people, getting to know malaysians


Norish Karman

Perhaps it is this superficial features that have won her opportunities in the local show business industry, which has not been particularly kind to fresh faces, especially faces from across the Causeway. Or perhaps, it is her aura that has predestined her to be Malaysia's new silver screen star. Growing up, her aspirations were quite simple - finish her diploma in computer studies and then, work towards some sort of entrepreneurship.

But the aura that surrounds her would not allow that. At 18, she was spotted at Orchard Road by a talent scout from a teenage magazine. In her trademark "short hair, T-shirt, and jeans and looking like a tomboy as usual," she was asked if she wanted to model for the magazine.

She declined, but later called them up out of curiosity and also because she "wanted to earn some extra money." On her first modelling stint, she made covergirl. That was her first crack at the limelight. She earned a thousand Singapore dollars, several gifts and hampers, and enough exposure to lead her on to another plateau.

Next, she was spotted by producers from Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), and was asked to host a SBC magazine programme. In 1992, a year after she posed for the teen magazine, she went for the audition and got her first television job. Her forth-nightly Potret Keluarga series continue to run with audience reaching numbers as high as 300,000, while her modelling career continued the way it started.

Then in August 1994, the Norish Karman aura would take over again. A local female Bahasa Malaysia magazine featured her on the front cover and that quickly developed into another big career opportunity for her. Mahadi J Murad, one of Malaysia's most respected new-generation directors, saw her on the cover of the magazine and instantly picked her for the lead role of the eventually, hugely successful period movie, Sayang Salmah.

She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress at the 12th Malaysian Film Festival the following year. Although she did not win the award, she did win another starring role in Datuk Rahim Razali's latest film, Iman...Alone.

That's two starring roles in her first two major motion pictures. The first one won her critical acclaim, although the local media is still on a wait-and-see mode to see how she performs in Iman...Alone. The movie is set to be released at the end of the year.

Her rise has been nothing less than meteoric, and is leaving even herself to wonder what has made her so spot-able. "I have thought about it, but it has never been that in depth. Sometimes, in life, we can't question things too much. Just let it happen," she says.

Pressed to think about it further, she talks about luck and how opportunities had been opened to her that gave her the vital breaks. She made sure that the breaks were not squandered by working hard and ensuring high-quality work.

Then, she arrives at another conclusion. "Maybe it is more than luck. Maybe the word is 'gifted'. Some people are gifted to be an academic genius. Why can't people also look at this as a gift from God too?"

Norish, whose father is of Indonesian lineage and mother of Arabic, thinks that her physical appeal are just superficial features, and it really have been her intangible qualities that has won her so many assignments.

Her confidence is certainly not lacking. She may still be considered a new face in Malaysia, but she wants people to know that there's a lot more to her than the starring roles that she had taken in her first two movies. "I would rather say that I have a lot more to learn than say that I am fresh," Norish says. "(Being in front of the) Camera is nothing new to me. Meeting up with new people is nothing new to me. Communicating with people from all walks of life is nothing new to me since I am also a broadcast journalist."

"So, I am not new in that sense," she says in a spontaneous attempt to prove her credibility.

She tries to defend her ground ferociously, and it probably has to do with the initial hostility shown by the Malaysian press towards her. During one press conference, she was curtly told by a group of Malay media reporters present to speak in Malay since no English media reporters were around that could excuse her from responding in English. She obliged, but she has become more careful ever since.

The Singapore passport that she holds has also subjected her to some shoddy treatment by the Malaysian media, which has largely been very protective of the local film industry from foreign invasion (Norish also holds a Malaysian permanent residence status). She has had to feel her way through it, and must have put in quite a bit of thought before she came to this explanation, in what appears to be a superb demarch: "Singapore is my country, and Malaysia is my hometown."

"We (family) are always visiting Malaysia. Now, I am working here," she says. "Malaysia is not new to me. My father is Malaysian, and we are supposed to know that part of him too."

She has remained resilient and upright since coming "back" to Malaysia to pursue an acting career. Often she may often come across as almost hubristic, or just merely self-assuring, depending on how one looks at it.

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