“My motto in life would be ‘Go jer’ (Malay colloquialism for ‘just go for it’),” says actress and emcee Farhana M Noor. “If you don’t try something out, you never know what you can do or how far you can go.”
Here, the media personality shares how a setback, ironically, put her on the path to a successful career. She talks about the ups and downs along the way and dealing with self-doubt.
Did you always want to be an actress?
Farhana: Not really. I was brought up in a traditional household where you are expected to sit for the O-Level, perhaps head to poly and then pursue further education in university.
But I did not do well in my studies and failed mathematics in the ‘O’ Level exams. I remember thinking “Die la” as my parents would not be happy.
I decided to apply for NAFA as I had taken some acting and modelling classes when I was younger. My teacher in primary school had encouraged me to take part in a school drama and that had got me interested in the theatre, which I pursued in primary and secondary school.
When I suggested this route after my O-Levels, my father was not happy, but my mother, though skeptical about acting as a career, asked me to give it a try.
I applied and was offered the Diploma in Acting. Following this, I pursued a Degree in Theatre Arts, also at NAFA.
From NAFA to your first job – what was that journey like?
Farhana: I got my first acting job a year after I graduated. That was a tough time.
I started working at SATS as a Customer Officer as I needed to earn. While working I kept going for auditions during my off days. And of course, there were many rejections. Sometimes, that made me feel small and I wondered whether I should give up.
What made it worse were the comments from relatives and family friends, who would say that with a degree in theatre, I would never amount to anything. They made me doubt the choice I had made. I was at breaking point.
At this time, my father asked me to apply to be a stewardess, which I did, but was rejected there, too.
Then, an offer came from MediaCorp for a small role in a Brunei telemovie. At last! This led to a bigger role as a main character in the TV drama. I was on my way.
Given your journey, what would be your advice for youngsters making career choices?
Farhana: Do not lose hope should you fail. There are always opportunities available. Should one door close, another will open.
When I look back, I think that the struggle helped to strengthen my character. In school, I used to be very playful. I was often late for class and would be punished. But the O-Level setback taught me to take my work seriously. When I was pursuing my degree, I forced myself to study hard and mingle with the students, many of whom were older than me and more experienced. I challenged myself to be more mature.
I have never regretted choosing the path I did, but it was never an easy path to begin with. Even after I started getting some freelance work as an actor, there were periods when I had no work. I would not have enough money to travel to my auditions.
But I was quite determined to reach for my goal. My perseverance paid off and one of my proudest moments was when I got nominated in Asian Television Awards for Bunga Tanjong, a local drama by Eaglevision. I was over the moon! It does go to show that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. Now my father is proud of me and what I do.
Let me tell you though, there will never be a point in time when things are easy going. You have to be flexible. As a freelancer, I took on various jobs other than acting – such as emceeing or hosting. I had to learn to be versatile, so I have enough projects at hand.
And don’t lose faith in yourself. I remember what one of my NAFA lecturers would say, “If you can’t feel comfortable with yourself, how are people going to be comfortable watching you?”
In theatre work, you need to be comfortable and know yourself well to allow the audience to be comfortable to watch. In life, people will not accept you, if you can’t accept yourself.
So, though the struggle is real, it does not always equate to negativity. Each hurdle we are up against also comes with tremendous opportunity. Do not be afraid to give it a try. Go Jer.