SINGAPORE - Singapore-born actor Adi Putra might be a marquee name in the Malaysian television and movie industry today but his start in the entertainment scene was less than glamorous.
A former Pizza Hut delivery boy, 7-Eleven employee and air-conditioning technician, his first full-time job after completing national service was as a lighting technician for MediaCorp's Chinese television serials. His days as the lowly crew guy on a film set charged with making stars such as Fann Wong and Christopher Lee look good are long gone.
With a decade's worth of acting experience and more than 30 television dramas and over a dozen films to his name, the 32-year-old is to the Malaysian television and film industry what Wong and Lee are to Chinese television here.
For the last three years, readers of Malaysia's main newspaper Berita Harian have voted Adi as one of the top five most popular male television actors in the annual awards ceremony Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian.
Adi, who shuttles between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, now leads the lifestyle of an actor who has made good. He shares a terrace house in Ulu Klang with his producer wife Aida Yusof, 38, and four cars - three BMWs and a Satria Neo - are parked in the garage.
You could attribute the Institute of Technical Education graduate's success to a combination of hard work, luck and good timing. His handsome looks helped too.
In 2003, he joined a beauty contest organised by local Malay lifestyle and entertainment magazine Manja and was crowned Mr Photogenic.
Acting came by chance. While working at MediaCorp, producer friends asked him to be an extra in television shows on Malay station Suria.
After that, he was offered his first major acting role as a gym instructor in Anak Metropolitan 2, a popular television drama centred on wayward teenagers.
His performance led to his nomination in the Most Promising Actor category at local Malay entertainment awards ceremony Pesta Perdana in 2004 and another role in comedy drama Cinta Bollywood 2.
Then came the turning point in his life. Veteran Malaysian producer, director and actress Erma Fatima offered him a major role in Malaysian television drama Haryati 2.
Sensing the opportunity to make his mark on the much larger Malay acting industry across the Causeway, the 23-year-old Adi packed his bags and left for Kuala Lumpur.
After shooting was done in three months, he decided to stick around and try to break into the competitive entertainment industry in Malaysia.
The going was tough. He lived on the money he earned from Haryati 2 and when funds ran low, he slept on the streets, in mosques and at homes of friends.
Slowly, he started getting acting jobs and within two years, he became a familiar face in the industry there. Looking back, he says: "It was a risky gamble and I knew that there were no guarantees that I would get more jobs after the first drama. But I firmly believed that my future was there in the Malaysian acting industry."
Today, he plays mainly leading roles in popular television soaps aired by the country's major broadcasting stations such as satellite channel Astro, private station TV3 and state-owned public broadcaster RTM. He is a box-office draw on the silver screen too. He stars in Malaysia's highest grossing film, 2011's gangster flick KL Gangster, which earned RM12 million (S$4.6 million). The film also stars another Singapore-born actor who has made it big in Malaysia, Aaron Aziz.
Naturally, Adi is in the follow-up, KL Gangster 2, which made headlines after pirates uploaded the film on the Internet and sold bootleg DVD copies a month before it screened in cinemas in October this year. His leading role in Langgar, a crime movie released in April this year, earned him a nomination in the Best Male Film Actor category in the annual Malaysian film and television awards ceremony Anugerah Skrin. He lost to Malaysian actor Shaheizy Sam.
Being a star means that his personal life is constantly in the spotlight.
Last year, the Malaysian press went to town when they found out that he had filed for divorce. He retracted it shortly after.
He also made the news in September when a Malaysian businessman lodged a police report against him, accusing Adi of sending lewd pictures and text messages to his 30-year-old wife.
Adi says that he cannot comment on the case because it is still under police investigation but he will speak about it once the Malaysian police have concluded their findings.
He admits that he and his wife, whom he married in 2006, had "personal problems" in the past, but adds that their marriage today has never been better.
They got married in April that year, six months after meeting on the set of a television drama Kerana Dosa Kelmarin which Aida was producing.
She says: "Some people might think six months is quick, but I felt like we had known each other for years. He had all the qualities that I admired, he was hardworking, disciplined and a good Muslim. I knew he was the one for me."
The couple welcomed their first child, a daughter, last October.
He sounds exasperated when he refers to the Malaysian tabloids: "I always get asked, how is your marriage? My wife and I, we just go through our daily lives and we don't let all the talk and gossip affect us." Aida tells Life! that Adi is very much a family man and a doting father.
"He's always concerned about the baby, what she's eating, how she's doing, even while he's at work. And if the baby cries in the middle of the night, he wakes up to feed her."
Sometimes, he cooks at home, whipping up dishes such as mee goreng and sardine sambal, which he had learnt when he was a teen helping out in his technician father's sideline catering business.
Asked if she has ever had issues with him having plenty of female fans or the gossip linking him to many of his onscreen love interests, Aida responds with a laugh: "I'm in the entertainment business too, so I'm immune to all the attention that he gets. And I don't get jealous when he's acting in love scenes with other actresses because he's just doing his job."
Adi's fervent female fans call themselves 1HotLovers (their nickname for the good-looking actor is Mr Hot) and tirelessly vote for him every time he is nominated for any popularity contest.
When he lost the Most Popular Star award to Malaysian actor Shaheizy at the Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian in April this year, the fans made headlines when they accused the award organisers of rigging the votes.
Asked about the controversy, the actor gives a smooth answer: "I am not an award winner but that's okay. My fans are the only awards that I need and their support is what I value more than trophies."
For this interview, he had asked to be interviewed at The Straits Times office because he says he is mobbed by fans in public places.
It is a daily occurrence but he is fine with it as it is part and parcel of being a celebrity, he tells Life!. Accompanied by his Malaysian personal assistant and a Singaporean friend and business partner, he exudes no airs.
Casually dressed in a polo T-shirt and jeans, he is well-groomed and gamely poses with the building's security guard, who asks for a photograph.
He freely admits that he does not have the chops to be a professional singer but has recorded and self-produced albums and singles dedicated to fans. His latest release, Dia Untukku, can be bought online for RM15.90.
Adi is not content with being a heart-throb actor and has ambitions to make it behind the camera. Earlier this year, he formed his own production house, Nur ADP, and took on triple roles - as producer, co-director and lead actor in the film adaptation of the best-selling religious drama novel Suami Aku Ustaz (My Husband Is An Ustaz), set to be released next year.
He knows that having long-term success in the Malaysian entertainment industry means branching out into more than just acting.
"KL Gangster might be the most profitable movie in Malaysia but I was just an actor in that film. If I was the producer, then I would have more reason to celebrate its success."
He recently finished filming the 13-episode television drama Amara Batrisya, opposite top Malaysian actresses Erra Fazira and Umie Aida. His most recent film, which he co-stars as a police officer with his idol, veteran Malaysian actor Rosyam Nor, is crime drama Balistik, set to be released next month.
He has also invested in non-entertainment business ventures in Singapore and Malaysia, chief among them the bathroom products brand Tuscani and Islamic tourism agency Al-Qaswa.
Despite his packed schedule, Adi, who has an older sister, 41, and an older brother, 40, always sends a text message to his mother, Madam Noor Banoo Khan, or talks to her at least once a day.
"He always keeps me updated on what he's up to, whether he's in the middle of a shoot or busy on some other project," says the 62-year-old housewife.
The doting mother has watched all his movies and television dramas. "I am thankful to God that my son is successful in his career. One thing about Adi, when his mind is set on something, he works hard to get it." He stays over at the family's three-room HDB flat in Woodlands whenever he comes back to Singapore. His mother says: "I'll make sure that I cook his favourite dishes such as sambal goreng and assam pedas." Adi says his dream is to set up his own broadcast station dedicated to Malay television productions and films in Singapore.
"That is what I would really like to do, to give budding independent local productions here a chance to have their works broadcast to the masses and to help build up the Malay acting industry in Singapore."
My life so far
"Until today, I don't know the titles of the television shows that I worked on because everything was written in Chinese. Some of my colleagues would translate the instructions to me so that I could set up the lighting that they needed. All I knew was that actors like Fann Wong and Christopher Lee were acting in them."
On his one-year contract as a lighting technician for MediaCorp's Chinese dramas on Channel 8 "I was pretty much alone there, I didn't know many people. The production house provided me with lodgings for the three months that I was acting in drama series Haryati 2 but after that, I was homeless. So I slept everywhere - on the streets, in mosques, at friends' houses and roamed around Kuala Lumpur, looking for jobs in the television or film industry."
On his early years after moving to Kuala Lumpur in 2004
"All these gossip columns and tabloid articles speculating on my marriage and other aspects of my personal life, they do not bother me at all. I leave it all up to God. In fact, I see it in a positive light. If people are writing a lot about me, that means that they still care about me and I am thankful for that."
On being in the media spotlight after he briefly filed for divorce last year and, more recently, after being accused of sending lewd text messages and pictures to a married woman
"People like to compare us because we are both from Singapore and are prominent in the Malaysian acting industry. We don't see each other very often because we are both busy with our own careers but there is no rivalry between us."
On his relationship with fellow Singapore-born actor Aaron Aziz. The two play brothers in popular gangster movie KL Gangster (2011) and follow-up KL Gangster 2
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