From journalism and filmmaking to stand-up comedy and public relations, Rishi Budhrani (CS'09), Wong Voal Voal (CS'97), Tan Yang Er (CS'16), Chua Baizhen (CS'07) and Mak Chun Kit (CS'03) are all making waves in their respective industries.
Rishi Budhrani (CS'09), Stand-up Comedian: COMEDY WITH A CAUSE
In school, he was always the class clown, entertaining friends with jokes from the likes of Eddie Murphy and Russell Peters. But Rishi Budhrani never once thought then that he would one day get paid to make people laugh.
Upon graduation, Budhrani tried his hand at all things entertainment - he was a host, a professional speaker, and a stage actor. It wasn't till an open-mic session at Comedy Masala in 2011 that he found his calling. Today, Budhrani does stand-up comedy shows at HERO'S bar, which hosts the weekly Comedy Masala.
"I wanted to
be in front of
not behind it."
A career in comedy was never on the cards for Budhrani. He had always thought of entering the production industry. However, an internship with production house Mega Media in his third year of WKWSCI led him to a different path. As an intern, he was given the opportunity to be a 'wubby' - the term used for a person who has to hype up a live audience before the start of a TV show - and found the experience immensely enjoyable.
"It was then that I knew that I wanted to present. I wanted to be in front of the camera, not behind it," he said.
Like many other artists, Budhrani had to struggle between "feeding his soul and feeding his stomach." While he enjoyed comedy gigs in front of a live audience, such acts did not pay as much as corporate bookings. He took up numerous jobs for gala events and dinner functions that paid well, but that left him "stifled creatively."
"I'm doing the same jokes that were killing in the club, but this crowd is not even responding," he said. "Then I realised it's because they're drinking soup and peeling prawns."
Ditching that act, Budhrani decided to focus on what he really wanted to do: telling stories. For him, comedy is never only about the laughs. Comedy is also a platform to tell stories that may otherwise go untold.
"When you tell your own story, you find your own audience," said Budhrani, who is now into his sixth year as a full-time comedian. Having performed around the globe he will now stage his first show "Cannot Means Cannot" in Singapore at the end of April. The show, he shared, will offer his take on why Singaporeans often accept what they are told without questioning further.
"I want to always be able to make people laugh, while I make them think."
Wong Voal Voal (CS'97), Managing Partner of IN.FOM: PR IN THE NEW AGE
In his final year as an undergraduate in 1997, Wong saw an emerging gap in the public relations industry, which was then beginning to adapt to the new world of digital media. Inspired by the possibilities ahead, he sought to fill that gap and ride the wave of change.
With the goal of making communication effective in "telling incredible stories," he wanted to tap on modern platforms such as social media, on top of the traditional mediums of print and broadcast.
After more than a decade in the business, Wong and his business partner, Mike Liew, started IN.FOM in 2011.
"I have created IN.FOM with my business partner as a canvas for practitioners to really redefine the future of communications," he said.
"It's not the industry that's moving so fast, it's the entire society and the world itself that is moving in a very different direction," he said. "The way we access news, communicate, and connect is extremely different now. But a lot of communicators are not evolving fast enough to cater to that."
"There are definitely less stressful places ... But I can tell you, there has never been a dull moment."
Wong Voal Voal
Wong recognised the need to "change the strategies and to change the stories told" to cater to that new reality. And thus IN.FOM became his engine to reshape the future of public relations.
With what started as a small dream, IN.FOM has scaled to great heights. To date, the agency has worked with big names such as Microsoft, Xbox and SingTel.
Over the years, it has also garnered numerous industry accolades, including the title of the PR Consultancy of the Year at the IPRS PRISM Awards in 2015 and 2017.
Of course, the beginning is never easy. For Wong, moving into a shoebox-esque workspace with no windows when he first started IN.FOM was a huge change from his previous role as the Regional Director of Technology at Hill & Knowlton.
Starting the business from scratch also meant that his startup had to compete against more established firms in the industry.
But he never ever backed down from the challenge and kept pushing on forward "with baby steps."
Work in the public relations industry can be overwhelming and intense, but 20 years into his career, Wong said it is precisely the challenge of the job that he loves most.
"There are definitely less stressful places," he said chuckling, "But I can tell you, there has never been a dull moment."
Tan Yang Er (CS'16), Multi-disciplinary artist: ONE ARTIST, MANY HATS
She paints, produces films and music videos, does photography, and creatively directs local music videos and photoshoots. These may seem like disparate fields of work tasks at first glance, but not for Tan Yang Er
While she holds a day job as a makeup artist, Tan is also a freelance artist, creative director and photographer. Her creative pursuits dates back to her time in WKWSCI, where she started doing makeup professionally for photoshoots.
During her undergraduate days, Tan would shuttle tirelessly between classes and job assignments to hone her skills. Due to the flexibility of her schedule, she would often "do a photoshoot and then go for class," and was always seen in school with her trusty "work luggage" in tow.
"I think the
humility to hustle,
and the want
to dream, is
already half the
Tan Yang Er
Her artistry was well-known on campus as well. She curated several art installations at the benches of WKWSCI, including one where she teamed up with several other students to transform the space into a circus tent for that year's freshman orientation camp.
At just the young age of 24, Tan has worked with many popular local artistes, from the likes of The Sam Willows, Narelle Kheng and Gentle Bones, helping to produce and creatively direct their music videos. As a makeup artist, she has also collaborated with big brands such as Uniqlo and FedEx.
While pursuing artistic projects can be challenging, financially and professionally, Tan's deep-set desire to "connect with people" through her work continues to fuel her passion for what she does. She shared that it's all about not taking criticism too personally and learning to "move on to the next piece of art."
"It's a beautiful feeling to know that there's no right and wrong to how you feel," she said. "That's what I still live for every day, knowing that my work is beyond me."
Tan has ambitious dreams of going international as an artist in the future. "It's far away (dream), but I'm hustling," she said with a laugh.
"I think the willingness and humility to hustle, and the want to dream, is already half the battle won."
Chua Bai Zhen (CS'07), Social Velocity Team Leader at Bloomberg: LEARNING EVERY DAY
Chua Baizhen's typical day starts way before the sun even rises. At six in the morning, Chua is already in the office, seated before four computer screens reflecting various social media networks, ready to buckle down for the rest of the day.
Working in the fast-paced environment of the Bloomberg newsroom in Singapore as the Social Velocity Team Leader, he monitors social media for breaking news and then sends out news flashes.
"Monitoring the world from your desk, it's not boring at all," he said. "Anything can happen at any time."
Chua's first brush with journalism was in WKWSCI, when he wrote for The Nanyang Chronicle. Starting out as a writer, he later rose through the ranks to become Chief Editor in the campus newsroom. His journalism pursuits later brought him to an internship at Reuters, where his exploits as a reporter kick-started his career in journalism.
world from your
desk, it's not
boring at all…
Anything can happen at any time."
Chua Bai Zhen
"If not for opening that door to internship, I would probably be somewhere else doing something else," the 35-year-old said.
Chua's foray into Bloomberg started in China. Being in a foreign land, he was away from the familiarity of home and had to learn to adapt to an entirely different culture.
He returned to Singapore after spending three and a half years in Beijing, sharing that the challenges he faced there were tremendously enriching in his career. "That was the deep end of the pool. Once you have an experience working in China, there's nothing much else as a journalist you're afraid of," he said.
After eight years in the industry, Chua is confident that he has found his life's vocation and sees himself working in the newsroom years into the future.
"You have to enjoy learning every day, because it's news, things are new every day."
Mak Chun Kit (CS'03), Documentary filmmaker: FILMING BEYOND BORDERS
Even as a child, Mak Chun Kit always knew that he wanted to go into filmmaking. That resolve and determination carried him through his education in WKWSCI and into the working world. Today, Mak is an established documentary filmmaker who has produced two highly successful feature-length documentaries, including the acclaimed "Little People Big Dreams."
A strong believer in film having "the power to affect change in society", Mak said that he is no different from other filmmakers, hoping that the work he produces can enable people to change perceptions about important issues in the community.
Previously a television director-producer when he first started out in the industry, Mak worked with both local and international broadcasting big names like Discovery Channel, History Channel and National Geographic. During this period, however, he felt limited by the stories he could tell within the confines of a television documentary.
Further into his career, he became exposed to the world of creative documentaries, and he found himself slowly shifting his direction towards it.
The unpredictability and spontaneity of filming creative documentaries was what first piqued Mak's interest in the genre. "Fact is often stranger than fiction," he laughed. "I couldn't have crafted the twists and turns in my films if I was a scriptwriter; they were just too strange."
"Fact is often stranger than fiction… I couldn't have crafted the twists and turns in my films if I was a scriptwriter -
they were just
Mak Chun Kit
Unlike television documentaries, creative documentaries allowed Mak more artistic freedom. It did not call for conventional shooting techniques, and it did not demand a resolution in the film - it was basically everything a television documentary was not.
Diving into this genre gave him a chance to explore deeper into social issues and subjects that he could not have done before on a television broadcast platform.
To date, his career pursuits have led him to far-flung places. He is currently based in Mexico for an upcoming film project. His previous features have also been filmed in the Philippines and China.
An avid traveler, Mak has always explored the world beyond his home. During semester breaks while at WKWSCI, he would travel to other continents and countries.
"That was my way of learning about the world and to gain as much life experiences as I could," he said.
These days, he shuttles between Mexico and Tanzania, where he is working on another documentary, "Buying Happiness." "Buying Happiness" is a project about Mak returning to the African orphanage he volunteered at 11 years before.
"To be able to make the films I care about for a living, that is the dream for me," he said. "I'm living it every single day."