Faizal Bongso has become something of a household name in local media. With over 30 years in the industry, he is still a sought-after personality. But clearly not everyone with a microphone makes it to this level of fame. It comes with passion and commitment. So we caught up with Faizal to find out more about the man behind the mic.
So we begin with the famous question. How did it all start? “I had joined the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, as a relief announcer in 1981, and two weeks into my training, I was asked to read the news as the regular news reader didn’t turn up. I was confident to go ahead and it must have gone well because Livvy Wijemanne immediately dropped into the studio and commended me. I was empanelled soon after.” Faizal went on to do popular radio programmes at the time, such as the Morning Show, Holiday Choice and Your Favourties and Mine at the Commercial Service of SLBC.
His stint as a part-time radio presenter and news-reader ended in the 90’s, after joining the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation in 1984, as work at the SLRC became more challenging and time-consuming. He recalls his first bulletin live, with Noeline Honter as the co-host. “I was nervous. Rupavahini was the television station that was looked up to and well-respected, and there was a lot of pressure,” he recalls. He added that his journey on Rupavahini for the first couple of years was a very tough time, but that it all changed with time. He spoke of the undue pressure that was sometimes exerted in the field even by colleagues. “Readers should be relaxed and not be under pressure,” he said, adding that he sees some of the current readers minding their own interests. “That’s how it should be,” adds Faizal.
“Working in the media can actually sometimes make you feel under tremendous pressure. IF you are sensitive, when people start making adverse comments, especially when they’re not being constructive, it can put you off. It can be very disturbing too. But it didn’t deter me. I held on and I went ahead,” he says.
An old boy of Isipathana College and then Wesley College, he held a full-time post at Lankpro (Ceylon) Ltd, where he held a senior post. But listening to him talk of his career in the media, it is clear that media is his passion. So much so that he wanted both his children to be involved too. “It was my dream to get them to be part time news anchors.” And true to his wishes, his daughter Zeenath Bongso and son Javed Bongso are in their own rights accomplished news readers and programme presenters. Faizal recalls the day the three of them presented the news together on Rupavahini, with him co-hosting the main news with Zeenath, while Javed presented the sports segment. “It was the happiest moment in my life to have read together.”
So back in the day, what made him get into the field of emceeing? He recalls how one of his colleagues at SLBC Caryll Sela secured him his first assignment – a Hayleys Dinner Dance. “This was back in 1981. I was really tensed but I did it. I was told there would be a table draw. Now I had never been to a dinner dance before and I was wondering what a table draw was. So the organizing committee had to explain what it was. It was all new to me and it was embarrassing,” he laughs. But learning is clearly no laughing matter to Faizal, who believes learning is what keeps him at the top of the game. “I’m ready to learn from anyone. That’s what keeps me current,” he confirms. “You can’t feel you are beyond correction. You have to change with the times. My compering from the 80’s is different. You now need more rapport with the audience. I watch a lot of foreign programmes and I continue to learn a lot. That’s key”
Bagging around 15-18 shows a month, he shares what keeps the emceeing spirit alive in him. “You have to sense the pulse of the people. That is very important. I think as a compere we need to get to know them. Even if you’re conducting a competition, they will remember you. When it comes to official events, you have to maintain high standards. You shouldn’t mix humour with serious events.” Speaking of his impressions of the younger presenters and emcees, he says “There are some good comperes. They have their own style,” he says.
Speaking of what media means to him he says, “It means a lot to me. I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. Financially it has helped me, too. And thanks to Almighty Allah, I’m still sought after.”
Faizal also trains students privately in Effective Communication. Working from his home, he trains children from ages eight upwards and adults, too. Commenting on how teaching English has become a farce in our country, he says, “Many people in our country are gullible and get caught to people who cheat them. There are teachers who simply distribute cyclostyled documents. We learn to speak English eloquently through usage, not through a document. I believe you need to speak English often and be guided by a person whose language is good.”
From someone with 30 plus years of experience in the industry, it seems only fit to ask the clichéd question of what words of wisdom he would give aspiring presenters. “First and foremost, you need to find for yourself whether this is a gift you have. You can’t force yourself. And just because you like it, you can’t do it. It’s a talent. You have to be lucky to get into this. When you do, work with passion, commitment and dedication. Never compete unhealthily. Every day is a learning process in the media. You need to be updated with what’s happening around the world. Be natural, never have false airs. Be interactive and be humble. Your heart has to be in the right place and you must not be jealous of anybody.” (Leisure Plus)