Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Veronica `Panda' Felicia Kumala: Making it personal

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 04/25/2009 1:33 PM | People

Courtesy of Veronica Felicia KumalaCourtesy of Veronica Felicia Kumala

Everything happens for a reason, and Veronica Felicia Kumala believes this.

The host of TransTV's popular reality show Termehek-mehek said she was not enthusiastic when a friend asked her to help with the program's pilot project.

"I didn't know what the project was all about, and the name of the program was also weird," said the 26-year-old, popularly known as Panda - initially a sobriquet from two of her high school friends who thought she looked like a chubby bear.

She had already forgotten about the two-episode pilot project she did when she was called for an interview by TransTV, which had bought the program from production house PT Triwarasana.

"I was doing something else and didn't even remember it," she said.

The latest survey by AGB Nielsen Media Research, found the majority of Indonesian teenagers prefer watching reality TV shows more than any other programs.

The survey found Termehek-mehek - which helps people track down friends, relatives and past lovers they have lost contact with over the years - is the most popular reality show for teenagers in the country.

The program is renowned for its unpredictable outcomes.

In the show, which began in May 2008 and is still running, Veronica is partnered with Mandala Shoji. But it took 13 episodes before they got the chemistry right.

"We had a very difficult time because we come from different backgrounds. Mandala is an actor, while I'm a radio host," said Veronica, who has been a DJ at Prambors radio station since 2002.

Her three years of experience as a host for RCTI's Katakan Cinta helped her deal with the problem.

"Now we even understand each other's body language," she said.

Despite Termehek-mehek's popularity, she is aware that many people still misunderstand the reality show.

"The stories are real, but we call it reality drama because it involves the process of dramatization for the sake for broadcasting," she explained.

Being a host, she gets deeply involved in the cases and at times, the emotion gets to her.

Once, when filming at Pondok Ranji train station for a twins episode, she lost control.

"I used all the abusive language I knew when facing thugs in a scene, because they were acting outrageously. I didn't realize it was during filming," she said.

But she never feels bad about meddling in people's privacy for the show.

"It depends on how we look at these stories. As long as we do it with a good intention, I will never feel sorry, especially when a target does not show any regret," she said.

"Many also dislike Oprah Winfrey. But as long as I did not take someone's life or make them lose their job, I will do it. The risk is part of my job."

Being in the show also makes her feel grateful that she can learn from other people's experience without having to go through it herself.

"We really put ourselves in other people shoes, and that's why sometimes we are overwhelmed with emotion."

The show has also opened her eyes to people's many problems, but she said that if her boyfriend cheated on her, as has happened to many of the participants in the show, she would simply leave.

"I will never look for the man who left me without any notice. There are many good things to do than look for someone who has left," she said.

"The first thing that comes to my mind when I heard about this kind of story is, *babe, there are many good men in the world, so forget him and move on,'" she said.

"But unfortunately people are different. Some can do very well when their partners leave them, while some have a very bad situation."

Despite her popularity, she prefers to be called an artist rather than a celebrity.

"Everybody can be a celebrity, even a killer; but to have the skill of speaking in public and dealing with people on the screen is an art," she said.

Some have even encouraged her to act in soap operas, but the woman who finished her mass communication study from the London School of Public Relations in 2006 said she would like to have her own TV talk show like her idol Oprah Winfrey.

"I never say never to any offer to act in a soap opera, but my dream is to have my own talk show. I like to listen to people but I still have to improve my skills," said Veronica, whose undergraduate thesis was on viewers' responses to the Super Deal 2 Million Quiz show.

She also has a dream to build a center to help youths improve their self-confidence.

"When I was in high school, I had a problem with self-confidence. I was 160 centimeters tall but weighed 65 kilograms. My friends called me names like *Panda', *a calf like Flintstone's cudgel', or *VW bumper'.

"You could never imagine what I tried doing to lose weight, until I was rushed to hospital at midnight because I took too much medicine," said Veronica, who now hosts an early morning radio program aired in eight big cities, called Panda Berkokok (Panda Crows).

Being a talk show host and setting up a youth center are not the only things on her agenda. She plans to pursue a postgraduate course in business or become a presenter at the Voice of America (VOA).

One thing for sure, she never has any regrets in her life.

She was rejected by the University of Indonesia in 2001, which prompted her to study at the London School of Public Relations. And if she was not jobless for a while after graduating, she might never have taken a TV presenter course at the Indonesian-British School of Communication.

"This background made a friend encourage me to apply for a presenter job at Prambors, which later gave me the opportunity to host Katakan Cinta and later on Termehek-mehek," she said.

And her show's popularity, despite the presence of many other reality shows, did not make her feel higher than others.

"The higher you stand, the more you get the wind," she said.

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