From The Straits Times    |

Her TikToks of trolling scammers by serenading or berating them have gone viral in the past few months – one has even reached over one million views. In these videos, local actor and TV presenter Nurul Aini shows off her fluent Mandarin skills as she plays along with the scammers, before throwing them off with her cheeky sense of humour. 

While these videos have attracted thousands of viewers, Nurul is not new to being in the limelight. She is a familiar face on local television, having acted in a number of dramas, including her most recognisable role as Durrani – a go-getting and ambitious career woman – on Channel 5’s Lion Mums, about three Singapore mothers who strive to give their children the best in life.

With years of experience under her belt, the warm and affable 40-year-old celebrates her 20th year in show business this year. “I realised just before this interview that it’s my 20th anniversary. So this [Her World] cover – my first one – means a lot to me,” she says.

For Nurul, it’s more than just a celebration of her career achievements. It is a step towards more representation for people of colour in the local entertainment industry. The Singapore-born actress – who is of Malay, Peranakan, Pakistani and Dutch descent, and speaks English, Mandarin and Malay – adds that she is glad to see more of minority races on TV today, including long form dramas on Channel 5 that feature more Malay and Indian families.

“I’m very happy with how things are progressing right now when it comes to the media and the TV industry. I can see my fellow actors progressing to other channels after being on one channel for many years. There’s still room for improvement, but I can see the progress, and I hope we can keep it up,” she says.

When Nurul landed a leading role in Lion Mums in 2017, it opened an opportunity for her to transition from being a star on Suria, which caters to the Malay-speaking audience, to acting in one of Singapore’s more mainstream TV channels. She has also been invited to act in a Channel 8 Mandarin drama The Heartland Hero, where she had a role as a doctor.

Nurul’s newest role is a detective on Third Rail, a 12-episode action thriller that revolves around the hijacking of an MRT train, which recently premiered in October. On why she took on such a different role from her previous shows, which were mostly family dramas, Nurul excitedly shares that it’s her first time starring as a no-nonsense tenacious detective, and she relishes the challenge ofnplaying a more complex character.

“My character, Jana, speaks without pauses and is expressionless, so I had to memorise chunks of lines, and deliver my dialogue while maintaining a cool demeanour.”

Choosing kindness

Mini dress in recycled nylon with sheer lace panel and contrasting cotton collar, Prada
Double-breasted wool blazer with gold Hot & Cold faucet-shaped buttons, and wool flared trousers, Moschino. Matelasse nappa leather top-handle bag, Miu Miu

Although she is no stranger to playing various roles on TV, Nurul takes off her actor’s hat when it comes to being a content creator. Nurul’s social media posts typically show her interacting with her children – eldest son Shan Ehan, 12, and two daughters Shaista Eman, 10, and Shania Eva, 3 – or just going about her day.

She also displays her goofy side on Tiktok with videos of herself playing pranks on her husband, real estate agent Sofian Roslan, and dancing with her family. However, while the content endears Nurul to an audience of 182,000 on Instagram and 38,500 on Tiktok, opening up about her life on these platforms also means dealing with online brickbats. Despite being in the public eye for most of her career, Nurul has struggled with the mental and emotional toll of the criticism, some of which were even directed at her children.

She admits: “I would be lying if I said I don’t get affected by the negative comments.” Nurul recalls an incident in 2015 when she won the Most Popular Female Personality award for the third time consecutively at Pesta Perdana, an awards ceremony that celebrates the best in Singapore’s Malay media. She got “bashed really badly” online as people expressed their unhappiness about her win, saying that “others should have been given a chance”, even though the results were based on the votes of fans.

“I was happy for about two to three hours the night I won, but when I saw the comments coming in, they got so bad that I cried myself to sleep that night,” she says.

Over time, Nurul has realised that there will sometimes be unkind comments about her as long as she is in the limelight, and has slowly learnt to let the negativity go. It helps that Sofian has been her biggest and constant source of support.

“He is very realistic and tells me the hard truth – that I have to accept that people will keep talking, and there is nothing I can do about it,” she says.

To others who have had to deal with online bullying, her advice is to be the bigger person.

“I know it’s difficult. When you read something [negative] about yourself, you’d want to react immediately. Don’t do it! Most of the time, they just want a reaction from you, so do not give it to them.

“Besides, I have three kids! I don’t have time to engage,” she says with a laugh.

Now, Nurul focuses on the positives – and has even tapped on her social media presence to do good for others. During the circuit breaker in 2020, she did an Instagram Live video where she and her husband interviewed a Covid-19 patient – a mother of a one-year-old baby – in the hospital about her experience. It reached around 10,000 viewers, and the overwhelming response prompted her to do a weekly series where they interviewed other patients, as well as frontline workers.

Her desire to help those affected by the pandemic even transcended borders. In 2021, Nurul spoke about the plight of underserved Malaysians struggling with their livelihoods. Her post spurred a Singaporean follower based in Malaysia, Dr Zarina Gurrahman, who had been providing free meals for the in-need and homeless, to reach out to Nurul about sharing their plight on her platform.

Just by posting about the situation on her Instagram stories, Nurul was able to raise $35,000 in two days.

“Don’t underestimate the power of social media, and what it can do for you and others. Use it right and spread positivity!” she declares.

Don’t underestimate the power of social media, and what it can do for you and others. Use it right and spread positivity!

Overcoming mum guilt

Faux fur coat, MCM. Enamelled metal earrings, Miu Miu. Acetate sunglasses, Prada
Bustier midi length dress, & Other Stories. Sheer ruffled gloves, Luulaa at Tiffany Knot double row rose gold necklace with diamonds, and Tiffany Knot yellow gold ring with diamonds, Tiffany & Co.

This mum is clear that her children remain her top priority. On a typical day, she wakes up early to drive her kids to school.

“To me, spending time is not just taking them out for makan (food) and movies. Sending them to school in the car is very precious,” she says. “It’s the time for us to connect through conversation.”

Difficulties arise when she is filming, which can sometimes last up to 12 hours a day. This means that her children are often asleep when she gets home. Luckily, her helper and her husband are hands-on with the kids as well. Off work, Nurul always looks forward to spending quality time with her children. This includes ensuring that they’re on top of their homework.

“Every off day I get from filming is super precious to me,” she shares. “I even neglect my husband, because my priority is with the kids!”

But there are also times when it all becomes a bit much. When the kids were having their exams in September, Nurul was also juggling numerous work assignments. To top it off, her mother fell ill. “I barely had time to breathe. Every time I sat down, someone would call me,” she says.

Eventually, she ended up crying alone in her room. Help arrived in the form of her husband, who took the children off her hands for a while, which gave her some time to collect herself. Despite the supportive environment at home, Nurul reveals that mum guilt is always on her mind.

She hopes that, in time, society will become kinder towards mothers, especially those who are working. “As mothers, we are expected to do everything – household chores, raise smart children, be a good wife and perform well in our work. At the end of the day, we are just one person.”

Nurul also has this to say to other working mums: “We don’t hear this enough – but please know that you are doing good! Whatever it is, don’t let what other people say affect you too much. Cancel whatever noise is around you. As mothers, we know best what’s good for our kids.”

Cancel whatever noise is around you. As mothers, we know best what’s good for our kids.

Cotton shirt with unfinished hem, wool bermudas, wool socks, calfskin loafers, and enamel drop earrings, Miu Miu. Tiffany T rose gold necklace with mother-of- pearl and diamonds, and assorted Knot rings, Tiffany & Co.

STYLING Lena Kamarudin, assisted by Joanzine Lee
HAIR & MAKEUP Hongling, using YSL Beauty and Kevin Murphy