From The Straits Times    |

Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of suicide.

Not too long ago, during a recent therapy session, Preeti Nair had a significant realisation about her outlook on life. “This year was the first time I finally acknowledged how pessimistic I am,” she says. “As much as I will try to justify [my thinking] as being practical or logical, it’s actually really negative.”

Who can blame her? The past four years have been undeniably challenging for Preeti. She received a conditional warning from the police for a controversial parody video and lost her father to suicide – last month, her brother was handed a six-week jail sentence by the State Courts. That’s a lot for anyone to deal with, particularly when you’re in the public spotlight, and have embraced the role of being a voice (albeit a humorous one) for the under-represented in Singapore.

A compelling voice for change

Stamped leather coat, Versace. Crystal earrings, Swarovski

Preeti gained popularity online in 2016 after she released a viral parody in response to a video that featured insensitive critiques of Singaporeans’ fashion choices. She transitioned to working full-time as a comedian and Internet personality (@preetipls) in 2017. On social media and in videos, Preeti is extroverted with a larger- than-life personality.

In person, however, she’s an introvert. Acknowledging her “shy and quiet” personality, she explains: “Being quiet does not necessarily reflect my lack of interest in conversation; it’s just that I tend to have a lot on my mind, and I’m someone who simply likes to observe a lot more.”

Different as her online alter ego might seem, “Preetipls” is essentially an extension of herself, she says. “It’s just how I portray and put my perspectives across – with this persona, it’s obviously in a very exaggerated, delusional, and funny way.”

As one of the few successful female Indian comedians in Singapore, Preeti uses her humour to speak out on important social causes, including issues such as equality, representation and mental health awareness. “To me, using humour is very important because I definitely think that’s something we lack in general. We don’t laugh enough! I find that using humour – as a way to engage people in conversation, make them laugh, and bring a smile to their faces initially – opens people up to be more receptive.”

Cool bolero, and knit dress, COS. Crystal earrings, Swarovski

Striking a balance between thought-provoking satire and ensuring that your message doesn’t get lost in the humour is a fine line to tread.

In 2019, Preeti and her older brother, rapper and social activist Subhas Nair, posted a parody video in response to an advertisement that controversially depicted a Chinese actor in brown-face. The rap video, which talks about the discriminatory stereotypes that Singapore’s minority groups experience, resulted in a police investigation.

“Our story was all over every channel on television, and my mum watches the news every night. It was a strange experience that’s hard to put into words. I couldn’t believe what was happening, and I didn’t know how to react. I was just silent, thinking, ‘Is this really happening? Are they really talking about us?’ It just felt weird.” It was a potent reminder of the need to tactfully use humour to give voice to social discrimination. “It’s strange because I had been creating content for years with a clear intention of addressing racism and discrimination, highlighting the need for change,” she says.

Eventually, the siblings received a two-year conditional warning, which meant that they had to remain crime-free for 24 months. The two-year conditional warning for Preeti has passed, but her brother was charged in court after he made further race-related comments on social media.

“The memories of the incident have never left me. It frequently comes up in social settings, places that I visit, and in conversations with people. [However] I’m not saying that it’s unjustified, as it’s become a significant part of my career,” she says.

Beyond the laughter

Knit dress, COS. Crystal earrings, Swarovski. Leather boots, Preeti’s own.

Family means everything to Preeti. She often turns to her brother for advice on content creation, and is also very close to her mother, who was the inspiration behind her moniker – when she was young, her mother would often say exasperatedly: “Preeti, please do this.”

“My mum is very supportive. I’ll often go to her for advice, even if it’s something she has no personal experience with. My entire career is on the Internet, and the work I do isn’t something that my mum has experience in, but as a mother, she’s always looked after my best interests, and offered guidance on how to cope with the challenges I’ve faced. She’s always been the person I confided in,” she shares. Besides her mother and brother, Preeti counts on her close friends and her boyfriend as her constant pillars of support.

Preeti had been estranged from her late father, as he had left the family for 10 years. In 2020, he took his life. He had struggled with a gambling addiction for most of her life, and thus she was never able to truly build a relationship with him.

She vividly remembers some of the most daunting moments of her childhood, including times when, dressed in her primary school uniform, she’d help her mother scrub away the paint of her unit number that loan sharks had splashed across the wall.

She says: “To be honest, that was my childhood experience. And up until, I think, maybe a couple of years ago, I had been harassed by loan sharks my whole life. So when people ask me about Internet trolls, I’m like, Internet trolls really don’t mean much to me when I’ve been harassed by real-life trolls: people who literally camped outside my house, harassed my mother, made constant calls, and stalked us – all this, and all I did was to be born.”

Internet trolls don’t mean much to me when I’ve been harassed by real-life trolls: people who literally camped outside my house, harassed my mother, made constant calls, and stalked us – all this, and all I did was to be born.

Preeti Nair

Preeti, who barely recalls happy memories of her childhood with her father, was more or less apathetic when she learnt of his death. However, watching her mother and brother, who had more time with “the good parts of him”, grieve the loss of her father gave her conflicting emotions.

“I can’t explain it, but I struggled to express myself, and felt numb. Since the incident in 2020, I’m glad I’m able to openly speak about it, but I definitely feel an odd sense of nonchalance or emptiness. “Witnessing your own mother and sibling grieve the loss of someone you lost as well, you start to wonder if you’ve become desensitised. Do you no longer feel things as strongly as before? It’s a very strange feeling, like you’re disconnected from your own emotions,” she reveals.

With everything that she has gone through, it would hardly come as a surprise if the thought that life is unfair has crossed her mind. “As a young girl, I definitely felt that life was unfair. I often wondered why I couldn’t have a normal family. Now, as an adult, when I reflect on those thoughts, I realise how insanely fortunate I am to have a mother who stood by me despite the chaos her husband put her through, and a sibling who has always been there for me, no matter what.”

If she was forced to make a choice between reliving her life exactly as it was or choosing to restart a new life, which would she pick?

“I guess if I had the knowledge that I was going to go through those things, it would have been nicer to go into it [prepared],” she jokes, before taking on a more serious tone. “If I didn’t go through what I went through with my family and with my life experiences in general, would I still be the same person today? Would I still care about everything I care about? I cannot answer that question because I literally don’t know. My upbringing played a significant role in shaping who I am today, and I can’t say that I’d be the same person without it.”

She asserts: “Despite everything I’ve been through, I’ve achieved what I have and used my platform to speak out. My life experiences, especially with my family, have shaped who I am and made me care about marginalised groups. That’s why I think I don’t really pick and choose causes that I want to speak up for. I know I can be a voice for marginalised communities.”

Struggles into strength

Knit dress, metal earrings, and metal necklace, & Other Stories

In this season of her life, Preeti is in a period of introspection and healing. Therapy, which she recently started in June this year (“It was a struggle to make that first step to sign up because of how daunting the whole thing was to me and, to be very frank, therapy – actually, self-care – is so expensive in Singapore!”), has helped her improve her perspective.

It’s only been a handful of sessions, but Preeti has been so much more aware of such thoughts. “It’s funny because, somehow, most things have worked out, and I have managed to survive every negative moment. It’s been okay to some extent,” she shares.

Besides therapy, she has also started pilates, which has been a game changer for her mental health. “For the rest of the year, my priority is to make sure that I continue these [practices]. I’m just honestly trying to be happy and find joy in everything I do, because that’s something I’ve struggled with for a while now.”

This intention for joy extends to Preeti’s professional endeavours. Earlier in June, she released Ally, a new rap single – her first in three years – in support of Pink Dot and the LGBTQ+ community. “[At the beginning of the year] I was telling myself that if I were to make music again after the hiatus, I needed to genuinely feel excited about it. I wanted my next song to have a purpose beyond just making noise, and I wanted it to convey a message.

When I was thinking about this, I realised that it was leading up to Pride Month, and traditionally, I’ve always created content around this time. I thought about what I could do differently this year, and decided to release a new rap single. In my work, I discuss the importance of being an ally, and it’s not limited to just Pride Month or LGBTQ+ issues. You can be an ally for various communities,” she says.

Outfit, Fendi.

Earlier this year, she also relaunched Preeti Girls Club, her podcast where she speaks about pop culture and social issues. Recording most of the episodes in her home, she intends to grow the podcast with more episodes on equality, representation and allyship, and to eventually invite guest speakers to share different perspectives.

For Mental Health Awareness Month in October, she’s partnering with the Mental Health Film Festival to do an episode specifically focused on mental health among young people, and its connection to social media consumption. She also plans to create podcast episodes centred around women’s sexual health and lesser-known conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome.

There’s no grand, overarching plan for how she imagines her career evolving. She has always wanted to try her hand at writing a comedy series for a show, and might give it a go one day. The idea of doing a one-woman musical “could be very fun”, or maybe, one day, in the very distant future, she might go back to school to study either law or psychology.

Is there anything she won’t do? “Well, as Singapore’s top everything, I guess there’s nothing I will say no to,” Preeti says with a warm chuckle, referring to the famous tongue-in-cheek phrase that she uses to describe herself.

She quietly contemplates for a few seconds before sharing: “I recall a friend telling me early in my career that she wished she had someone like ‘Preetipls’ as a role model while growing up. It might sound weird, because I’m essentially referring to myself, but after she said that, I realised that I, too, wished I had a ‘Preetipls’ during my own formative years.

I hope that my presence, content creation, and the messages I convey can serve as an inspiration. I hope that by simply existing and expressing myself, it encourages those who have strong feelings and thoughts, but may lack the confidence to articulate them. I want them to understand that their opinions are valid, and that they deserve a safe space to express themselves.”

FIRST IMAGE OUTFIT CREDIT Faux fur and wool coat, and acetate sunglasses, Gucci. Crystal earrings, Swarovski.

Preeti is on the cover of Her World’s October 2023 issue. which also marks a milestone for Singapore’s longest-standing women’s magazine as we launch a new look! The October issue features three covers featuring three women who are voices of impact in Singapore: Janice Koh, Preeti Nair and Shye. Get your hands on all three collectible covers.