PRODUCER and actress Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina Abdullah is best known for Puteri Gunung Ledang, both the movie and stage musical which she produced and starred in.
PGL is being restaged from 6 to 21 Feb at Istana Budaya by Tiara’s company, Enfiniti Productions. It will be Tiara’s swan song — she is reprising her award-winning role as Gusti Putri for the third, and she says final, time.
Tiara, who is of Burmese-Indonesian-Chinese lineage, has been involved in the entertainment industry since the 1980s. She started out scouting talents for a modeling agency, before moving into television production.
Her acting credits include Ringgit Kasorrga, for which she won the best actress award in the 12th Malaysian Film Festival in 1995, Perempuan Melayu Terakhir in 1999, and PGL in 2004.
Married to former cabinet minister Datuk Seri Mohd Effendi Norwawi, Tiara has two children, Hani Karmila and Mohd Eridani.
She recently spent some time in Australia learning painting under the tutelage of renowned artist Peter Barraclough, and also took up creative writing.
In an e-mail interview, Tiara tells The Nut Graph about living the Malaysian dream, and her “been there, done almost everything” aspect of being Malaysian.
TNG: Where were you born?
I was born in Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya and my first home was in Jalan Kilat, Klang. I grew up mainly in Ampang Jaya, Selangor. I have two younger siblings, Carol and Nicholas. My alma mater is St Mary’s in Selayang.
What is your strongest memory of the place in which you grew up?
Basketball with the Ampang Jaya boys, playing in the many monsoon drains of Ukay Heights, and cycling. Also walking for hours every day — to catch the 183 bus from home to school — in pitch darkness at 6.30am with my sister Carol. Walking to school from AIA (the insurance company’s building in Ampang) after a good roti canai banjir breakfast. Life’s pleasures were simple, like having the crunchiest goreng pisang for tea or catching the nasi lemak lady for the last plate before she ran out.
What are the stories you hold onto the most from your family?
I think of the story of my grandfather, Datuk Eddie Eu Eng Hock, who started out as a shipping clerk riding a humble bicycle to work. He was of Burmese descent and originally came to Malaya from China a few years before the war. My grandmother was Chinese.
After World War II, with my grandmother by his side, he went on to set up Eu-Lee Landing and Shipping, the country’s first official stevedoring company in Port Swettenham, which today is called Port Klang. My grandfather always told us that good luck or good fortune is what you make out of good opportunities and hard work.
How do you connect with these stories as a Malaysian?
It tells me that if there ever was a Malaysian dream, it’s alive and well and Malaysia really is a country of opportunity for those who are willing to work hard enough for it. And there is no short cut to success, not if you’re in for the long run.
What aspects of your identity do you struggle with the most as a Malaysian?
Gosh, I think I can count myself as “been there, done almost everything”, in this respect. My dad’s side of the family is Burmese-Chinese and my mother is Chinese Indonesian. My parents, Eddie Eu and Nelly Tan, got married in 1966.
I was born into a very staunch Buddhist family, the Eu family, where all the men in our family shaved their heads and became monks.
I converted to Christianity when I was 12, along with my brother and sister, and we convinced our mother to convert, too! I became a Muslim when I got married in 1993 (to former husband, the late Hani Mohsin). So I guess I’ve almost done the full circle where religious beliefs are concerned!
And nothing else about me has changed. I’m still the same spunky little gal, ready to take on the boys, (and the world, in my mind) on the Ampang Jaya basketball courts. I can never understand why religion divides us so much. We’re just roses that go by different names as far as I’m concerned.
Today, our family celebrates almost every festive occasion — Christmas, Hari Raya as well as Chinese New Year — with equal gusto. If only religion could be practiced in moderation and everyone would practice their beliefs in their own private space and not impose any personal judgments on the way others live their lives.
Describe the kind of Malaysia you want to leave behind for your children.
I dream of a future Malaysia where our children will be wise enough to judge for themselves what’s right and wrong. [I want their judgment to come] from education, awareness and guided exposure, and not force or fatwa. I hope that the country will spot and nurture potential talents we have in our backyard and inspire them to love this country enough to take Malaysia to even greater heights.
Hopefully we can, as a united and multi-racial Malaysia, join hands to fight the big fight out there in the big blue marble. [Let’s] not waste our energy on small domestic squabbles that will only hinder our progress further.