Each time the wheels of his suitcase rumbles across the tiled floors of his Singapore home, Kuala Lumpur-based actor Hisyam Hamid’s son knows it only means one thing: “He knows he won’t be seeing me for quite a while, ” Hisyam says.
Hisyam has been shuttling between the Lion City, where he was born and raised, and KL for six years now, having found success as an actor in Malaysian TV dramas like Ariana Rose and Abang Bomba I Love You.
While an actor’s life might seem glitzy and glamorous, having to leave his wife, Rosmawati Hanafi, and two children Nurish, 13, and Hayden, 11, behind each time is anything but.
Hisyam’s son, who was still in preschool when he decided to relocate for his career, took it especially hard.
“My son is very close to me. He would cry every time I left the house, ” he says with a heavy heart.
“I only get to see them whenever there’s a long school holiday or when I have a long break from filming.”
In some ways, the Covid-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Hisyam and his family.
We were in Genting Highlands for a holiday when the movement control order (MCO) was first announced.
I quickly drove them to Singapore on March 17 (a day before the MCO took place) but I stayed back because I was still in the midst of filming a drama (Dendam Cinta Arissa).
“Initially, I thought filming would still be allowed to go on.” When it became clear that all filming activities were halted, Hisyam decided to return to Singapore to be with his family.
“I had to react to the situation quickly because after a certain date, the Singapore Government ordered all returnees to be quarantined.
“So I posted on my Instagram Story asking if there was anyone going back to Singapore by land, and if I could hitch a ride with them. As it turned out, there was a family going back on March 19.”
For the first time in six years, Hisyam was able to spend quality, uninterrupted time with his family.
“It was an opportunity for me to make up for lost time with my children especially during the initial lockdown period where movements were quite restricted.
“So we spent a lot of time at home together. And to make our daily routine more fun, we did a lot of new things like cooking together and exercising at home.”
More than just engaging in fun activities, the actor said being at home more meant being that much more involved in his children’s life.
“For instance, earlier in the year, my daughter didn’t do so well in Science. While she took extra tuition class, being physically present and giving her that moral support, it gave her that positive boost.
“So just recently, she got her results back and she got an ‘A’.”
Circuit breaker period in Singapore
Hisyam also recalls his experience during Singapore’s circuit breaker period. While the number of Covid-19 cases soared due to the outbreak at the foreign workers’ dormitories (with around 57,000 cases as of press time), the actor and his family stayed calm.
“The foreign workers’ situation is quite contained. It’s happening in the dormitory areas which have been sealed off and people are not allowed to enter.
“So my kids and I weren’t traumatised or anything. But we had to make sure they understood things like taking care of their personal hygiene.
“For example, last time, the first thing they did when they got home was go to the toilet and wash their feet. Now, the first thing they need to do is wash their hands with soap, then the leg.”
While Hisyam was glad for the chance to spend precious time with his family, he was also burdened by the loss of income the pandemic brought.
With no end in sight to the ban on filming back then, Hisyam and his wife (who also manages his career) explored other ways of making a living.
“We came up with a few businesses, selling bags and Muslimah clothing. Thankfully, people were receptive towards it. So when we had orders, I would be the one doing the delivery.”
Malaysia eventually lifted its ban on filming on June 10. That meant Hisyam had to say goodbye to his family, some four months after staying with them in Singapore. Hisyam left for Malaysia to film the remaining episodes of Dendam Cinta Arissa.
Working in the new normal
He says acting in a Covid-19 world took some getting used to at first, as there’s a long list of safety measures to abide by (standing more than one metre apart at all times, strictly no physical contact between cast and crew members and so forth).
“It can affect me subconsciously. Like when you’re about to perform, then suddenly you start to think, ‘Is this OK? Or is that OK?’”
Hisyam adds the production team has been vigilant about observing the government’s filming SOPs. “Things like face masks and hand sanitisers, we have them on set in abundance.”
Asked if he felt the quality of local dramas has been affected because of these restrictions, Hisyam responds that isn’t the case.
“Production houses shouldn’t take Covid-19 as an excuse for a drop in quality. So far, we’ve been able to maintain and uphold that level of quality even though manpower has been reduced (only a maximum of 20 people are allowed on set).”
Back on the personal front, with Malaysia’s recovery MCO extended till Dec 31, it will be months before Hisyam can finally reunite with his family.
“It’s not worth having them travel to Malaysia and go through quarantine and then go through quarantine again when they return to Singapore, ” he reasons.
As such, the actor relies on video calls to stay connected with them on a daily basis.
“Actually, I was just talking to my son just now and he said ‘I want to come over to Malaysia. I don’t mind having to be quarantined’, ” the actor shares, with a tinge of sadness.
“I said, ‘Are you sure? It’s going to be boring. You can’t go out.’
“He said, ‘I know, it’s OK’.”