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 Musical, The 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.”