The first time I met Razif Hashim, he bounced into a sunlit meeting room clad in t-shirt and knee-length cargo shorts, floppy hair askew. The second time I met him, he was warming up for a Monday night gig as an MC for an awards announcement do; he was in a t-shirt and a kain sarong (it was the dress code.)
Floppy hair askew? Check.
So by the time we meet, weeks later, for a proper one-on-one, I pooled together all I knew about him from having watched him
- on the hugely-entertaining, quirky Time Capsule six-episode documentary on the History channel,
- scoffing down rice from a Styrofoam packet on a train for a programme on the Asian Food Channel
- fluff some lines mid-way at a peak moment during aforementioned awards MC gig ,
and I deliberately binned all my preconceptions and expectations before entering the Pulp café in Jalan Riong, our rendezvous point one sticky, sweltering Tuesday evening.
Oh, and that floppy hair all askew (almost Hugh Grant-like, but not as pretentious)? Double check.
He should trademark that floppy hair. It suits his inadvertent ability to fluff his lines in front of an audience of blue-chip fellow performers and yet still own the moment without incurring some terrible joke at his expense. Such is his affability.
That accommodating nature, however, belies his iron-clad professionalism. You just have to get past the Chewbacca t-shirt. (He confesses to being Star Wars-obsessed. “I am a Jedi, you know?” he proclaims with an unnervingly pointed gaze, three-quarters seriousness and a grin playing around his lips.)
Just because the brown-eyed thirtysomething looks comfy in loose, comfortable clothes doesn’t mean he’s going to be comfy where he is presently, career-wise. Don’t let those warm eyes fool you into thinking the man does not have a plan. (He totally does.)
“I never joke about my work,” he says guilelessly, while we are perched on the stone-covered balcony on the first floor of a disused newspaper printing factory, oblivious to the blare of traffic down below and the dull grey clouds above. (More on that disused printing factory later.)
This quip comes long after I’ve grilled him proper; it comes unbidden by any of my questions, so I’m fairly certain he means it. I am the only audience he says this to. I doubt the workmen over on the neighbouring construction site can hear us or care at all, and it is late in the day, where many in the ‘repurposed work/creative space’ known as APW Bangsar, have left for the day. I don’t think he’s trying to impress anyone; not even me. This, curiously, does not make him at all obnoxious unlike so many who pour their entire reserves of energy into single-mindedly “making it” to the pinnacle of their chosen career.
His eyes and face light up when he talks about acting and any offshoot that is tangentially connected to acting. I wonder if anyone can act their way into making their face light up like that. You can fake a lot of things, but perhaps not that.
“So you’re an actor first and a host second?” I venture, after we trade the customary chit-chat that typify warm-up talk.
“Yes!” he beams enthusiastically, and it is perhaps evidenced by his complete dedication to providing free acting classes at the marble-floor-and-warm-lighting space called Bookmark on the ground floor at the disused printing factory. I meet some of the participants later after our interview session has concluded, and the warmth between him and them that permeates the space, is, well, extremely sweet.
Yes, free acting classes.
So you don’t have to break the bank or a sweat trying to get into Juilliard or RADA; here’s Razif, armed with his solid, well-earned MFA in Acting from East 15 in London and training in Russia, with his motley crew (that includes Suzuki the cool dude taking on tonight’s chirpy attendees) giving anyone the chance to simply turn up and soak up some silver screen and theatre chops, without being charged a cent.
And it’s commitment-free. You can come and go as you please, no guilt trips or disapproving stares attached.
But why would he do this?
“I was a little bit angry that nobody wanted to learn (acting); I mean, everyone knows acting, but not scientifically. To me, it’s a higher art form, like writing.” The man clearly knows how to persuade his current audience of one (me). Well-played, Razif, well-played.
But I see his point. There is a structure and a science underpinning the art form. It’s almost like an artist telling the abstract painter that he needs to go to art school to be taken seriously.
Razif admits that he hears a common refrain, disguised as a weak excuse, that people say to him that their reason for not taking up acting class is they don’t have the talent.
To which he rebounds with the quip-and-a-half, “You don’t need the talent; it’s the skills that really matter.”
And it is this belief that spurred the birth of F Talent (F stands for future, by the way) where he simply decided to “give free acting classes, for society.”
And what’s the punchline, the clanger? I wait for the if, but and however.
Nothing. He simply wants his participants, students or attendees to (and I quote) “pay it forward to society.”
But it’s more than that. He genuinely believes that acting classes can polish what rough nuggets of potential we all possess inside, be it communication skills or confidence.
“These classes are an avenue to help people flesh out those soft skills they may not have had the chance to develop,” he says, and if you don’t believe me here, then you should turn up and watch him tell it to you personally. Again, that sincerity.
“That’s why I called it F Talent, and not the Razif Hashim Acting Class,” he smiles.
The weekly classes, which are now fortnightly, have been running for a year by the time he tells me this, and his project-baby has moved from a space in Brickfields to its current home in Bangsar, because he simply needed a bigger space, and he stumbled upon this space housed above the disused factory, founded by Ee Soon Wei.
The classes have grown from five participants to thirty now, and, “nobody pays for them, we’re not funded or anything,” Razif reiterates. And, he adds, “We’ve simply grown by word-of-mouth.” No splashy, obvious attention-grabbing money-oiled tactics, then. Classy.
Speaking of class and classes, however, Razif’s disarming and refreshing candour about his experience with school and education holds some amusing irony. He didn’t like school, didn’t do too well academically, he admits, without sourness or regret. But when he attempted a Communications course at tertiary level in a local institution, he discovered he was not only good in the Theatre module, but was urged to follow drama and acting by his then-lecturer. And so, despite some family misgivings, he did. And that’s how he ended up in London in 2008, and came back with an MFA.
The irony that the boy who, by his own airy admission, just about scraped through school and college but found his joy in theatre class, excelled in it, and is now teaching it, is not funny ha-ha, but proof that not everyone has a self-aggrandising agenda.
It’s unselfish, is what it is.
And irony seems to follow us throughout our chat. I tell him that the reason I remembered him out of all the polished, poised and sometimes intimidating presenters and hosts on the telly is because he seemed completely natural on-screen, with a style that feels unscripted. To which he deadpans earnestly, “It’s all completely scripted.” And when he sees my surprise, he delights in it and rolls on with re-enacted behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
It’s hard to pin him down for a chat, in between him hosting the Best in The World programme currently being aired on a local terrestrial station, MC gigs and F Talent. When he’s not singing the praises of funky sushi in Japan or talking to youths about entrepreneurial skills at a forum in Kedah, he’s harbouring ambitions to make it to Hollywood and score an Oscar.
As what, I ask, with one raised sceptical eyebrow.
“As the other villain to The Fox in an Ocean’s movie,” he grins. “But an Asian one, who can speak Malay, Chinese…” and I forget the rest of it because his delivery has me chuckling ever so un-objectively.
His bubbly, energetic and infectious vibe is such that when I ask him if he has some attention deficit disorder, he takes no offence whatsoever. “I don’t have time for negativity,” he shrugs good-naturedly. Before I can push my luck a bit and try to prick his bubble, he turns the tables and asks me about me, catching me off guard. (What was said next, stays in the place in which it was said. Like confession, but not really.)
I dispense with my guard and tell him about one experience that left my self-esteem shaky, to which he simply says, “Well, the man in the kicap bottle doesn’t see what’s said on the label.”
And I, so used to complex dissection, completely get what he means in this simple pronouncement.
If you don’t quite, might I suggest you pay him a visit on the first floor of that disused printing factory soon. It might possibly dispel many a detractor’s claim that he is all ebullience and no depth.
What you see of Razif Hashim on the screen does no justice to the bright, shiny (almost disco) ball of charm, emotional generosity and energy in the flesh.
And I’m quite certain it’s no act.
When Razif Hashim isn’t reaching in to people’s souls and yanking some reaction out of them, he spends a few minutes answering my sidebar rapid-fire question snippets.
Editor: Where would you rather sleep: on a rocky beach facing the thrashing waves of the cold Atlantic or deep in the dark of a cave in the Amazon?
Razif: (taking three seconds longer than the time I’ve allowed him) Beach! Always the beach.
Ed: So if I plucked you out of this country right now and dropped you in Barcelona with no money and no phone, would you be able to survive?
RH: (not convincingly) Yes! (Then proceeds to tell me how he completely blanked on the Spanish word for ‘rain’ during a conversation with a local in the south of Spain. All other times, however, RH can speak Spanish.)
Ed: Your house is burning down. Which three items will you take with you?
RH: (no hesitation at all) My phone, my passport and my computer!
F Talent (see their Facebook page here) is located at APW Bangsar on Jalan Riong in Kuala Lumpur. Razif Hashim can be next seen treading the boards at DPAC come May 2016 in Humano. He’s promised there will be flamenco dancers.