [Initially] audiences will have a hard time accepting the new Bond.
“You cannot expect Sean Connery to play James Bond forever. The same goes for Puteri Gunung Ledang. You cannot expect me to play Puteri Gunung Ledang forever.
“I am planning to make Puteri Gunung Ledang a long lasting brand, and 30 years from now, you will be seeing more of Puteri Gunung Ledang out there.”
Where do you get the confidence to dream big and do the impossible?
“I think I am just wired that way. I remember my school teachers always wanted me to conform. But I refused to. “My teachers said that nothing good would come from me, because I never listened to the rules. But I believed [it would], [precisely] because I never listen to the rules.
“I want to leave behind a body of work that I can be proud of.”
Describe your childhood.
“I was always the girl who challenged the boys to a basketball game. I raced the boys downhill on my bicycle. I was the kid who jumped across the widest monsoon drains.
“My parents never forced me to do girly things. My dad (a palm oil estate manager) was a dominant figure during my childhood. I always followed him around.
“I joined him when he played snooker, and sports like tennis and swimming. He taught me how to ride a motorbike. I was more of a tomboy. I was not the kind of girl who sat still.”
Describe your personality.
“I am focused. I am sure about what I want in life. I will stop at nothing to get it. I was born with the gift of vision. I am bold. I always challenge myself. I can be impatient when someone tells me that something is not possible, when I know all avenues have not been explored.
“I am a perfectionist. It can be a strength or a weakness. A lot of the time, people say you have to accept that some things cannot be perfect, and I cannot accept that.
“My attention to detail is my biggest fault. I cannot help being involved in every aspect of the production ... I am a control freak.”
You have been dabbling in painting. Are you going to exhibit your work?
Painting releases me from being a control freak. The painting technique I use is called flow painting. Sometimes I cannot control where the paint goes, nor the outcome of my work.
“Through painting, I have learned that sometimes I have to allow things to happen organically, and all I have to do is sit back and watch the results and just enjoy them.”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Happy Deepavali 2019

Six dancers from Sutra Foundation Outreach Programme gave a striking pose at Sri Mahimariamman Temple at Jalan Tun HS Lee Kuala Lumpur. They joins theSun to wish the reader a Happy Deepavali 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Shirazdeen Karim & Siti Nurhaliza

SHIRAZDEEN KARIM has always wanted to work with Malaysia’s Queen of Song Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza, who has won more than 200 awards and performed over 50 concerts in her 23 years in the music industry.
The executive producer at Shiraz Projects has been chasing Siti since 2007 to do a concert tour.
Now, his persistence has finally paid off as he is in the midst of organising for the songstress a four-nation concert tour, billed as the Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza On Tour.
Already confirmed are concerts at Istora Senayan in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb 21; Singapore Expo in Singapore on March 2; and Arena Axiata in Kuala Lumpur on March 16.
Still in negotiation is a stop at London’s Royal Albert Hall on April 21, which is hoped to be the tour’s grand finale. This will be the second time Siti is performing at this prestigious stage, since her first show there in 2005.
Shirazdeen announced this at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur recently.
The producer is taking every step to make sure this will be a concert to remember. He has boldly set a budget of more than RM10 million, making it possibly the highest budget for a tour for any Malaysian singer.
The performance will feature some 30 musicians, 12 dancers, and more than 24 songs. The talented Joseph Gonzales has been hired as the artistic director and will be aided by other well-known choreographers such as Joseph Gonzales, Imran, Naim Syahrazad, Fauzi Amiruddin, and Daila Abdul Samad.
Shirazdeen is also bringing in a bassist, drummer, guitarist as well as a vocal coach from America.
On the decision to hire international musicians to support a tour by one of Malaysia’s most famous artistes, Shirazdeen said it is not that he “does not trust” Malaysian musicians, but he wants to push the boundaries for this concert tour.
“We can learn something from these foreign musicians.”
He also plans to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary of the tour under the direction of concert creative director Anusha Peterson. The documentary, They Call Me Siti, is planned for release in cinemas nationwide towards the end of the year.
Shirazdeen has no fear that he would not be able to recoup the RM10 million he is putting into this concert tour. He strongly believes Siti’s fans will flock to see the concert, and also the documentary when it hits the cinemas.
He recalls an interesting conversation he had with a taxi driver a few years ago when he was in Jakarta.
He said: “The taxi driver said if Malaysia and Indonesia ever go to war, there are two things Indonesia needs to save from Malaysia. First, it is Upin and Ipin, and second, is Siti Nurhaliza.”
Siti said she is overwhelmed by the preparation that Shiraz Projects has put into her upcoming concert tour.
“Even after 50 concerts, I still feel nervous about doing another concert,” said the singer, who turns 40 this year.
“But nervous is good. It pushes you to give your best. Overconfidence sometimes makes you a slacker.”
This concert tour will also mark her return to the stage after having given birth to her baby girl, Siti Aafiyah Khalid, on March 19 last year.
There were some who thought motherhood would put a stop to her singing career, but Siti intends to prove them wrong.
“So many singers who are mothers, like Celine Dion, have put on successful concerts and I want to do the same,” she said. “Motherhood has spurred me to be a more active singer.”
She added that she will be bringing her daughter along on the concert tour.
To prepare for the tour, Siti is building up her stamina with exercises, as well as undergoing extra dancing and vocal classes to enhance her skills. She also intends to bring her weight down to 60kg by the start of the tour.
Tickets for her concerts will range from RM155 to RM1,295 for venues in Malaysia, with an equivalent price range for international tour stops.
Those who purchase the RM1,295 tickets will not only receive some exciting merchandise, but also get a chance to meet Siti in person a day after the concert.
Out of 100 tickets in that price range, 10 selected ticket-holders will also get the chance to go behind the stage hours before the concert begins to see how the concert is put together and meet Siti in her dressing room.
For more, visit the websites for Shiraz Projects or MyTicket.Asia.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Lawrence Jayaraj.

Headline: A Family's Pain
by Bissme S

ONE woman’s quest to discover what really happened to her mother forms the foundation for The Story of Kam Agong, a 30-minute documentary by first-time filmmaker and activist Lawrence Jayaraj. 
The film focuses on Agnes Padan, an ethnic Lun Bawang from Sarawak, who takes a journey back to her childhood village of Long Semadoh to piece together what really happened to her mother, Kam Agong. 
Kam Agong passed away in 2002 at the age of 44, soon after giving birth to her eighth child, a boy named Jordan, at the Lawas district hospital. 
The delivery was difficult, and she underwent a complicated caesarean procedure. Instead of consulting a gynaecologist, doctors at the government hospital discharged Kam Agong and instructed her to return to her village over 100km away, where she died 28 days later. 
Through the documentary, the audience discovers that her death was caused by medical negligence. 
For 49-year-old Lawrence, the story is personal to him, as Kam Agong’s daughter Agnes is his wife. 
Lawrence recalls: “My mother-in-law was a loving person. She loved to sing. She liked to teach people how to sing. I have brought her to Kuala Lumpur, and introduced her to my family and my friends. Everyone loved her.” 
After Kam Agong’s death, her husband Padan Labo, a padi farmer who is now training to be a pastor, was totally devastated by her passing. “He was completely lost, and did not know what to do next,” says Lawrence. 
The documentary gives a glimpse of how Kam Agong’s death affected her family, particularly her younger children. The family even considered giving newborn Jordan up for adoption, as no one could look after him. 
Lawrence and Agnes were against the idea, and decided to adopt him themselves. 
In 2004, Kam Agong’s family sued the hospital for negligence. They won the case in 2008, but since then very little has changed for the mothers of rural Sarawak, who still have to travel for many hours to get proper maternity care. 
“Justice is not all about dollars and cents,” Lawrence says. 
He hopes his documentary will open people’s eyes to the deplorable standard of maternity care in Sarawak. 
“We have one of the world’s tallest buildings in our country, yet remote places in Sarawak are still struggling with poor maternal care. 
“We want someone, probably an NGO or a politician, to advocate for better maternity care for Sarawak. 
“The federal government has used natural resources from Sarawak to bring development to the country, so why can’t they provide proper medical facilities in Sarawak? 
“We do not want mothers from poor families to go through what Kam Agong endured.” 
The Story of Kam Agong came about earlier this year when Lawrence pitched his idea to the FreedomFilmFest (FFF), and won a grant from the annual human rights film festival to make the film. 
Filming began in July, and involved interviews with Kam Agong’s family and friends in Long Semadoh. 
The film features dialogue in the native Lun Bawang language, with English subtitles. 
“I wanted to show the different ethnicities that exist in Malaysia,” Lawrence says. “I want my interviewees to feel they [belong] in our country.” 
There are some who believe life and death is in God’s hands, and that includes Kam Agong’s situation, but Lawrence strongly disagrees. 
“What happened to my mother-in-law is not takdir (fate),” Lawrence says. 
“The doctor who performed the caesarean on my mother-in-law was not a gynaecologist. A crime was committed against her. 
“Whoever says my mother-in-law’s death is takdir, I would like to put him on a surgery table and let an unqualified doctor perform surgery on him.” 
The Story of Kam Agong will premiere at the FreedomFilmFest at PJ Live Arts in Petaling Jaya from this Saturday to Oct 6. 
For his next documentary, Lawrence wants to focus on drug use among youngsters in Lawas, Sarawak. 
“There has been a recent report that some teachers in Lawas were caught for selling drugs to their students,” he says. 
Expect another interesting documentary that opens our eyes and our hearts.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ellie Suriaty Omar

The award winning actress and director  Ellie Suriaty Omar talks theSun about why she is supporting the former Prime  Minister  Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor,  through their crisis and her aspiration to direct two more horror movie 

Headline: Courting Controversy 
By Bissme S

Ellie Suriaty Omar will be the first to admit that she is a “wild child”. The award-winning actress cum director has been in the news for being a fierce supporter of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor. 
Ellie was also very vocal about justice for the couple when the two were brought to court to face charges of money-laundering. In a recent exclusive interview, Ellie explained that she has a right to support whoever she wants and will stand by her beliefs despite what others say. 

Question : Why Najib and Rosmah, who are now facing multiple charges of graft? 

Why not? I have done my research. The unity among races was well celebrated under [Najib’s] administration. The World Bank said that he managed to raise [Malaysia’s] economic value in his nine years as prime minister, and considered him as one of the best finance ministers in Asia. 
Rosmah is into helping handicapped children. [I feel] the two have been treated unfairly. People have been telling lies about them. They kept repeating the lies, until the lies became the truth. 
This is the same propaganda tool that the Nazis used during WWII. Najib is a model leader that has been shot down by the perception war. 

* Do you really believe Najib and his wife are innocent? 

Yes. The hundred bags that were found in their house were not hers. They belonged to her friend. Najib had explained that his money came from the Saudi royals who were impressed with the way he had run our country. Najib has been transparent about his money. 

*Some people said you have been paid to support Najib. 

(Laughs) I became an Umno member after the fall of Barisan Nasional. Now, nobody wants to hire me. I have suffered a loss of income. 
Why should I be punished for my political beliefs? 
Some have even attacked my character. They called me all kinds of names. I refrained from doing that. I fight my detractors with facts and figures. 

* Some think you are being delusional for supporting Najib. 

Am I delusional? Are you telling me in the 61 years of running the country, Barisan Nasional (BN) has not done anything good for the country? Are you telling me the new government is totally free from corruption and misappropriation? 
Look at how the attorney general handled cases against Rafizi Ramli and Lim Guan Eng. “I will not be against Pakatan Harapan (PH) if it can govern the country properly, but it is not doing a good job. 

Why do you dislike PH so much? 

When PH  came into power, there were ministers who gave statements in Mandarin and Tamil language. We have an attorney general who speaks in English. 
I respect other people’s languages but it is in our Constitution that our national language is Bahasa Malaysia, and we should respect that. 
You also have a Malay Muslim leader who suggested condoms should be used to combat social issues. It is making Islam too liberal, and that is not good for the country. The PH also wanted to interfere in matters pertaining to the Syariah courts. 

* What is your hope for the next election? 

I want people not to become a victim of a marketing ploy. Before the election, PH promised to get rid of the tolls. Has it done it? No. Before the election, PH promised you would no longer need to pay back your PTPTN (national higher education loan) if you earn less than RM4,000. Has it fulfilled this promise? No. 

*Has you husband (actor Azri Iskandar) ever tried to stop you from being so vocal about your beliefs? 

No. He understands my motivation. My children (son Azreal, 14, and daughter Azrin, nine) are also aware of the nasty things that people are saying about me. 
But I teach my children to be strong and to have a huge personality, and to stand up for what they believe in. 

*So, what is happening with your career? 

The creative industry does not have an age limit. I can always come back to act when I am 80 [as long as I am still] alive. I am still writing. I will take whatever is thrown at me positively. I will also be directing two films in near future (she declined to name the production company behind them). 
I miss directing so much. I am so eager to direct. Both will be horror films. One will be on the Pontianak, and the other will have some comedy elements. 

*The first film you directed, Penanggal (2013), was also a horror film. You seem to like this genre. 

I love the mysterious and psychological part of a horror tale. Most people believe horror films are all about jumps scares. But there is a lot of subtext hidden in a horror film. I also love playing with lighting and the horror genre allows me to do that. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Denes Kumar, Vimala Perumal & Deepavali

Today theSun feature my interview with producer and actor Denes Kumar and his wife a film director Vimala Perumal .... where they talk about their career, their married life and their deepavali celebration. Read the full story below

Headline: Blazing A New Trail 
By Bissme S 
Sunpix Norman Hui 

WITH Deepavali dawning tomorrow, theSun is shining a spotlight on the newest power couple in the Malaysian film industry, actor producer Denes Kumar and director Vimala Perumal. 
It will be a bright Festival of Lights indeed for them as their latest film, the comedy Vedigundu Pasangge (Rowdy Folks), has created history by becoming the highest-grossing Malaysian Tamil film, raking in more than RM1.3 million at the box office. 
No local Tamil film has ever collected more than RM1 million at the box office – that is, until now. Produced by Denes and Vimala’s production house Veedu Production Sdn Bhd, Vedigundu Pasangge – which was released in July – also has the distinction of being the first Malaysian Tamil film to be shown in the United Kingdom. There are plans to screen it in India by the end of the year as well. Denes not only produced the film but also plays the lead, while Vimala is the director of the film. 
When asked how he felt taking instructions from his wife on the set, 36-year-old Denes says: “I am used to taking instructions from her in our house. “The only difference is that inside our house ... no one else sees it.” 
On more a serious note, he adds that he has the highest respect for his wife as a film director. 
“She knows exactly what she wants and it is easy to work for a director who knows what he or she wants. She will also make sure you never overact.” 
To Denes’ acknowledgement that “when we are on the set, she is the captain of the ship”, Vimala is quick to reply that “as the producer, my husband has prepared the ship for me to navigate”. Vedigundu Pasangge is the third film Vimala has helmed. Her first was Vilaiyaatu Pasange (Playful Folks) in 2011, followed by 2014’s Vetti Pasanga (Useless Folks). The couple have already lined up their next film, which will likely begin shooting early next year. Vimala says the film will be a horror-comedy. “This will be my first attempt at directing a horror film.” 
Denes is determined that their new film will have stronger content and better production values. 
“We have created a benchmark with Vedigundu Pasangge, and we certainly do not want to produce anything lower than this benchmark.” 
Denes, who started out as a dancer and choreographer, has a varied career ranging from hosting TV shows to acting and producing. 
Malaysian Tamil Association Awards in 2015, as well as the most popular artiste and best TV anchor at the Malaysias Kalai Ulagam Awards the same year. 
Vimala has been involved in the performing arts since her university days, where she was studying for her degree in film and animation. 
In fact, it was during a cultural show she organised at her university in 2001 that she met Denes. They began dating, but broke up in 2005 and went their separate ways. 
“I missed him very much and I think he missed me too,” Vimala recalls. 
Three years later, they got back together, and started their production house. The couple eventuallygot married in 2010. 
“We are not a perfect couple,” Vimala admits. 
“We have a lot of arguments. We work together. We write scripts together.” 
She says since no two people think alike, they of course argue. But she believes that arguments are normal and healthy between a married couple. 
“We never go to bed angry. We always patch things up before we sleep. If we do not patch things up, he cannot sleep, and neither can I. No matter how much we argue, deep down, I know he cares for me.”  
Denes likes the fact that his wife is brutally honest about his performance. 
“I love listening to criticism, because criticism improves you. When [my wife] praises me, I know for sure it is genuine and comes from her heart,” he says, but adds with a laugh: “She seldom praises me!” 
Despite their busy lives, the two also make sure they set aside time to spend with their two children, six-year-old daughter  
Dashena, and three-year-old son Sharwin. 
Vimala remembers when Denes had to perform on a television show, and could not celebrate their daughter’s second birthday, she decided to surprise him by bringing their daughter to meet him backstage, along with a cake. 
“He was literately in tears when he saw us,” she recalls. 
Denes also makes it a point not to take on any jobs during this festive season. 
“I try to put my family first.” 
For the past eight years, the couple have been celebrating Deepavali at Vimala’s hometown in Sungai Petani, Kedah. But as her parents moved to Kuala Lumpur this year, the family will be celebrating the holiday in the city for the first time since their marriage. 
Denes and Vimala join theSun in wishing all those who celebrate the Festival of Lights a very happy Deepavali, and a safe journey to those who are travelling back home.

PS: Special thanks … to Mid Valley Megamall for the use of its premises for the shoot; R. Yogash for styling Denes, Vimala and their two children; Vrayz Designs for supplying their wardrobe; and Omtara for their accessories.

Deepavali Pix For theSun

Five Indian classical dancer pose elegantly against the Majestic indian temple - thank you Sutra Foundation,  Sri Shakti Devasthanam Temple at bukit rotan Selangor for making this photo shoot a success. Some  photos were taken by theSun photographer Amirul Syafiq