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[2008] 08-09 Actress Huang Biren quits MediaCorp over salary

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Chang May Choon
Sat, Aug 09, 2008
The New Paper
20080807.124327_huang_biren.jpg

SHE'S the most acclaimed actress on Caldecott Hill, with three Best Actress wins to her name. And her new drama role was a challenging one which she felt she could excel in.

So why did Huang Biren quit acting?

That's the question that many are asking, after news got out on Monday that the veteran actress has left MediaCorp - to become a full-time mother.

Fans have been waiting eagerly for her to make a TV comeback, after she gave birth to her daughter Janessa on 6 Mar.

Biren herself told The New Paper over the phone yesterday that she was prepared to return to acting after three months of maternity leave.

But MediaCorp did not offer her a salary package that she felt she deserved, she said.

Biren was supposed to renew her contract in May. But the new offer did not meet her expectations, and she felt "disappointment", she said.

The 39-year-old actress declined to give details, but said she didn't have to take a pay cut.

The New Paper understands that an artiste's salary package is determined by her perceived market value and number of work hours.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

Biren told The New Paper: "When I got the first offer, I knew I definitely won't take it... It's not that the deal is too poor. To some people, it'd sound good enough, but not in my point of view.

"I have my own principles and my own set of standards. I don't ask for the sky, I don't ask to be paid like Zoe Tay or Fann Wong, and it's not even close to what some of my colleagues get."

Negotiations went on for about two weeks.

But the last offer still fell short of her expectations.

"I have a proven record that I don't have to elaborate, and I'm very confident of what I can deliver," she said resolutely.

"But my opportunity cost is high, and the offer is just not attractive enough. I might as well take the other option to be a homemaker."

Besides her newborn daughter, Biren also has a son, Justin, 8.

When contacted, Ms Ivy Low, assistant vice-president at MediaCorp's artiste management division, said MediaCorp "would offer the best (salary package) that we can to retain people".

She felt Biren's departure was a loss to the company, and does not rule out future collaborations.

Biren also insisted that it was an amicable split.

"I didn't slam the table and there was nothing sour or bitter... It's just that I cannot compromise on certain things."

Meanwhile, TV viewers are split in their reactions to Biren's departure.

Upset netizens lamented in forums that MediaCorp "lost a great actress" who is "irreplaceable", and that her leaving marks the "end of a legend".

But there are also people who support her decision, arguing that it is a "smart move" to leave at her peak, so "people will always remember her".

Others reacted to how Biren was allegedly offered a new service contract that did not include CPF contributions, medical benefits and annual leave.

But Ms Low clarified that contracts offered to talents - be they actors, TV hosts or singers - differ from those offered to normal employees.

She added that annual leave, CPF and medical benefits are compensated for in other forms within the contract.

Although Biren didn't accept the new offer, she did agree to extend her old contract by a month to guest-host in the infotainment show Glamour Mum & The Dude, alongside Bryan Wong.

The new mother was initially reluctant to do it because she felt she was "still very fat", but caved in because trailers with her face in it had already been shown.

It will now be her swansong.

Some fans still can't believe that Biren has quit, and they bombard her with questions when they spot her in the streets.

The actress said she was shopping at Thomson Plaza with her daughter on Tuesday, when she was stopped by more than 10 people asking about her sudden departure.

"They'd be like, 'Why? Why like that?'" she said.

"I don't know how to react to them, and I can't go into details, so I tried to shift the attention to my daughter and avoid the topic."

Biren added: "People are definitely concerned about me... I sincerely say sorry (to them) from the bottom of my heart. I really need them to understand and support my decision. That's the most valuable thing they can give to me."

NOT EASY

Leaving hasn't been an easy decision for her, said Biren, who has been acting for 20 years since graduating from school.

"It was a struggle, I thought about it even when I was in bed. But when the time came to make a decision, I had to be firm."

She doesn't mind doing ad-hoc TV projects later, as acting is still her biggest passion.

But, for now, she spends her time taking care of her two children.

Her husband is a civil servant and they live in a condominium in Bishan.

Her son, who is in Primary 2, comes home around 2pm and Biren makes sure he does his homework.

She has a maid to help with cooking and cleaning the house.

On coping with one less income, Biren said her husband's salary is enough to cover the family's expenses.

They have two cars, and she has not decided whether to sell hers since she does not use it so often now.

"What I earned was for savings and my own spending, so it doesn't make much difference. I can't say I don't feel a single pinch. It's not a meagre sum (that she was earning before), but principles weigh heavier."

This article was first published in The New Paper on Aug 7, 2008.

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