Mention the name, ‘Puteri Gunung Ledang’ and immediately our minds will conjure none other than the image of the ethereal Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina. Such is her presence as the mythical Malaysian princess both on screen and on stage that they have both become synonymous with each other. However, Tiara is beyond being defined by just a single character, for her contributions to the Malaysian art scene are far too many. In this issue, Top 10 of Malaysia gets to speak with the multi-talented actress and film producer on makes her tick and on her future plans for the local arts industry.
Born in Kuala Lumpur to a Burmese Chinese father and an Indonesian Chinese mother, Tiara Jacquelina was already involved in arts at a very early stage. While at school, she was part of the Theatre Society, the Literary Society and was also the President of the Film Society. 1988 was the year Tiara first made her mark in the film industry and has not looked back ever since. As one of the main supporting actress in the film, Beyond Rangoon, starring Academy Award winner Frances McDormand, she was part of a project that was instrumental in the release of Burmese political activisit Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995. It brought worldwide attention to what was previously an invisible tragedy. Almost ten years later, the movie, Puteri Gunung Ledang was released, again garnering worldwide attention. The movie was Malaysia’s entry to the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film category in 2004 and following its success, Tiara translated it on to the stage as Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical.
“I have always been a woman on a mission. My goal is to be a major contributor to the transformation of the local arts scene, and the way that arts is seen and perceived,” explains Tiara when asked of her current aim in the industry on the 10th anniversary of her blockbuster film. “I strongly believe that the arts can touch, affect and transform communities in many ways. It can change the way we think, the way we see things, the way we feel about ourselves as well as one another. It teaches us to accept many points of view and to tolerate views of others. So, for me, exposing a nation to the arts is more than just mere entertainment, it’s about enriching lives, enhancing expression, creativity, liveability, tolerance and ultimately, unity.”
Her fiery passion for the performing arts led to the establishment of Enfiniti Academy, a centre that she set up in 2011 as an incubator for the next generation of arts practitioners and creative thinkers, or the future ‘torch bearers of the arts and entertainment industry’ as she calls them. Through the students, she hopes to carry everyone’s aspirations in contributing towards nation building. “I am a proud Malaysian, and I believe that Malaysia is capable of great things. I’m just happy to be able to contribute towards the building of our nation from my own little corner, through the arts and through my work in arts education,” says the industry veteran who also crafted another stage gem: P.Ramlee The Musical.
Achieving her aspirations for her trade and her nation requires hard work and Tiara truly understands the kind of commitment it requires. “My work in film and theatre demands an uncompromising degree of perfection, precision and quality especially since our productions are usually performed ‘live’. I constantly remind my team that we need to always aim high, and benchmark ourselves against the world’s best. The payoff for me is when our audiences, after watching our shows, say that they feel a deep sense of pride that their fellow Malaysians are capable of producing such quality performances. And I personally make it a point to meet, and if possible, exceed our audiences’ expectations every time.”
Tiara’s utopia is a nation where children are exposed to arts and creativity, and it becomes an intrinsic part of everyone’s continuous learning. “My main mission is to raise as much consciousness about this, so that the ‘powers that be’ turn the right knobs to get the wheels in motion. Meantime, in my own capacity, I’m trying to make that change, one student at a time, through Enfiniti Academy. I’m preparing for that wonderful day when the wheels finally start turning, and we have a well-trained ‘army’ ready to go to battle and win, for Malaysia,” enthusiastically declares the producer of the critically-acclaimed patriotic musical, Mud: Our Story of Kuala Lumpur which was shown recently in Panggung Bandaraya in Kuala Lumpur.
Tiara discloses that she sees herself producing high-quality films and stage musicals ten years down the road, so that the audiences will keep believing in the ‘Made-in-Malaysia’ brand. “I also hope to successfully convince the government and private sector to fund performing arts and vocational training programmes so that they can be made available to the public without charge, or for a nominal fee. This way, I hope we can see an artistic and creative renaissance in our country!”