Moving at the speed of Tata

Two years ago, her name was everywhere. She’d just been named by Elle as one of Thailand’s “Ten Most Influential People”, and Asiaweek had included her in their 1998 list of the “25 Most Exceptional People in Asia”. She appeared in her second film, O-Negative, for which she also put out an album – her sixth – and she was selected to sing at the 13th Asian Games opening ceremony.

Then things quietened down – relatively – for the now nineteen-year-old Amita Tata Young. She left Grammy Entertainment, who she had been with for four years and six albums. She did appear on CNN’s Q&A Asia in May 1999, and was named by The Nation as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Artists and Entertainers of the Century” in July, but compared to the rest of her whirlwind young life, this was a quiet period.

“After I left Grammy I had two years of freedom as a normal kid,” Tata, as her fans know her, says. “I went to school, I did my schoolwork, and then I would party with my friends. I’d go to the movies, spend time with my dogs, my boyfriend, my family. I had a two-year normal life. It was a great break. I needed it.”

But she’s quick to point out she doesn’t feel like she’s missed out by not having a normal adolescence. “I don’t regret any part of the rest of it,” she says. “It’s one person in a hundred who would have had the opportunities I had…”

Now that’s an understatement – more like one in sixty million, perhaps. But when I meet with Tata in the offices of 108pets.com, the new website she recently launched with friends, she could be any enthusiastic young woman who is sincere about becoming successful at what she does.

“Hi, I’m Tata,” she says in her American accent, with a direct look in my eyes and a handshake. She hands me her card, and ushers me into the office as she ushers out a group of Thammasat students. They’ve been interviewing Tata to help with their masters theses. She’s sipping tea, has skin so perfect it’s worth mentioning, and looks glowingly healthy without a skerrick of makeup.

She starts off our chat by asking me about myself. She’s as far away from the clichéd self-obsessed star as she could be. And when the tape starts rolling, something becomes clear: Tata’s well and truly back, now that she’s finally signed to entertainment company BEC Tero.

“We’re going to start with my first sitcom, which will be with Channel 3, and then there’ll be the music, and then the movies. “ She’s matter-of-fact, counting off what the next four years holds for her. “The deal that we have with BEC Tero is a four-year contract: two movies, two sitcoms, three albums.”

She thinks she’ll start working on her first album by the beginning of next year. “And it will probably be pop. I’ve always been comfortable with that type of music. But the reason we’re starting off with the sitcom is that I’ve never had a chance to be in a sitcom before.”

New experiences are something that Tata is cherishing at this stage of her career. “It’s going to be a romantic comedy, definitely. That’s basically how much I know right now. We’re still in the process of picking stories, finding the right characters, the right guy to act with me and things like that.”

And her next big screen appearance? “The movie will be awhile… “ When pressed for what it might involve, Tata confesses that she’s always wanted to star in an action movie. “I’ve done a dramatic one, and a funny one… never an action movie. Probably – well, maybe, that could be our goal!”

There are also negotiations underway for an international deal, but Tata’s staying tight-lipped about developments in that area. Except to suggest that she’d like to do an album in English.

And was the time between leaving the Grammy fold and actually signing a new contract difficult for her? “Of course. I’m young. I get emotional very easily. And it’s terrible when things are not true but people keeping talking. But I got through it very easily,” she says, dismissively. “I have a very supportive family. My parents are very supportive, and being in showbusiness has always been my dream – so I never wanted to let that go.”

One of the hardest issues Tata had to deal with was the criticism she got for leaving Grammy. “People said I was too confident. But it wasn’t that. The reason I left Grammy was that I’m still very young. I’d like to have new experiences, work with new people. I’m very young – that’s why I’m so motivated and I have a lot of energy.”

Tata puts her positive, can-do attitude down to the way she’s been brought up: while her mother is Thai and has taught her Thai traditions, her father is American, and has encouraged her to be confident.

“I don’t want people to see me as ‘Wow, what a confident kid!’ I just want them to see that I’m a motivated kid. I want to accomplish lots of things in life. There are no words that can describe how this has been such a big problem for me. I just want people to stop saying ‘Oh, she’s so confident.’ It’s not that she’s so confident. I have problems behind the scenes, but when you do something publicly – you have to be confident in what you do.”

While the hunt for a deal was on, Tata finished high school by completing the University of Nebraska’s independent study programme, and has more recently been working on the 108pets.com website, which launched in August.

“The CEO of Hatchem [the incubator company which owns 108pets.com], Chanond Ruangkritya, or ‘Ko’, is a very good friend of mine. He invited me to be involved with his incubator company first. And we had so many plans about what our first project was going to be…”

Two things happened next. The team working at Hatchem all started having what Tata calls “animal problems”. And Tata, who is a dog-lover and had been taking her dogs to shows – one of her golden retrievers is a current national champion – started noticing that Thais were becoming more interested in looking after and training animals properly.

“And so we thought: why don’t we do an animal website? Where we can teach people how to raise a cat, a bird, a fish, whatever. So we logged on, and looked for a Thai-language website that would explain almost everything about pets. And we couldn’t find one. So we had found our first project: 108pets.com.”

(The name 108 comes from the Thai slang phrase roi paet, phan gao (108, 1009) which means ‘everything’, and roi paet (108) is the shortened form of the phrase.)

So far, Tata’s loving the dot com world. “I’m really enjoying this. I’m enjoying my businesswoman side!,” she enthuses.

But this isn’t Tata’s only business venture. She also runs a dog training school. “My parents weren’t into this at all. One reason I started the company is that a lot of people think I depend on my father because he’s my manager. I wanted to prove something to the public – that I don’t need him to do everything for me.”

She was motivated to get the school started when Scooby, her prize-winning golden retriever, was four months old. “You know how four-month old puppies behave – I wanted to put him into a school, and I went to look at one… It was terrible. It was like a prison. And I said to myself, why would you buy a puppy when you have to put it in there?”

Eventually Tata found a trainer who came to work with her dog at her home. “Then the economy worsened, the trainer was fired from his company, and I had an idea. I said, you come and work with me. I found more trainers, and now I provide trainers to go and train your dog at your house.”

Further study is also on the agenda, but not for a while and she’s not sure what she’d do. “I didn’t have career counselling like everyone else at school, “ she says, oblivious to the fact that she might not have needed it, given her tremendous career success early on. “This is why I’m doing all this work right now. This is why I’m involved in the Internet – maybe that’s what I want to study. I need to know exactly. I’ve always liked interior decorating. But I don’t want to waste my time studying for years if it’s not what I really want to do.”

When she’s not working, Tata might head to a beach or just to her kitchen. “I’m a very good cook! The best thing about cooking is to have someone who really appreciates what you make.”

Besides her father, Tata says her boyfriend, Sarun Vichayabhai, or ‘Pic’, really enjoys her cooking. “He’s a businessman. He just graduated with an MBA from Sasin (Chulalongkorn University’s business school). We’ve been dating for two years. Normal guy. Great. He’s an animal lover,” she reveals, as if that clinched it for her.

“I believe there are two important things to find out about a man. He must really know how to treat his mum well. Because that’s the way he’s gonna end up treating me. And the other is how he treats animals. If he’s into dogs or cats, he’ll also have a good heart.” She turns her attention back to Pic. “He’s young. Motivated. He’s a very supportive guy. And he likes to eat my food!”

Tata met him through her best friend. “I thought he was cute, but I didn’t like his attitude. It took me about two months to start to like him. He was very patient,” she says, with an almost wicked grin. “I wasn’t treating him that well!”

Which doesn’t sound like Tata, given her record of helping people and animals. Her official website, tatayoung.com, donates 30 per cent its profits to the Human Development Centre, while 108pets.com promotes His Majesty the King’s animal charity. “We basically put up information about the charity for people, so they can contact them directly if they want to donate money. If any other charity group needs help, they should check out our website and contact us.”

And yes, of course Tata – and her friends – have more plans on this front. “We’re planning on opening animal shelters in Thailand. I want Thai people to think that a mutt is also clever. Usually they stick with pure-bred dogs and cats, but that’s not important. And I don’t want just one shelter – I want more, lots, so people can get to them easily.”

While all this is going on, singing is still Tata’s passion: she still takes singing lessons and attends dancing classes. “It’s how people know me. It’s what I’m most comfortable doin’,” she says. “I still try to keep my body fit and healthy. But it doesn’t seem like that – now I have this website, and my dog training school… I’m doing a lot of things at the same time and I enjoy it, but my body’s not keeping up with it very well – I have problems with allergies all the time. But I’m working on it.”

Just like she’s working on a zillion other things. And, knowing Tata, she’ll probably achieve what she wants to with all of them.

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