It’s hard to reconcile what many know him to be and what he has evolved to become.
He made such an impression on the talent show, Asia Bagus, that he is almost synonymous with it. Who can forget him? The funnyman with map-cap antics, irreverent repartees and a larger-than-life wardrobe.
But this man has matured from a lad with brash, attention-seeking ways to become a credible and formidable force to be reckoned with in the regional entertainment scene. Meet celebrity host and Creative Director of Dua M, Najip Ali.
Just how formidable a force has be become? Enough to be listed on “The Power List of 30 people who have shaped Singapore” by CNN.Go in 2010. Najip came in just after founding father of modern Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, his wife, the late Kwa Geok Choo, and the Shaw brothers.
“I’m the third one after them. But then as I go down the list, the funny thing is, I saw Ah Meng. So together with Ah Meng, we are shaping the world.” With that, the 47-year-old burst out in hearty laughter.
“So is that something tongue-in-cheek, or something I can really be proud of? So how did I feel? First, I was tickled when I realised Ah Meng was on the list. I was also very proud because I was the third to come out after these two persons (Mr and Mrs Lee). I was surprised and I can’t wait to tell my friends about it. My friends will always make fun of me, saying: ‘No lah, you’re not with Mr and Mrs Lee. You’re together with Ah Meng’.”
After putting his Asia Bagus days behind him, he has been donning a dazzling, chameleonic suit of a different sort. One minute, he is fairy God Makcik in W!ld Rice’s musical pantomime, Cinderel-Lah. The next, he turns host for major shows in the region, like Fiesta Muzik. Then, he puts on the cap of the Creative Director at Dua M, the TV production company he helms -- to produce award-winning productions and to conceptualise TV programmes for Singapore and the region.
And if you ask him about his vision of Dua M, which is to entertain 300 million Malay-speaking audiences in the region, he gets into an impassioned mode, almost like he’s been given an energy booster.
“The Chinese have, for the world to consume, kungfu. The Indians have Bollywood. So the challenge for me is, what do the Malays have to show to the world? But we do not have that. We have something to think about. What is the popular culture, a culture that belongs to the Melayu region that they can be proud of and that we can sell to the world? It was a vision, it was a dream, it was a hope that I want to find out, what this soul of our Malay diaspora is.”
Born the youngest of four children, the motor-mouth ironically grew up in a family that is more identified with reticence than loud banters. Sometimes, he puts his vocal chords into overdrive just to evoke responses from his parents. “I grew up in a family that doesn’t talk much. My parents were both the only child . I’m talkative because I’m always trying to provoke them. I’m a child who’s too energetic. I’m an attention-seeking young child.” He extends his dramatic ways to his friends and they “hate him and love him for that”.
Many productions of Dua M are funded by the Media Development Authority (MDA). Some Singaporeans lament and sometimes, lambast the level of censorship in Singapore and how it stifles creativity, but Najip chooses to put on a different pair of lenses. He admits that it is challenging working within the confines and having to come up with novel ideas and creations that do not compromise on his ideals. However, he finds restrictions “very good for thinking out of the box”. He throws down the gauntlet to people in the creative industry: “MDA control will always be there. Everywhere you go, there will always be different challenges. If you call yourself a creative person, be creative”.
For now, he hopes to “work with as many people as possible, work with people with vision, people who have western sensibilities but with Asian sensitivities”. With a sense of wonder and excitement, it only beckons this question from Najip, a question that hints of abounding possibilities: “When these worlds collide, what happens?”
Tap into the creative energies together with wacky and inspiring ideas from Najip Ali this October at the SG Buzz series.! Register now for SG Buzz in Pittsburgh (17 Oct), Boston (19 Oct) and Washington D.C. (20 Oct)!
By Yee Wei Zhen