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A labour of love

5 May 2016 / by / no comments

A labour of love

Act­ing started out as a hobby, and it later turned into a career for vet­eran Malaysian actress Suka­nia Venugopal.

BY: Eleanor Yap

[cap­tion id=“attachment_7391” align=“alignleft” width=“200”]Sukania Venugopal. Suka­nia Venu­gopal in “Ghost Writer”.[/caption]

Suka­nia Venu­gopal (nick­named Suki), who is turn­ing 60, has the arts run­ning in her blood. Her mother, Nalini, was the first Indian Malaysian female singer to appear on Malaysian TV and radio. She was (and still is) a big influ­ence in Sukania’s life as she nav­i­gates her own path as an actress. She will be tak­ing cen­tre stage in June in a pro­duc­tion by The Nec­es­sary Stage called “Ghost Writer”, which delves into “char­ac­ters haunted by their past despite aspi­ra­tions to drive their lives in new directions”.

Though her mother passed away 12 years ago, Suka­nia remem­bers her mother’s endur­ing sup­port. “Being a con­sum­mate per­former her­self, she encour­aged me in what­ever field I showed inter­est in regards to the arts – be it danc­ing, singing or act­ing. She together with my father (can’t leave him out of the equa­tion) were 110-​percent sup­port­ive in all my endeavours.”

She added: “I received emo­tional and spir­i­tual sup­port from them, which has given me a strong base or ground­ing. They were never crit­i­cal about my choices but strength­ened me with pos­i­tive feel­ings of love and accep­tance. They embraced life gen­er­ously and their uncon­di­tional love for my sis­ter, nephew and me is our legacy, which has helped me to deal with all the curve balls that I have had to face in life.” Sukania’s youngest sis­ter is singer Shan­thini Venugopal.

Both would often be present at most of their mother’s shows. Suka­nia shared one vivid mem­ory – “We took part along with her in a TV vari­ety show in which she was singing. This was either in 1965 or 1966. My mum encour­aged us to dance along to the song that she was singing. It was a spon­ta­neous reac­tion on my mum’s part for ask­ing us, and we were will­ing to do it. The song was an upbeat Indian song enti­tled ‘Aadavaralam’.”

She con­tin­ued: “My sis­ter and I did the twist to this song. It was hilar­i­ous in hind­sight as both of us for­got the chore­og­ra­phy and ended up wing­ing it. My mum went along with this with no mis­giv­ings and I guess this truly dis­tin­guishes an artist from just a singer, i.e. some­one who is able to just go with the flow of spon­ta­neous cre­ativ­ity. We were cre­at­ing the move­ments while she sang as it was being filmed!”

More than just a hobby

[cap­tion id=“attachment_7392” align=“alignright” width=“200”]Sukania with Olé Khamchanla. Suka­nia with Olé Kham­chanla in “Ghost Writer”.[/caption]

Ini­tially, Suka­nia added, act­ing was just a hobby of hers and teach­ing was her pri­or­ity then as she taught the Eng­lish lan­guage for 25 years. “My hobby in act­ing started when I was still in school – I was 15 in 1971 when I per­formed in my first pub­lic play, ‘Oliver’. How­ever, I believe it gained momen­tum when I was in uni­ver­sity. I chose the­atre, as I felt more con­nected to it emo­tion­ally than singing or dancing.

I enjoy being an actress. It was not some­thing that I had con­sciously thought of as a career. It was more a hobby as at the time when I had started, no one that I knew of was doing it as a pro­fes­sion. I was a teacher and was able to have the time to do the­atre as well.” She explained fur­ther: “The first school I taught in was a res­i­den­tial Islamic school that did not encour­age the­atre, as it did not embody Islamic val­ues. I tried to intro­duce the­atre to the older stu­dents who gen­uinely enjoyed it. How­ever, the admin­is­tra­tion asked me to stop. Hence, when I requested for a trans­fer much later, I was posted to a reg­u­lar sec­ondary school, which oper­ated on mul­ti­cul­tural and multi-​religious sen­ti­ments. That was when I became actively involved in school the­atre pro­duc­tions. I was encour­aged by the school admin­is­tra­tion to start a the­atre club, which received favourable response from the students.”

Suka­nia reit­er­ated: “So ini­tially it didn’t start of as a ‘busi­ness’. It was merely doing the­atre for the love of it … a labour of love basi­cally!” She shared that there was no money at the begin­ning (it was not impor­tant to her at the time) and she only started get­ting paid when she began per­form­ing with Instant Café The­atre Co in 1989 and acted with peo­ple like Andrew Leci, Zahim Albakri, Jit Murad, her sis­ter, Shan­thini, Jo Kukathas, San­dra Sodhy, Saidah Ras­tam, Chacko Vadaketh, Indi Nadara­jah, Allan Per­era and many others.

When we first started out it was just for fun. I did not expect it to take off and snow­ball into what it had become. I believe that there was no other group at that time that did polit­i­cal and social satire, and hence we gained popularity.”

Over the years, she has been a part of a large body of stage pro­duc­tions in Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore such as “Leela Purushota­man”, “Utter”, “Sin­ga­pore”, “Balek Kam­pong”, “Meera”, “A Street Car Named Desire”, “Sybil”, “Past Car­ing”, “Good Peo­ple”, “Mid-​Summer Night’s Dream”, “Twelfth Night”, “Sec­ond Link”, and “Put­eri Gunung Ledang”. She has also dab­bled in movies like “Tal­en­time” and “Garuda”.

Even doing act­ing for many years, today she still finds chal­lenges in the roles she plays. “I find all my roles chal­leng­ing and they remain so right to the end. Basi­cally the chal­lenge lies in reach­ing out to each and every mem­ber of the audi­ence and engag­ing them in mak­ing a men­tal and emo­tional con­nec­tion with the char­ac­ter that I am portraying.”

She added: “I try to be as hon­est as pos­si­ble in grasp­ing the emo­tional make-​up or essence of the char­ac­ter … being believ­able in the por­trayal. The chal­lenge is get­ting the audi­ence to expe­ri­ence the char­ac­ter and oblit­er­at­ing the actor.” And she shared that she has no pref­er­ence – she enjoys both movies as well as the­atre productions.

Not slow­ing down

[cap­tion id=“attachment_7393” align=“alignleft” width=“200”]Sukania with Ebi Shankara in "Ghost Writer". Suka­nia with Ebi Shankara in “Ghost Writer”.[/caption]

Suka­nia is enjoy­ing her once-​hobby and has no plans on slow­ing down. “It is the sheer love of per­form­ing that keeps me going. If I still have my senses and wits intact, I will def­i­nitely con­tinue per­form­ing – why not?” She added: “I love to por­tray char­ac­ters truth­fully so that the audi­ence are pas­sion­ately engaged and are moved to res­onate with the char­ac­ter being por­trayed. I gain by know­ing that I have suc­ceeded in doing so.”

Besides focus­ing on her cur­rent role in “Ghost Writer”, she also keeps her­self busy by help­ing youth groups in Malaysia who are keen on stag­ing plays, put a play together.

** Catch Suka­nia on the stage of “Ghost Writer” on June 9 to 11, 2016, at 8pm and June 11 to 12, 2016, at 3pm at Esplanade The­atre Stu­dio. Tick­ets are S$35 or S$28 (for senior cit­i­zens) at
 the SIS­TIC web­site at: www​.sis​tic​.com​.sg. You can also call the SIS­TIC hot­line: 6348 5555 or visit SIS­TIC autho­rised agents islandwide.

(** PHOTO CRED­ITS: Caleb Ming, SURROUND)



Acting started out as a hobby, and it later turned into a career for veteran Malaysian actress Sukania Venugopal.

BY: Eleanor Yap

Sukania Venugopal.

Sukania Venugopal in “Ghost Writer”.

Sukania Venugopal (nicknamed Suki), who is turning 60, has the arts running in her blood. Her mother, Nalini, was the first Indian Malaysian female singer to appear on Malaysian TV and radio. She was (and still is) a big influence in Sukania’s life as she navigates her own path as an actress. She will be taking centre stage in June in a production by The Necessary Stage called “Ghost Writer”, which delves into “characters haunted by their past despite aspirations to drive their lives in new directions”.

Though her mother passed away 12 years ago, Sukania remembers her mother’s enduring support. “Being a consummate performer herself, she encouraged me in whatever field I showed interest in regards to the arts – be it dancing, singing or acting. She together with my father (can’t leave him out of the equation) were 110-percent supportive in all my endeavours.”

She added: “I received emotional and spiritual support from them, which has given me a strong base or grounding. They were never critical about my choices but strengthened me with positive feelings of love and acceptance. They embraced life generously and their unconditional love for my sister, nephew and me is our legacy, which has helped me to deal with all the curve balls that I have had to face in life.” Sukania’s youngest sister is singer Shanthini Venugopal.

Both would often be present at most of their mother’s shows. Sukania shared one vivid memory – “We took part along with her in a TV variety show in which she was singing. This was either in 1965 or 1966. My mum encouraged us to dance along to the song that she was singing. It was a spontaneous reaction on my mum’s part for asking us, and we were willing to do it. The song was an upbeat Indian song entitled ‘Aadavaralam’.”

She continued: “My sister and I did the twist to this song. It was hilarious in hindsight as both of us forgot the choreography and ended up winging it. My mum went along with this with no misgivings and I guess this truly distinguishes an artist from just a singer, i.e. someone who is able to just go with the flow of spontaneous creativity. We were creating the movements while she sang as it was being filmed!”

 

More than just a hobby

Sukania with Olé Khamchanla.

Sukania with Olé Khamchanla in “Ghost Writer”.

Initially, Sukania added, acting was just a hobby of hers and teaching was her priority then as she taught the English language for 25 years. “My hobby in acting started when I was still in school – I was 15 in 1971 when I performed in my first public play, ‘Oliver’. However, I believe it gained momentum when I was in university. I chose theatre, as I felt more connected to it emotionally than singing or dancing.

“I enjoy being an actress. It was not something that I had consciously thought of as a career. It was more a hobby as at the time when I had started, no one that I knew of was doing it as a profession. I was a teacher and was able to have the time to do theatre as well.” She explained further: “The first school I taught in was a residential Islamic school that did not encourage theatre, as it did not embody Islamic values. I tried to introduce theatre to the older students who genuinely enjoyed it. However, the administration asked me to stop. Hence, when I requested for a transfer much later, I was posted to a regular secondary school, which operated on multicultural and multi-religious sentiments. That was when I became actively involved in school theatre productions. I was encouraged by the school administration to start a theatre club, which received favourable response from the students.”

Sukania reiterated: “So initially it didn’t start of as a ‘business’. It was merely doing theatre for the love of it … a labour of love basically!” She shared that there was no money at the beginning (it was not important to her at the time) and she only started getting paid when she began performing with Instant Café Theatre Co in 1989 and acted with people like Andrew Leci, Zahim Albakri, Jit Murad, her sister, Shanthini, Jo Kukathas, Sandra Sodhy, Saidah Rastam, Chacko Vadaketh, Indi Nadarajah, Allan Perera and many others.

“When we first started out it was just for fun. I did not expect it to take off and snowball into what it had become. I believe that there was no other group at that time that did political and social satire, and hence we gained popularity.”

Over the years, she has been a part of a large body of stage productions in Malaysia and Singapore such as “Leela Purushotaman”, “Utter”, “Singapore”, “Balek Kampong”, “Meera”, “A Street Car Named Desire”, “Sybil”, “Past Caring”, “Good People”, “Mid-Summer Night’s Dream”, “Twelfth Night”, “Second Link”, and “Puteri Gunung Ledang”. She has also dabbled in movies like “Talentime” and “Garuda”.

Even doing acting for many years, today she still finds challenges in the roles she plays. “I find all my roles challenging and they remain so right to the end. Basically the challenge lies in reaching out to each and every member of the audience and engaging them in making a mental and emotional connection with the character that I am portraying.”

She added: “I try to be as honest as possible in grasping the emotional make-up or essence of the character … being believable in the portrayal. The challenge is getting the audience to experience the character and obliterating the actor.” And she shared that she has no preference – she enjoys both movies as well as theatre productions.

 

Not slowing down

Sukania with Ebi Shankara in "Ghost Writer".

Sukania with Ebi Shankara in “Ghost Writer”.

Sukania is enjoying her once-hobby and has no plans on slowing down. “It is the sheer love of performing that keeps me going. If I still have my senses and wits intact, I will definitely continue performing – why not?” She added: “I love to portray characters truthfully so that the audience are passionately engaged and are moved to resonate with the character being portrayed. I gain by knowing that I have succeeded in doing so.”

Besides focusing on her current role in “Ghost Writer”, she also keeps herself busy by helping youth groups in Malaysia who are keen on staging plays, put a play together.

 

** Catch Sukania on the stage of “Ghost Writer” on June 9 to 11, 2016, at 8pm and June 11 to 12, 2016, at 3pm at Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets are S$35 or S$28 (for senior citizens) at
 the SISTIC website at: www.sistic.com.sg. You can also call the SISTIC hotline: 6348 5555 or visit SISTIC authorised agents islandwide.

 

(** PHOTO CREDITS: Caleb Ming, SURROUND)


 

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