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Sunday August 17, 2008
By NIKI CHEONG
They modestly call it The Fairly Current Show because only weekly episodes are aired. But what these creative people are doing is very much up to the minute in today’s World Wide Web-connected world.
ON my way upstairs to the studio where The Fairly Current Show is recorded, I bump into the mother of one of the show’s principals. Not surprising, because she lives in the house that the studio is in.
Welcome to the world of the indie Internet talk show, where you have absolutely professional recordings made in a well equipped studio – that comprises cosy little cushion-filled rooms (and Mum downstairs) rather than a formal commercial setting.
There is nothing at all conventionally commercial about this project that is run by a small team of six: there’s creative producer Mark Teh; show host Fahmi Fadzil; Hardesh Singh (whose mum I bumped into) and his business partner Adam William, founders of Popfolio Sdn Bhd that runs Pop TV, the site hosting the show; and videographers and editors Aaron Chung and Akash Singh.
When Fahmi, 27, explains how the show came about, it’s very obvious this is a labour of love: “We decided that whatever we do, we have no money so we had to turn to the DIY culture that the indie scene is familiar with.
“Our friends are indie filmmakers and theatre people, and this is the reality, we decided: we borrow our friend’s cameras, and Hardesh has this beautiful studio, and we run with it.
“Then we did the pilot, and it worked,” he smiles.
The Fairly Current Show is currently (no pun intended) in its 10th episode on Pop TV (popteevee.popfolio.net).
“Mark and I have been talking for awhile about doing a show where we can interview a range of interesting people,” Fahmi explains from where he’s sitting casually on the floor.
“We were thinking how cool it would be to find some way to present opinions and discuss things that the mainstream media is not immediately interested in.”
They were already talking about perhaps creating a channel on (free video sharing website) YouTube when Hardesh proposed that they work on this project.
“The idea is that we release episodes once a week, so we’re not exactly current,” Teh, 27, says. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t too serious, that’s weekly, and where we could zero in on two or three areas of conversation.”
Teh and Fahmi’s faces would be familiar to anyone who knows even a little bit about the Malaysian arts scene. They co-founded Akshen, a young theatre group affiliated to the Five Arts Centre in 2000 and created some of the more engaging, brilliant pieces of theatre among youth.
From the stage, Teh and Fahmi moved to the airwaves when Teh became one of the co-producers of The Very Moody Show on the now defunct WOW FM in 2003, while Fahmi hosted a TV show on local films called Shortcuts in 2005.
Teh and Fahmi are also active in the more politicised aspects of the arts in Malaysia – Fahmi is a known advocate of the wayang kulit, while Teh’s work in community arts in Taman Medan, Kuala Lumpur, has been well documented.
For this work, Teh was designated Boh Cameronian Arts Awards’ Most Promising Artiste in 2003 and Fahmi received the same recognition in 2007.
Most significantly, however, is their work in engaging the community in theatre and taking theatre out to the masses by moving beyond conventional theatre spaces.
When you know this about them, moving into cyberspace, the last frontier, seems only logical.
To date, Fahmi has spoken to a myriad of personalities on the show including filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad, Subang Jaya assemblyman Hannah Yeoh, and journalist Jacqueline Ann Surin. Next week, they are scheduled to release a show featuring fishermen in Johor talking about the Middle Rocks controversy, the show’s first outdoor shoot since its inception.
(Johor fishermen are unhappy that they have yet to receive the Malaysian Fisheries Department’s go ahead to fish in waters around the two rocky outcrops in the Singapore Strait that comprise the Middle Rocks even though the territorial dispute with Singapore was settled in Malaysia’s favour by the International Court of Justice on May 23.)
“This is like an experiment,” Teh says, referring to the show’s nature, as he explains the decision to try the riskier outdoor shoot. “We’re able to try out new things and engage different audiences.”
And that, for someone known for taking theatre out of its usual space and to the masses, is vital.
“I’m finding that we’re engaging different audiences differently. We’re maybe bit more distant than we would be in a live theatre setting, but we can engage them in ways live performances cannot,” Teh says.
“Just like with Fahmi Reza’s Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka (the FreedomFilmFest07 documentary), when the DVD came out, suddenly, we could take it to 40 different colleges, even into Kelantan!”
While Teh, the producer, is challenged by the space in which he’s working, Fahmi, the host, is challenged by the programme’s format because it gives him the opportunity to try out a different form of “performance”, one in which he doesn’t have to talk much.
“I see myself primarily as a performer and a writer, and the work that I do is usually very verbal – oral – so I’m testing how I can refrain from saying a lot of things,” he explains.
A talk show host who doesn’t talk much? Fahmi points to British stalwart Sir Michael Parkinson (of popular TV talk show Parkinson, now ended after a 25-year run) who was renowned for talking little, and then only to prod his guests to tell their stories.
“I like to see things revealed spontaneously, which is one of the elements of going live. The programme provides this sensorial excitement and space for spontaneity.
“Seven minutes (the duration of each segment; see About the show below for more details) unedited allows a lot of things to happen, and it comes down to how you play, sway, and influence the show,” he explains.
No one really knows how far this programme will go as a business venture; after all, Internet TV is still in its infancy here in Malaysia although a number of shows have recently begun, including The Star Online’s News Daily (thestaronline.tv), online reality show Malaysian Dreamgirl, and drama Kerana Karina.
But for those like Teh and Fahmi, who are using the opportunity to explore new spaces, polish their craft, and present new forms of art, then the sky, like cyberspace, is the limit.
And that is great news for the public.
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