Budding actress spills all on epic journey with PONNIYIN SELVAN

Hasisha is an actress on the rise and we talked to her to find out more about her latest venture, Ponniyin Selvan, which is making its international debut THIS FRIDAY at the Esplanade Theatre. It was truly mind-blowing to hear about the amount of work that has been put in to make this an unforgettable experience for all of us in Singapore and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you were to still give it a miss after reading this interview.

How did you first get into acting?

To be honest, I’d always been interested in acting since I was young but never really thought I could actually do it. Back in junior college, I did get an opportunity to be part of an SYF drama performance so I guess you could say that was my first theatre experience *laughs*. Following that, I followed the tried and tested path of heading to university and graduated with a degree in Business Management from Singapore Management University (SMU). I then went into sales trading but I quit my job after around 3 months. Of course, they often say you shouldn’t leave your day job if you’re thinking of going into acting but I thought that if I started with a clean slate, I’d be able to take the time to think things through and figure it out. I took up new activities such as jujitsu which sort of took my mind away from having to think about the future.

Eventually, I applied for teaching and a couple of other jobs, and of course, it was still playing in the back of mind that I wasn’t doing something that I was really interested in. But I had to do something instead of just sitting around all day. Around that time was when I met this lady, who told me about this WhatsApp group which regularly posted information about freelance acting jobs in Singapore and that’s when I seized the opportunity. I’ve never looked back since and have been doing acting for the past 5-6 months, mostly for corporate shoots and stock photos. I’ve also done short films for some of the polytechnics and even an advertisement for Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth!

What are some things that you learnt about yourself when you first started acting?

I’ll answer this question with a story. One of the first theatre auditions I went for was for an experimental play in KL. That was when I realised how little I knew about acting and how much more work I needed to put in. The audition process was quite unique and the casting people kept asking us questions ourselves and explored our emotions. One question posed to us was ‘ How would you react when you are in a fit of emotions?’. I answered that when I was angry, I’d just try to rationalise it in my head and work it out. Which come to think of it today, wasn’t a very good answer *laughs*. Another girl who was auditioning answered that she’d by react by smoking because when she feels jealous of other girls, doing something forbidden such as smoking makes her feel cooler than them. Not only was that a way better answer, but it made me realise that I wasn’t being honest with myself. Many people don’t know this but acting actually forces you, to be honest with yourself and that’s what I first realised when I started acting.

Why did you decide to audition for Ponniyin Selvan?

I've been trying to get into the local theatre scene for quite a while actually. It's really competitive and usually a closed circle in Singapore. It's not as open an auditioning process as some might think it is because they usually have really high standards. For me, I wasn’t looking to be the main character or anything but simply wanted a chance to learn from some of these experienced actors. But to even to do that, you have to first start off as a member of the crew before you slowly rise up to become part of the cast. So I did go for a couple of auditions but didn't get any callbacks. When I heard about the casting call for Ponniyin Selvan, I really wanted to be a part of it. I had watched some of Magic Lantern’s videos online and really wanted to learn from these guys.

So I went down for the audition and thought they will ask me to display different emotions or act out certain scenes. But for this audition,  they started off by giving us about one hour to do some physical workouts such as stretching. I’d thought it’d just be a 15-minute process but it turned out to be a 6-hour long exercise during which they slowly worked with us on various techniques and exercises. We didn't even need to go into scene. The special thing about this audition was that they impressed upon us the importance of feeling and displaying those feelings in order to act. Like if there's a scene where there's a seashore or something. How are you going to feel it? They didn't want you to just act it out. Magic Lantern spends a lot of time creating the space and ensuring every cast member sees the same space so that the audience will feel you seeing the same space. It was a team effort. Fortunately, I managed to get in and even got an opportunity to go to India to learn from the main cast themselves!
Photo credits : Subash Balaji

What was that like?

I was given the opportunity to sit in and even participate in the rehearsals for the show. These folks have been performing this show for the past 3 years. They had rehearsed a full year before that.  When I went over, they were doing lots of scene work like reworking the scenes and engaging in lots of physical exercises. Working through the scenes. They will make sure that every cast member fully understands his character and immerses himself in it. It takes a lot of time to work out all these details with everyone as they're not just telling the story but living it. It was truly a learning process for me. The rehearsal process over there starts off with scene work before transitioning into a  walkthrough when you just make sure all the props and cast are moving cohesively together and finally a run through which is a full dress rehearsal. It then it goes back to scene work to iron out the kinks. This process repeats until showtime.
Photo credits: Subash Balaji

What were some challenges you faced while working on this production?

The artistes from India have been working on this play for the past 3 years if not more. They've been in theatre for practically their entire lives while many of us local artists haven’t been doing this for very long. The standards required of us are much higher and we need to live up to those standards. Personally, in terms of skill level. I feel that I’m not there yet so I definitely need to put in more work.  It’s a little intimidating to be working with such talented and illustrious people.  Magic Lantern and Ponniyin Selvan have established such good names over the years.
Photo credits : Subash Balaji

Our director is amazing and creates a very nurturing environment to bring out the best in all of us. He knows what to ask of you in order to bring out the best. But I think maybe the rehearsal period for us is a little tight so the pressure is definitely on. We only have one week to prepare ourselves for the play and to attain the same level as the artists from India. If you have 2 different standards in one play, it's going to fall apart. But not to worry. By hook or by crook, all of us will reach the required standards and we’ll definitely put on a good show this Friday. Our job as the ensemble cast is to set the atmosphere for certain scenes and we will definitely create that energy to make it an unforgettable experience for the audience!
Photo credits : Subash Balaji

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future actually changed after returning from India. I'm not so naive anymore and I think I would have to find a few things to do. Not just stick to acting. So I guess my immediate future plans are to figure out what I’m going to do *laughs*  

I'll probably want to go into the fitness industry. I'd also like to try my hand at hosting and I want to continue acting so I'll definitely keep going for auditions. In this line of work, it's not a given that if you're good, you'll get it or if you're bad, you won't get it. I mean the quality has to be there but it's whether you are the right fit for the role. For me, what I want out of this industry is I want to know myself and find my purpose in life. So I'll be pursuing that aim and follow whatever leads me to that.
Photo credits : Subash Balaji

Hasisha's showreel (a short compilation of her work in film)

Student short films:

Overseas Internship Vlog (For Republic Polytechnic)

Murphy's (For Ngee Ann Polytechnic)

Anti-Depressants (For Ngee Ann Polytechnic)

Ponniyin Selvan (created by Magic Lantern) is brought to you by Artecompass Pte Ltd and S S International live . and supported by the Tamil Language Council and Agrocorp International. Tickets are sold through Sistic at $96, $76, $56, $46 and $36.  Get them HERE.

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