On most days I know how lucky I am to work with words everyday, and in doing so, meet some of the most creative minds of the world.
On other days I think I should be coding alone in a basement so that I can be paid without ever making a public appearance again.
Don’t get me wrong...I teach and write, so I am quite comfortable pontificating in front of large (captive) audiences. The problem starts when I am being recorded doing so.
As I write about Asia, and Asian audiences are right at the forefront of embracing our digitally visual world, I am finding it hard to avoid YouTube. I can, of course, always decline being videotaped, but I find myself more and more on camera, whether it is my publicist wanting a YouTube video, or a radio station in Chicago telling me that folks are much more likely to click on a YouTube link than an audio podcast (and then taping a Part I and Part 2!)
So I found myself at Star Malaysia’s TV studio in Kuala Lumpur in May; not only had they commissioned a book review for Shambala Junction, they also wanted to embed a YouTube video of the Author-Reading-From-Her-Book.
I showed up—suspecting rather glumly—that what they were really hoping for was such an effing mess on camera that the clip would immediately go viral. You know, like the spectacularly entertaining BBC interview on Korea.
The thing is, when one is doing an email/phone interview you can spout all kinds of wisdom in a pajama-clad unbrushed state, and that happens frequently when the interviewer and interviewee are in different time zones. But an on-camera appearance requires hours of make-up and hair prep, thinking about clothes, and then, during the interview, worrying about whether your face is appropriately authorial or you come across as a complete jackass with a penchant for grinning unnecessarily.
But Malaysia is an amazing country and Malaysians (and their playful, diverse workplaces!) are a joy to work with. I was to be directed by Lennard (who would bring his acting workshop experience to improve my Shambala Junction reading); a brilliant Ian behind the camera; and the erudite Sharmilla had commissioned a book review.
And they were all WONDERFUL, despite my being such a jackass, starting with wardrobe. This is how the emails went back and forth:
Lennard: What to wear: Nothing too fussy. If you're going with prints, patterns or stripes, keep it simple. Preferably with no words, images or branding. We also have a tiny green room where you can check yourself before we start.
Me: I did an Astro Vbuzz interview on May 12, where I wore a sari. Should I wear a sari again or would you prefer something non-ethnic and neutral?
Lennard: Saree is good; non-ethnic and neutral also works; whatever you feel comfortable in. What would Iris wear? :)
Me: As to clothes, hmmm, do men ever agonise about this like women do? (rhetorical question, don't answer)
Lennard: The men with mirrors do.
In the end, the Star Malaysia team made me so comfortable in so many significant ways that despite the multiple takes, I stopped stressing. I am rather pleased with the end product.
And I really like this notion of the author reading from the book WITHIN A BOOK REVIEW.
Of course it helps that the book review of Shambala Junction is so positive. But more than anything else, I loved the collegiality of the Star team, how they clearly enjoyed working with words, and the precise attention to detail. To get the last shot of the steaming cup and the closed book, the lipstick mark on the cup had to be just so, the water still warm to steam in the freezing studio, the shadow on the wall just the right dark.
It was a true labor of love. Along the way, I learnt much about voice modulation and the stresses on onomatopoeic words, the gaps to underline meaning (but maybe that’s for another post).
Please take a look at the finished product and let me know what you think!
You can meet Dipika Mukherjee at GrubStreet in Boston on July 29th or at the Sunday Salon in Chicago on July 30 . More about the author at dipikamukherjee.com