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Film schooled—with Nishok and Viknesh Silva

One casual 🗣 and a 🤯 emoji challenge ✌🏼🕺🏽🕺🏽💃🏻

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Published: 10 Nov 2021


Time taken : ~10mins

The young, independent filmmakers behind The Smell of Coffee (2020) and Dark Light (2021), featured at Kalaa Utsavam 2021, share notes with me over Telegram on the importance of broadening one’s perspectives, what it’s like being a filmmaker these days, and what they’d like to see more of in Singapore cinema. 🙋🏻‍♀‍🙍🏾‍♂‍💁🏾‍♂‍

21 October 2021

Ting created group «Film Schooled» with members Ting, Nishok and Viknesh Silva

 

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16:59

Ting

Hi guys!

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17:00

Viknesh Silva

Hi 👋🏼

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17:00

Ting

How’s everyone today?

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17:01

Viknesh Silva

Good good.

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17:01

Ting

@Viknesh, meet @Nishok!

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17:02

Viknesh Silva

We actually know each other, haha.

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17:02

Ting

Oh! Awesome. We can dispense with the introductions then.

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17:02

Nishok

Hi Ting. Hi Viknesh

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17:03

Viknesh Silva

@Nishok hey man, how's life? Have you finished your studies?

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17:03

Ting

Hi @Nishok

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17:04

Nishok

I'm currently in my 3rd year.

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17:05

Ting

@Viknesh, you were in the UK too, right?

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17:05

Viknesh Silva

Yes, I was. Came back in 2018.

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17:06

Viknesh Silva

I did my MA in film directing.

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17:07

Ting

How has the overseas experience been for the two of you?

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17:07

Viknesh Silva

Good. Felt very independent and easy to meet people in the same field.

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17:07

Nishok

Studying overseas has allowed me to immerse myself in a wider expansive film culture that is informed by a diverse array of perspectives. I really enjoyed the learning experiences at various film festivals.

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17:08

Viknesh Silva

Well, I feel u can study anywhere, but if u wanted better exposure to film then travelling is good.

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17:08

Viknesh Silva

You get to meet and network with your peers as well as develop connections.

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17:09

Ting

Travelling sounds like a dream, especially so now! Well, let’s get this going. Maybe you can start by telling me a little bit more about yourselves.

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17:09
Ting
Viknesh why don't you start first? Besides short films, you work in the TV industry too. What are you up to now?

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17:09

Viknesh Silva

I'm a freelancer at the moment. I currently handle projects like directing or editing for corporate clients.

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17:09

Viknesh Silva

Sometimes shooting as well while saving up for my next short film.

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17:10

Viknesh Silva

I do get some narrative work. Like editing short films and mini-series. But most of my work involves corporate stuff such as editing highlight videos.

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17:10

Ting

Nice. So Kalaa Utsavam is screening Dark Light at the festival this year. Can you tell me about it?

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17:10

Viknesh Silva

Dark Light is a film loosely based on a true event. Many years ago, I encountered a particular incident at a back alley and noticed some illegal gambling going on. I even saw them running away because the 'police' were there. So I wrote this down one day, and when the opportunity came, I decided to make it into a film but with a foreign worker as a character that we follow as I felt it would be more interesting to see this story through his eyes.

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17:11

Viknesh Silva

It also won a few awards this year.

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17:11

Ting

Interesting.

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17:13

Ting

What about you, @Nishok? I read that you’re aiming for your first feature by the age of 31? How’s that coming along?

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17:14

Nishok

The number of times this has come back in follow-up interviews is really hilarious.

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17:14

Ting

Haha. Well, it's good to have a goal.

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17:15

Nishok

I think it has taken a back seat as I am still searching for the topics that intrigue me. Long enough for a feature, that is.

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17:15

Ting

Tell me about The Smell of Coffee.

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17:17

Nishok

The Smell of Coffee came about as I was by my grandfather's deathbed. I did not know how to process my feelings at that moment, so I started free writing many different thoughts. It was one of those scribblings that I developed.

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17:17

Nishok

It was also during that period that what became apparent to me was how different generations process grief and this duality intrigued me a lot.

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17:18

Ting

So both your films were inspired by real events. Do they always inspire your stories?

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17:19

Nishok

I always draw from my surroundings, even though I attempt to stray away from the reality that the story is rooted in. The events that transpire in the film are somehow inevitably shaped by real incidents.

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17:19

Viknesh Silva

For me, Dark Light was the only one inspired by a real event. I usually come up with something based on a theme.

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17:20

Ting

So what are some of the themes and stories that intrigue you most and the genres you're really passionate about?

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17:22

Nishok

Themes that I am always drawn to are the deep-rooted bond of motherhood, old age and death, conflict between nature and nurture.

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17:22

Nishok

I am also fascinated by how we are all afraid of being the same. I think film is a tool for understanding facets of human nature better and I’m always drawn to the liminal spaces of human emotion.

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17:23

Viknesh Silva

I've always been intrigued about what we perceive as reality. Some themes include illusion and manipulation, some less abstract ones will be affairs and relationships.

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17:23

Ting

In reply to Nishok.
It is interesting that you mentioned the bond of motherhood. Can you elaborate?

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17:24

Nishok

I think it is the most complex relationship there is, and I've encountered it from many different angles in various films: the treatment of motherhood in Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows differs so much from Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother; and beneath the surface, even Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning is about motherhood. The extent to which a mother would go for her child is something that both baffles and moves me. Needless to say, I am very close to my mother. She is both my biggest supporter and harshest critic.

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17:24

Ting

In reply to Viknesh
How does that work out in crafting a film that deals with these abstract themes?

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17:26

Viknesh Silva

I'm still working on it to be honest. But in a nutshell, I will start by putting the character in my shoes.

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17:26

Viknesh Silva

I'm a fan of Christopher Nolan, so maybe I will follow in his footsteps in crafting film. Haha

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17:28

Ting

I need to say... I love the works of Dolan and Nolan. Haha. They’re both vastly different directors but really excellent storytellers.

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17:28

Viknesh Silva

Haha

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17:29

Ting

That scene in Dolan's Mommy where the lead character uses his hands to expand the aspect ratio was a pretty 🤯 visual trick.

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17:29

Nishok

Ahhhhhh…

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17:30

Nishok

That 5-min sequence towards the end always leaves me in tears. Always.

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17:31

Ting

I feel that both directors, since we're on this subject, are really adept at tackling their subject matters through the use of plot devices, style and cinematography.

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17:31

Ting

But I also suspect that to achieve all this, there's the matter of budget as well?

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17:31

Nishok

In terms of budget, I really love what Ingmar Bergman says, “I make so many movies because they don’t cost a lot" or something along those lines.

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17:32

Viknesh Silva

Yes, but I feel I don't need a huge budget to create something intelligent and intriguing.

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17:32

Viknesh Silva

If Nolan had no budget at all, he could still do an amazing film.

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17:32

Viknesh Silva

Just have to look at his 1st feature, Following. It was made on a $5,000 budget.

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17:33

Ting

In reply to Viknesh
Ahhh… I must admit I haven't seen it.

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17:33

Ting

So, when we look at Singapore cinema, I think we can safely say that many, if not most of our local films adopt a realist approach. Where do you think our local film industry is at right now and what do you think we can see more of?

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17:34

Viknesh Silva

Well I’m not against films in realism but I would prefer films that entertain as well. Maybe not as extensive like Marvel films, but intelligent ones that intrigue. I feel we are lacking in them.

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17:35

Nishok

I think there are inklings of examples indicating a shift away from social realism to a blend of different genres. Taking Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined as an example, although touching on realist topics, its treatment inculcates traces of magical realism and thrillers.

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17:35

Nishok

I think, as a filmmaker, the question I have for myself is what type of stories I want to tell, and perhaps, if there is room for a more spiritual and metaphysical type of film here as well.

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17:36

Ting

What do you think makes a good filmmaker?

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17:37

Nishok

One who is instinctive and listens to his heart at all times, especially in moments of crisis.

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17:38

Viknesh Silva

I think it’s understanding the fundamentals of the craft and also respecting your other departments as well because they have something important to contribute to your vision and trusting in them.

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17:39

Ting

Do you feel that filmmakers have to find their own style in the way artists do? Like as auteurs?

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17:39

Viknesh Silva

Yes, I agree to a certain extent if that's the direction you want to follow. Some filmmakers are just business-minded, so they follow a certain formula that rakes in the money. But some stay true to their style.

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17:40

Nishok

I think the term ‘auteur’ is one for the audience and critics. As a storyteller, as much as I try to stray away from certain stylistic or thematic choices, they somehow always find a way back into my works. So I just try to focus on making a film that resonates with an audience.

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17:41

Ting

In reply to Nishok
So true!

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17:41

Ting

As young, independent filmmakers, were you obsessed with the medium growing up? It feels like there needs to be some kind of obsession to really excel at something.

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17:42

Nishok

I feel that all art requires obsession and discipline.

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17:42

Nishok

I am of the belief that artists are like mosaics, the wider the palette, the more informed our works are. We are just filters that distil what we absorb.

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17:43

Ting

I’m sure you’ve watched your fair share of films. What are your favourite genres and what were some of the defining films that made you want to pursue this?

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17:44

Nishok

Hmmmm, I wouldn’t say genres per se, but I have a list of films that redefined my filmmaking language. I’ll try to keep it short.

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17:44

Nishok

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Uzak, Kasaba, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Theo Angelopolous’ Eternity and A Day, Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker Trilogy and Taste of Cherry, Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and of course Dolan’s Mommy.

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17:46

Viknesh Silva

I love thrillers.

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17:46

Viknesh Silva

I think one film that is still stuck in my head would be Nolan's The Prestige.

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17:47

Ting

What are/were some of the challenges you face as filmmakers?

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17:47

Viknesh Silva

Funding. No. 1. Haha

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17:47

Ting

That was quick, lol.

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17:48

Viknesh Silva

Even so because I didn't know anyone in the beginning. I had to work my way and drive Grab for months to save up.

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17:48

Viknesh Silva

Yes. I didn't have a proper job because I was over-qualified, so I had to resort to other ways.

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17:49

Ting

What about you, @Nishok?

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17:50

Nishok

I think the biggest challenge for me is finding the right balance between the sincerity of what I am trying to say and what is being presented on screen.

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17:51

Ting

@Nishok, can you elaborate?

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17:52

Nishok

Yeap. Because I always ask myself how the characters in the film would feel watching themselves on screen. Given how I always draw from reality, the challenge I face is how far do I go with my artistic liberty before it crosses the line into misrepresentation and insincerity.

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17:53

Ting

That's a valid point.

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17:54

Ting

So how has your cultural/ethnic identity influenced your filmmaking in any way?

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17:55

Viknesh Silva

For me, it doesn't. Because the ideas and stories that I come up with can be told in any parts of the world.

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17:56

Nishok

I see my ethnicity as an advantage, not a limitation.

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17:56

Nishok

It allows me to explore the nuances that are rooted here in the experiences I have encountered albeit with a universality that allows it to resonate with audiences who have not encountered those experiences.

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17:57

Nishok

For example, when my film was presented at a festival overseas with a few other filmmakers of a similar ethnicity, it was only then did I realise that although I am Indian, my film would not yield the same textural resonance had it been shot in India for example. It was only then did I understand that being a Singapore Indian offers a pathway to stories that are unique to my experiences here.

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17:58

Ting

Yes, I suppose we are products of our environments.

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17:59

Nishok

We truly are.

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18:00

Ting

The two of you have won a few awards. How did it feel to be recognised for your work?

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18:01

Viknesh Silva

Very rewarding and motivated to make more, especially after the challenges faced during the making of the film.

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18:01

Viknesh Silva

It fuels me to continue.

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18:02

Nishok

I’ve enjoyed the human connection hearing feedback from audiences of various walks of life. The biggest satisfaction I receive is when the film resonates with someone. One programmer mentioned to me that The Smell of Coffee helped her process feelings of grief that she didn't know how to at that time.

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18:03

Ting

Ok, last question.

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18:04

Ting

This is an emoji challenge.

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18:04

Ting

Using emoji only, say you have all the budget in the world, describe your dream project.

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18:05

Nishok

Ok, here goes.

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18:06

Nishok

⚽️🥅

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18:07

Ting

In reply to Nishok
Let me guess. Is it a film about football?

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18:07

Nishok

I'm a sucker for sports biopics actually. Standard tangent, but I'll still watch it.

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18:08

Viknesh Silva

💆‍♂

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18:08

Viknesh Silva

This is like the closest I can find, haha!

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18:09

Viknesh Silva

Nothing to do the massaging the head, but about waking up from an illusion!

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18:10

Ting

Haha. Ok, so if you were to construct a story using emoji...

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18:11

Nishok

Ooo curveball question.

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18:11

Viknesh Silva

Dual realities.

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18:12

Nishok

⚽️🥊🛫🍺🛬🏆

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18:13

Ting

In reply to Nishok
Looks like a happy ending.

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18:13

Nishok

I wanted to inverse it but there wasn’t an emoji for an injury.

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18:14

Nishok

or is there...not big with emojis, haha.

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18:15

Ting

In reply to Nishok
🦿 maybe?

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18:15

Nishok

Ayyyy

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18:16

Nishok

⚽️🏆🛫🍺🛬🥊🏌🏽‍♂‍

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18:16

Nishok

Decided to have a bit more fun.

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18:17

Ting

Your turn, Viknesh

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18:18

Viknesh Silva

💆‍♂😵‍💫👥

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18:19

Ting

In reply to Viknesh Silva
Hmm.. doppelgangers?

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18:20

Viknesh Silva

Hahah no. Dual realities.

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18:21

Ting

In reply to Viknesh Silva
Lol

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18:21

Ting

This has been fun, guys. Hope you enjoyed your first chat interview. Thanks for all your time!

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18:22

Viknesh Silva

You too! All the best to you @Nishok.

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18:22

Nishok

In reply to @Viknesh
Thanks Viknesh! Thanks Ting! Have a great weekend guys!

Contributed by:

Lim Li Ting

Lim Liting is a worker bee, house elf and freelance content producer.


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