When I was assigned by our editor to feature Paalan and Aiman Aiman, I was very excited. Not only are they friends of mine, but I was also dying to take pictures of them since I first laid my eyes on them.
Even on stage with other brilliant and talented actors, I found it hard to peel my gaze away and not be drawn. Individually, both Paalan and Aiman Aiman are captivating on the get-go. They’re so pretty that you’ve got to fight yourself from gawking. Their energies are inescapably contagious and they have massively colourful personalities to match.
When seated together, the two can be likened to a pair of hyenas. I initially intended to interview and shoot them in a studio but due to unforeseen misfortune at the very last minute, the plan fell through. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was then offered by a dear close friend of ours the opportunity to take the pictures in her Petaling Jaya house that she was going to be moving out of in the coming weekend. I tried to capture the pair of oddballs in all their obnoxious queer glory looking out-of-place in contrast to that distinct quaint quality you find in old terraced houses of PJ neighbourhoods -by doing this I also got the chance to immortalize my own relationship to that house which acted as my safe space for the past year. MAJOR BONUS.
WHO ARE YOU?
Thevapaalan is a very young artist who’s trying to find the right medium to use and express his works. Aiman Aiman believes that he is the linking bridge to queer culture and Malay culture––the Mediator.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER?
Thevapaalan: In my head, Aiman is my muse. It started out with him being one of my really cool muses and then, we just got to know each other really well. Said Paalan.
Aiman: I see Paalan as somebody very familiar to me. I don’t think it a friendship. Paalan was the first queer friend that I ever had in real life, so it’s really been like a gateway for me to discover my own queerness. He’s someone familiar to me. Said Aiman Aiman.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED THEATRE AND HOW IS THAT VERSION OF YOU DIFFERENT FROM YOU TODAY?
Aiman: I think the theatre industry thinks I am very young, only because I am very messy with what I do. When I first started I thought theatre was a medium that I could bastardize again and again for my own righteous self-expression. But watching shows and actually using a critical lens to view things, I realized you do have to take on a certain degree of social responsibility with what you put out. When I first started, the difference between now and then is that back then I was just pretty much wanking off. Now, I am a bit more careful with what I choose to put out.
Thevapaalan: I feel like it’s weird because I’m still trying to find what exactly it is I do or what I like to do. I think its theatre because it very often involves the body or bodies. When I first started out I was very easily excited by a lot of things. I still am very easily excited by a lot of things and I’m still finding out what it is that I like because I get very excited and then I don’t know whether it’s what people want to showcase. Like sometimes I go to a show and I’m like “fuck yes that light was amazing I fucking love it!” but then people ask “but what about the show?” and I go “I don’t know about that but I really liked the lights”. And I think it’s okay to be like that, just that it’s weird and very messy. Haha!
BUT YOU SURE YOU LIKE THEATRE?
Thevapaalan: I’m sure that I want to keep working with bodies because I think theatre is a mix of that- it’s a mix of so many genres and different mediums so I feel like I’m still this person who is finding out what is it that I want to keep doing. I feel very (as Aiman said) young when it comes to people who are around me in theatre. They just seem very sure, and I want to be that sure but I don’t think I am ever going to get to that place.
DOES THAT WORRY YOU?
Thevapaalan: Not really, I think it’s good because it helps me stay fresh but also, it does kind of worry me a little because I want to sound sure and I don’t think I’ll ever be sure.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATIONS?
Thevapaalan: Right now it is a song by The Bombay Sisters about the Goddess Durga called Mahishasura Mardhini. I listen to it every day. There’s a lot of imagery and every time I listen to it I feel some type of way. I like the way it flows and I like a lot of classical Indian music.
Aiman: John Waters plays a huge part. I like how trashy his work is and I like that it’s queer. Queer and trashy, that’s very me. I also like Gummo. I keep talking about this movie. It’s a movie by Harmony Korine and there’s not necessarily a clear narrative, rather an insight on how people live their life after a hurricane had struck their city. I like how absurd it is. I like absurd things! I think Ridhwan Saidi is my fucking lord and saviour. I would definitely say that. There’s this one quote that one of my close friends… (It was actually Paalan!) who told me which goes “If you physically feel like you’re a two, it becomes exciting to people when you act like a ten.” I use that a lot on a day to day basis.
Thevapaalan: Also! Off the top of my head, people that inspire me are my mom, Tess Pang, and Leysha.
Aiman: Yes! The women in our lives! There’s such a strong, prominent relationship between women and queer people. I’d call it an allyship but it’s not even that, its a sense of familiarity that comes so easy.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT US ENTERING A NEW DECADE?
Thevapaalan: I don’t know if I’d given it much thought, but I’m just generally always very excited until I’m not.
Aiman: A bit indifferent, really.
WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU’VE LEARNT ABOUT YOURSELF IN 2019?
Thevapaalan: I’ve learnt that I really dislike people who use any kind of hidden agenda to capitalise or make money out of something. You can tell especially when they’re artists because the insincerity shows in their work or in the way they behave and talk to people. I don’t even know if I’m making any sense but what I mean is, it’s cool to be a hypocrite but then you should be able to own up to it?
Aiman: I think I’ve learnt that I am very lucky. In the sense that I’m comfortable, not necessarily with where I am, but rather in terms of the people that surround me. I’ve also gotten a lot of opportunities that I feel like somebody who wasn’t lucky enough to have these connections would not have gotten. Also, I’ve learned that I need to take my time, I’m only 20. I don’t know why I rush into things and am so hungry for things. I don’t know why I tire myself out either.
“ITS A SCORPIO THING. I think so.” said Aiman Aiman.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT BEING WHO YOU ARE AND DOING WHAT YOU DO?
Thevapaalan: The most challenging thing is that I myself am trying to figure out who I am and it’s cool that I am lucky enough to be doing jobs like this and to be able to learn about myself through my work. However, the challenging thing about that is sometimes you go on production and they expect you to give a part of yourself. Like when someone’s devising, it would go a lot smoother if they’re sure of who they are and what they like. It would be easier to draw and create from that. On the other hand as someone unsure, it’s cool and not a bad thing but you’re constantly just trying to figure it out which can be kind of a mind-fuck sometimes.
Aiman: Hiding my whole being from certain people in my life. It’s a weird feeling to be applauded on stage one night and the next day you’re at home and you can’t even talk about it or celebrate it. It’s strange to have to lead a double life. At one of my productions, someone called me brave and I was weirded out because I didn’t think so. If I told these certain people in my life who I truly am, maybe that would make me ‘brave’ but this is me skirting around the bushes.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE, TELL ME WHAT YOU’VE BEEN LISTENING TO!
Thevapaalan: A lot of M.I.A. right now because when you’re working out she pumps the shit out of you. I also listen to a lot of Hindu hymns and stuff like that. Lemonade is there, of course. Yeah, things like that.
Aiman: I like atmospheric music. Busted and Blue by the Gorillaz is so good. Orchestral Intro also by them from their Plastic Beach album is good. Aphex Twin is fucking good. (Sandy) Alex G has a song called Trick and I think everyone should listen to it. Pulang Dari Kilang by Sudirman sums up my whole fucking being. Azelia Banks is so messy but she’s SO good. Oh, and Charles Manson (lol) has a song called I’ll Never Say Never to Always, it’s a bit creepy but it’s good…
WHAT DO YOU DO TO COMBAT A CREATIVE BLOCK?
Thevapaalan: l with the depression! I mean, for me usually, I get blocked when I’m depressed so I try not to force it. I try to just address the issues at hand and magic just happens.
Aiman: I don’t think it’s a matter of creative block for me because I have lived my school years trying to suppress these ideas so now that I am older, it’s more of me trying to rediscover those suppressed ideas. Now it’s only a matter of recycling those ideas and refining them to perfect them before I put them out into the world. Something else I do to get ideas is just to hang out with my friends. I draw a lot of inspiration from the women in my life. The trick is to never force it.
YOU’VE RECENTLY DONE A PRODUCTION TOGETHER. HOW’S WORKING WITH A FRIEND BEEN?
Thevapaalan: It is all the support you can want! I’ve been working with a few friends recently and a big upside to that is if you know each other really well, you know each other’s likes and dislikes. It really helps you navigate any kind of friction that comes up on the floor. The support is really strong which is really great.
Aiman: It’s also a matter of suppressing the fun in a professional environment. That was so hard for us to do, haha!
YOU’RE BOTH VERY OUTWARDLY AUTHENTIC TO YOURSELVES, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ANYONE TRYING TO LIVE MORE AUTHENTICALLY?
Thevapaalan: Be friends with Tess Pang. After our hangouts I just find myself appreciating myself a lot more. And I don’t think she tries to force that agenda onto me or anything. I just always end up feeling like that.
Aiman: I would say to question things. Like when it’s Hari Raya and the women have accustomed themselves into the kitchen while the men are slumped on the couches, ask yourself why. And why you’re in pants while girls are in pinafores in school. Just question things until you’ve found a sense of comfort. I’m definitely still questioning things.