An intimate look into the life of one of Malaysia’s most talked-about personalities.
It was intimidating at first.
Clad in a pale grey headscarf, a classic black top and a flowing maxi skirt that seemed to dance in the air every time she moved, actress and TV presenter Neelofa ambled into the room with the grace and finesse of an underwater creature.
Her smile was regal yet captivating when she greeted me, so much so that it took me a moment before I could return the gesture.
There’s a word for it – one that may have lost its significance over time due to its liberal use – Neelofa was beautiful.
“I used to climb rambutan trees all the time when I was a kid to get its fruits,” she opened up about her childhood. Just like that, the air of sophistication she had exuded earlier gave way to a sense of warmth and ease.
Neelofa sat down for an exclusive interview with Star2 last week to promote her latest film, Dollah Superstar.
Her lips, a shade of deep plum, broke into a wide grin when she reminisced about life in the countryside.
“It was a kampung area where you could see chicks and ducks running about but it was quite developed. We lived in brick houses instead of wooden ones,” shared the 25-year-old star who was born and bred in Kampung Jias in Pasir Mas, Kelantan.
Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, or simply Neelofa, is the third of nine siblings and is of Malay, Pakistani and Iranian descent.
“Back in the day, we went out and made friends and found stuff to play with. That kind of bonding is hard to get nowadays. Everybody just sticks to their smartphones. They don’t bother to go out and make friends anymore,” she spoke fondly of her small town roots.
“I feel very fortunate to have the chance to grow up in that environment. I pity my younger siblings who don’t get to have those memories.”
Her family later relocated to Kuala Lumpur when she was seven but Neelofa said she remains in close contact with her childhood friends until today.
(She’s still a small-town girl at heart. When asked the most surprising fact about herself, she revealed when it comes to replying SMSes, she is “lazy” and much prefers phone calls.)
Her claim to fame
Her foray into showbusiness began when she won Dewi Remaja 2009/2010, a beauty pageant that gave birth to well-known personalities from Scha Al-Yahya and Juliana Banos to Rozita Che Wan, while pursuing a degree in international trade and marketing at Sunway University.
“I had no plans initially about getting involved in this industry. But before the finals of the competition, I remember telling the organisers that if I got the chance, I wanted to be a TV host,” shared Neelofa.
“The passion started back when I was in primary school. I was active in public speaking, elocution and debate. I’m used to standing on stage and talking in front of people.”
She now graces two high-profile weekly programmes, Nona on TV3 and MeleTOP on Astro Ria and Astro Maya HD.
On the acting front, Neelofa landed her first role in a feature film – and mind you, as a leading lady – in the 2012 romantic drama, Azura, helmed by prominent local director Aziz M. Osman.
“The first scene I shot was the ending scene. It was very difficult because I had to cry and I had to summarise everything from beginning to end when I hadn’t seen the rest of the script yet,” she shared, recalling her first day on the job with both fondness and anxiety.
Today, Neelofa has a number of films and drama series to her name, including a supporting role in Dollah Superstar.
“She’s a film star who’s a bit of a bimbo and quite annoying. She thinks she’s hot and she can tackle any guy she likes. She even tackles the film crew on set,” the actress described her character with a laugh before calling the filming experience “interesting” as there were no similarities between her and the role at all.
On what she felt about the film’s unconventional portrayal of women as casanovas (instead of men), she explained: “To be in that position is not impossible. If you’re someone who’s famous and have the looks, you can have everything you want, including the men.”
Neelofa also shared that although it was her first time working with actor Awie, she felt comfortable with him as they had been friends for some time now.
The actress takes her craft seriously, evidenced by her enrolment in a month-long acting course with the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, California, early this year.
“I had been on so many film sets and had gone through the processes but I never learned the basics of acting,” she said, adding she was exposed to the various aspects of acting besides learning about directing and scriptwriting during the course.
But if she had to choose between acting and hosting, Neelofa considers herself a host first.
Something to talk about
Being the co-host of entertainment programme, MeleTOP, alongside comedian Nabil Ahmad, she undoubtedly has front row seats to many celebrity gossip and controversies.
“It’s the nature of the world that we are attracted to negative things. And it is part and parcel of being in this industry. You have face it. There is no way of not being involved in gossips,” she said.
Neelofa, who is one of Malaysia’s most talked-about personalities herself, said she has learned to remain quiet in the eye of the storm.
“When I look back at all the things I answered and the statements I gave, at the end of the day, I was at the losing end. If you’re on the right side, you just need to remain silent and people will see that you were right before,” she offered.
Indeed, Neelofa has been tight-lipped for a while now as rumours about her plans to marry a member of a royal family continue to swirl.
Though she did not address the gossip during the interview, Neelofa said she hopes to have a family within the next five years: “I’d love to see myself having a family and my own business empire.”
She also revealed she is uncertain of whether she will still be part of the industry. “But before saying goodbye, I hope to have my own talk show,” she added.
Even if she did bow out of showbiz, Neelofa, who has started a number of entrepreneurial endeavours, said she plans to expand them.
During the past Ramadan, she also made headlines for donning the hijab. Neelofa cleared the air on her hijab-less appearance on Dollah Superstar: “I have to be fair to all parties – the producers, the actors and everyone involved. I can’t be selfish and say, ‘You can’t use my pictures (of me without hijab).’
“I agreed to be part of this film last year and I didn’t intend for this (donning the hijab) to happen this year.”
Neelofa admitted she was afraid at first that wearing the hijab may mean limiting her opportunities to act or host but her decision had opened doors to even more offers; she reportedly gained a staggering 70,000 new followers on her Instagram account.
In the future, she hopes to play roles that will suit her new image, stating, “I want to contribute in terms of delivering positive messages especially to Muslims.
“The day I put on the hijab is the day I promised I will never take it off again, no matter what happens. I know God will be on my side and will help me go through whatever may come,” she said.
Dollah Superstar opens in cinemas nationwide today (Oct 2).