04 Jun Praveena K. Cartelli
As one of the few Indian women in Singapore’s theatre scene, Praveena has seen how women are doubted and limited, even in an industry deemed more progressive than most. While “a man can just be a man” on stage, it seems like a woman always has to be defined in relation to others.
“When a woman is on stage, everybody needs to know, is she this person’s daughter, wife or friend? But when it’s a guy, it’s okay. This is Richard, and that’s fine. And I always found that weird,” she muses.
In this #happybeing story, Praveena K. Cartelli, a homegrown freelance artist, actress, director, writer and producer, tells us more about the challenges and rewards of the path less traveled. Most importantly, about how all the many difficult decisions – with life, with love, with herself – have built her up and made her “damn happy”.
“I come from a lineage of teachers, and since I was young, I’ve been asked if I’m going to become a teacher. I said no, and for the longest time, they thought it was a phase. When I finally became a freelance artist, they went: ‘Oh you’ve chosen the wrong profession.’ It took my parents about four years to fully come to terms with the fact that I’ve chosen the stage for life. ”
“I wake up and do recordings of the Bible in Tamil, for a group of people who can’t read it. Then I exercise and do whatever I can to sweat. When I come back, it’s either auditions, rehearsals, or meetings. I teach at times; I’m teaching speech and drama to nursery and primary school children. At night, I go back to rehearsals or auditions or filming. A lot of filming.“
1. Taken advantage of in a relationship
“I was once in a relationship with an older guy who treated me like a child. It was a so-so relationship, it wasn’t love at first sight. I remember one instance where I had to sit for a paper in the morning, but he called to say that he was sick and expected me to bring something over. He lived far away. I brought the food, and he asked for physical intimacy. In that moment I didn’t understand why I was with this guy. Because of him, almost all my grades had dropped.“
2. Alone in her chosen path
“After [my then-boyfriend] made me question my reason for being in a relationship, I didn’t understand the purpose of going to a junior college and taking subjects just because somebody took them before me. I chose to go to LASALLE, and he was furious that I had chosen to pursue a private education to do acting. And he dumped me. He spread bad rumours about me. When I finally chose to go to LASALLE, it was just me. I didn’t have my parents’ support back then because they didn’t understand it. Being an actress means that you’re going to have to wear that halter neck if that’s what the costume is, which might not seem right for a woman of an Indian background.“
3. Being doubted for her decision to marry
“I got married when I was 20, so no, my family wasn’t all, ‘Hooray! She got married!’ They were more like, ‘Are you sure? You’re not stable, you don’t have money, you don’t have the Masters yet, you should further your education’. But who’s to say what’s right and wrong?
Usually, men around me think I got pregnant and needed to get married, and so I got married. I don’t think it’s an issue with most men in the industry that I’m in, but I do think the few people that do cause issues, cause major ones.”
1. Deciding to leave
“My relationship with [my ex-boyfriend] was too suffocating. It was too much of him wanting me to fulfil his needs, just because I had physical assets. Maybe I developed sooner than others, but that didn’t mean he could use my body for things they weren’t supposed to be used for. When I met him again (after breaking up), that was the defining moment. I missed him. But I didn’t go back to him, I just missed him because that was what I was familiar with. Not going back was a very defining moment for me.“
2. Faith and letting go
“If you have to deal with every single person that has an issue with you or your goals or your life, you just get drained. You have your own life to deal with. Because my insides matter to me, that I’m kind, firm, gentle and ambitious. That matters. I also keep my faith in God, and that helps me through difficult times – nah, through everything.”
3. Knowing that it’s ultimately her freedom of choice
“Personally, I don’t believe that in this day or age you should have kids late in your life. I don’t believe that only when you have a degree or PhD or masters, then you’re qualified to have children. I believe that in your prime, I’m not talking about 16 or 17, but in your legal prime, you can have children. It’s your choice.”
1. Miscarriage & being an ideal women
“One night, when my husband and I were having sex, I broke down and started crying. It never happens. I cried because of a fear that there is something wrong with me. It has been 520 days since my miscarriage, and I’m still getting over it. I think that’s what makes me the woman I am. The fact that I have the ability to bring another person into the world, and I supposedly ‘failed’ at that haunts me sometimes.
But the fact that my hope, my faith is bigger than an unfortunate incident is what makes me the woman I am today. It’s not about getting over these things, but facing it day in and day out knowing and accepting that it was not your fault.”
2. What if a woman earns more than her husband?
“I thought that I shouldn’t earn more than my husband. But, as I understand, it takes a man for a woman to be a woman and it takes a woman for a man to be a man. In a relationship, if your husband understands that being a woman does not mean that you are limited by your ability to earn money, then it’s easier for you. But I know many people who struggle with that – when the wife has done a lot better for herself than the husband, then what happens? Who runs the household? What are people going to say?”
3. The perils of family politics
“After I got married, we were away for a year and a half… When we came back to my side of the family – they are traditionally Indian, my husband is not, he is Caucasian – the oldest grandfather knew that I liked to talk a lot. He came to my husband and said, “You don’t have your wife under control.” So, what do you say to that? There are so many ways to take it I think where you stand in society, in a relationship, is a big issue. It is something I’m struggling to deal with.“
“When you get married, the number of jobs you get in an industry that focuses a lot on your “ability to be charming” – or attractiveness – goes down. I also think after when you’re married and you want to have kids, it goes down a little more. After that, you decide that you want to spend time with your kids because you don’t want to be the mother that tosses them aside them, right? So then, what’s your job?“
2. The price of motherhood
“When you have a child, you cannot be on stage. Your career has to stop nine months in advance to prepare for the child – to be well rested and not have stress. If I’m having a child, my husband can work and do everything that he wants to do but he just needs to make sure he’s there for me when I need help. This scenario is completely unfair because I love to act, as much as he does. Then you’re caught in a world between wanting to get pregnant and wanting to do what you love. But when what you love helps even a single person, I say take the chance. If all you leave behind are relationships, then I’d work towards my family and serving others with my craft. “
I hope that I don’t have to tell her anything.
That she would figure it out..
“I hope that I don’t have to tell her anything. That she would figure it out. I think that would be my advice to her – figure it out. When you figure it out yourself, you become so much more – a person with character. When you’re told so many things, it really confuses the child. I had so many voices – do this, do that. I don’t know if I followed all of it right now. Whether you want to put a straw to the cup to drink it, or put your lips to the cup to drink it, figure it out. I’m really mean, not giving her anything, but who cares, figure it out.
That being said, I’d just like to thank my mother who stood by me even when she didn’t understand my choices. And also her strength that I’ve got to see and learn from. I only wish I can be as good a mother as she is to my future daughter.”
“I’m contented. I’m very happy with what I chose and I just hope they lead up to a path that I don’t expect. Because if I know where I’m going, I don’t find the thrill in it anymore. I hope that there is a bigger plan that I’m working towards because of the choices I make. And it makes me happy that I can be involved in projects that affect other people, like UNSAID. And if I could end it with my life motto for this moment (June 2016), I would like to share this: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.“
Stay tuned to more stories from our ladies!