Thursday, August 26, 2010

Azean Irdawaty

Today I am highlighting an interview one of the talented local actress in our film scene. She pours her soul and her frustrations in 
this interview that published in May 15, 2008 

Here is the full interview

Playing the part
Bissme S.

Azean Irdawaty is convincing in any role. Not surprising therefore that she has won more than 10 awards in her 33-year acting career. Making her debut in TV drama Tiada Esok Bagimu in 1974, the 58-year-old veteran has appeared in more than 20 films, over 200 TV productions and more than 10 theatre productions. The mother and grandmother tells Bissme S. about the importance of perfecting a role, challenges in the industry, and surviving cancer.

What was your greatest challenge as an actress?

That is not a difficult question. There are so many challenges. But the difficulty is in deciding which one (laughs). If I have to pick one, I would say the attitude of people in this industry. Very few understand the meaning of professionalism. Most of them misconstrue professionalism as fussiness.

Give us an example.

The normal scenario is when the production house calls you and asks "Kak, you free? Kita nak panggil you berlakon." (Are you free? We have a role for you).
The majority of Malaysian actors will answer in this way: "Free. Bila?" (When do you shoot?)
Then they ask: "Besok free?" (are you free tomorrow?), and when you say yes, they give you the location and ask you to bring five sets of clothing.
It is taken for granted that a deal will be that easy. So when I ask: "Can I see the script?, What is the story like?, Who is going to be directing it?, Where are we going to shoot?, What is the schedule like?", I come off sounding like a fuss pot.

So they expect you to come to the set without first looking at the script?

Yes, but I don’t accept such offers. I insist on seeing the script first and having a discussion with the director. If I can get hold of the scriptwriter, I talk to him too. In this way, I understand the story and character better. I will know their expectations and try to deliver them. I am like a postman, so you have to give me the address, or I will not know where to send the letter.
Sometimes I ask about my image in the story, so I can bring the right clothes for my character. Each individual dresses differently. I cannot appear in Azean’s clothes when I’m trying to be someone else!
But they ask: "What image? Pakailah macam biasa" (wear your usual clothes). Then, if arrive in my kain batik and T-shirt, you will know! (laughs)
Sometimes the script is sent to your house two or three days earlier, which makes it difficult for a serious and committed actor like me. We need at least two to three weeks to study the story, the character and do our research.
You give me a script today and you are going to shoot in two days. How do you expect me get to know my character? How do you expect me to make my character sound real?
That is why when you watch local fare on TV, you find some performances that are so fake … so superficial. The actors are just in front of the camera and throwing lines that they have memorised without even understanding why they are saying what they are saying. I don’t accept this kind of bull****.

So you always get your script early?

Not always. When I get the script at the last minute, I hardly sleep. The moment I get it, I study it till I understand my character and the story better. In my more than 30 years of acting, my earliest bedtime has been 3am. That is before I had surgery (for cancer). Now I sleep like a log.

Are you happy with the scripts you get?

Sometimes the scripts are so loose. The scriptwriter writes without studying the background of the characters, so we get superficial lines. For example, if the character is a doctor, you would use some medical terms, but these would be missing from the script. If he is a fashion designer, he is bound to use fashion jargon, but it will not be there. So I always improvise on my lines. I get in touch with the writer to get his permission to change my lines.

How do you take being call fussy?

They don’t say it to my face, they talk behind my back. But I don’t care, I will say F.O. (**#@!) You are so dumb, you can’t grasp the necessity of being committed.

Are all production houses that way?

Not all. I can think of two productions houses that are really professional – Pesona Pictures (under Shuhaimi Baba) and A. Razak Mohaideen’s outfit.

Tell us about how actors get paid in the industry?

The payment is nowhere what you deserve. Payment depends on looks. It is not how many years of experiences you have and how many awards you have won. The younger and prettier you are, the more you get. I acted in one movie where an actress got eight times what I did. Of course she was very pretty!
The worst thing is when you have to haggle for payment. It can be so embarrassing. I always have to say "You can’t be paying me like this". I hate it when I have to bring up the fact that I have won more than 10 awards – no other actress here has done that.
But they will say the cast is big and the budget small. Most producers will leave the payment to production managers and 99% of production managers do not recognise talent.

So how do you handle this?

I look at my children and tell myself "God, if this is how much you want to give me to feed my family, I will do it". That is why God gives me more jobs and more friends. Of course the payment doesn’t match the cost of living. A Malaysian actor is a very poor person, always struggling. Sometimes you read in the papers especially in the gossip columns that this actress’ car kena tarik balik (repossessed) and this actor tak bayar hutang (is in debt). I don’t think they are being dishonest. The truth is they don’t have the money.

Can we change that?

We should have royalty payment. Each time our movies and dramas get replayed on TV, we should get some kind of payment. Singers get royalty payment. Why can’t actors?
I have been screaming about royalty payment from (ex-information minister) Muhammad Rahmat’s days. How many ministers have we had since then and there is still no royalty payment.
The re-run of my dramas and my movies could have made me very rich and I wouldn’t have to work any more. Just yesterday I was told that ever since I got sick, the TV stations have been replaying my dramas often. Good for the TV stations. But where is my money? We were told they have not passed the law on royalties. So buck up and sign it. What are we waiting for?

What role do you think the government can play in boosting the entertainment industry?

For actors, there is no EPF… there is no Socso … there is no insurance. The government should look into this matter. Make the people in the industry feel good and secure.
Set a rule that every time a producer has a project, he has to take out an insurance policy on his cast and crew. If there are any mishaps, we will be covered.
If you are really fighting for the anak seni (artistes), then ensure our welfare. Don’t just hold charity dinners. Give out a bit and pocket the rest.
When you are old and sick like me, then you have to beg. I have to write to foundations, and I have to send SMS to people, and I have to ask friends for financial help. That is so humiliating.
I need to live. I need to heal. This is not flu. This is cancer. And cancer treatment can be expensive.
On the one hand, you have to be strong to handle the disease, and at the same time you have to be emotionally strong to go out there and beg.

Why do you think local movies are far behind their foreign competitors?

In the past I used to think perhaps we didn’t have good writers. Now I have changed my mind. I think our writers are not given a free hand. There are so many restrictions. There are so many taboos. You cannot tell things as they are.

Can you give us an example?

When we did Waris Jari Hantu, some quarters came forward and asked why we had to talk about khunsa (hermaphrodite) and lelaki lembut (effeminate men). But such people do exist.
You cannot do stories about corruption. You cannot portray a certain authority as being corrupted and dumb.
Movies are about story telling. When you want to tell the stories, you have to tell the truth.
Creativity should not be curbed. It should be fluid and be allowed to expand. There are too many don’ts.

Do you blame the censorship board or society for creating the restrictions?

Both. The censorship board listens to society. And society pretends to be holier that thou. I don’t think those people who condemn are holy. They are just being bitchy. They are just being hypocritical. They will say you should not show this and your movies are corrupting society. But do you think society has never committed sins?
Recently I was talking to a friend who did a TV series based on local ghost stories. It will not be shown here. They are scared the show will be butchered badly by the censorship board. It will be shown in our neighbouring countries. That is so sad. Society and the board should grow up.

Do you think older actors here don’t get roles with substance?

Yes. Producers are catering to the young audience and thinking about making money. They say who is going to pay for and watch an old hag.
They bring in one veteran actor to play the father and one veteran actress to play the mother. These characters haven’t much to do.

How do you handle this?

I feel hurt. Here I give so much sincerity and you don’t appreciate it. They (producers) expect me to stay young and shapely all the time. Older people have stories to tell too.
Recently I watched The Bucket List, about two old men (Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson) who discover they are dying of cancer. So they go out and do things they have never done before. When you watch this touching movie, you forget that they are two old actors. Producers here need to be adventurous and allow writers to write more real stories, and allow the director a freer hand.

What advise do you have for budding actors?

I don’t have the quality to advise. If I may share my experience, I will say be very honest and sincere in what you do. That is what I tell my children (also actors). That is what I tell any budding actor who cares to listen, not many of whom want to listen today. They say "Okaylah, your time is over, so shut up".

Has anyone said that to you?

They do not say it to my face. But I am very good at reading body language. I have to. I study body language in my work (laughs).

Your three children are actors. Do you think they will be as successful as their mum?

Given the opportunity they can outshine me any time. They are better than I am. I am not saying this because I am their mother.
Often my children watch theater productions and movies. When they come home, they conduct a post-mortem of what they have seen ... for hours. When I listen to their views, I find they are far more intelligent than me. They are fast learners.
But our industry is so hooked on looks and my children have to fight so hard to survive. For example Ben (her son) doesn’t get certain parts because he is not a good-looker. The same goes for Elza (her daughter). She is not tall and sexy. Talent is secondary in this country.

Let’s talk about cancer. Describe your thoughts when you first learnt you had the disease last year?

I do not consider myself a victim of cancer. I consider myself as a fighter against cancer. I didn’t cry when the doctors first broke the news to me. But when I went to the cashier to pay my bill, I had some tears in my eyes. But my husband consoled me and said "this too will pass".
I have not broken down since then. If I cried, it would have been tears of joy. For instance, ( film producer) David Teoh once invited me and said they were holding a kenduri (dinner) for their new movie. I had lost my way. They waited for me to start the function. Then he called the ustaz (religious teacher) to pray for my health so I would get well soon.
The function was really for me. He even gave me a donation. I broke down. I was so moved.

You were bold coming out bald-headed in public. Some people thought you were being a little too dramatic.

I was not trying to be dramatic. I am dramatic enough in my movies. But I have never been a fake. I do not hide things. I do not believe in covering it up and being embarrassed about it.
Why should I be embarrassed about it? This is my head. I don’t have any hair at the moment. It is temporary. I know it will grow again. I have never been bald, so let me enjoy it. It is good and airy. I saved a lot on shampoo.
If you like me bald, that is good. If you don’t like me bald and feel uncomfortable, that is your problem. You have to deal with it.

I hear you are writing a book on your experience with cancer.

Yes. I like to share my experience. I have noticed that there are so many women who see breast cancer in a negative light, they fear it. I want to give them some support.
In fact Pride Foundation (foundation for breast cancer awareness) has invited me to talk to the public about my experience.

There have been accusations that you asked for larger donations for your cancer treatment. Did these bother you?

They can send auditors to check my bills. You don’t know the truth. I know the truth. Cancer treatment can be expensive, especially for my kind of cancer.
I have met people who have spent their entire EPF savings on treatment. I have met people who have had to sell their house to get cured.
I have never allowed what people say about me to bother me. I have never gone out and conned anyone. If I were that type of person, I would not be a struggling actor. I would have gone after a rich guy and lived comfortably.

What are the biggest misconceptions people might have about you?

They always think I am very rich, which I like. Because I think thoughts are like prayers. Let me tell you, this dress I am wearing I bought from a bazaar. I hardly go to boutiques. I buy cheap things. However when I wear them, I manage to make them look like they are expensive. I have the rich look. But I am not the luxurious type. I am not extravagant. My car is not new, it’s third hand.

With all these challenges, why do you continue to act?

For you to last as a Malaysian actor, you are either crazy or passionate. I am both. I am crazy about acting. I am passionate about my craft.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Faridah Merican.

Today I will be feature an interview I did with the first lady of theatre. The interview appeared in the sun newspaper April 28 2005

Headline : First Lady of Malaysian theatre

Faridah Merican has dabbled in Malaysian theatre for nearly 50 years, first as an actress; later venturing into producing and directing. It is not surprising that she is often referred to as the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre.
In 1989, she set up The Actors Studio with her theatre actor-cum-director husband Joe Hasham. Besides producing and directing plays, The Actors Studio provides stage space for other theatre companies to put up their plays and studios for rehearsals.
It has also created an institute to train theatre talents. It is undeniable that Faridah, 66, has contributed immensely to the advancement of the Malaysian performing arts.
It came as no surprise then that at the recent theatre award, the 3rd Boh Cameronian, she received a lifetime achievement award.
Faridah is on the board of one of Malaysia's largest advertising agencies, Ogilvy and Mather. In a chat with Bissme S, she talks of her dreams, wishes and disappointments.

Congratulations on your winning the 3rd Boh Cameronian Lifetime Achievement Award for your contribution to theatre. How do you feel?

I feel a sheer joy and happiness and a kind of emptiness in my stomach.

Why is that so?

I just don't know why. On the night itself when it was announced, it didn't have enough time to sink it. It was a kind of surprise and shock to my system.
I had always wished and hoped that I would be recognised (for what I do). When the announcement was made and there were wonderful pictures of me (flashing on the screen) for the friends of theatre to see, it was so touching.
I know that it was Joe who dug into my albums and got all the photos out. It was so overwhelming. But I didn't cry. One newspaper indicated a teary Faridah. I could have been on the verge but I didn't cry. I was proud of the fact I didn't cry.
When you cry on stage, some newspaper reporters would not think too kindly, especially when you are old and you cry. I held back and it was better that way. I was rather at a calm stage and some were surprised I was so calm.

Some felt you got the award a little late.

It is not an issue whether you are the first, the second, the third or the fourth down the line. The important thing is in your lifetime, you are recognised for the work you have done. It is just one award a year, you have to line up. It is alright.

What sparked your interest in theatre?

Like many other people, I got involved in theatre in school (St George's Girls School in Penang). A great school with great teachers. We were taught literature, poetry, doing plays and debate. It was happening from my primary school days.

Did your parents play a role in instilling the love for theatre?

My father was an English teacher and he helped me enjoy and understand poetry and Shakespeare because he was teaching them in school. He had allowed me to follow my path and I couldn't have asked for a better father.
My mom was a housewife and she never spoke any English. She will be upset whenever we spoke in English. She would always tell us to speak in Malay. We would speak a few sentences in Malay and we would switch back to English.

Tell us a little about your childhood days?

When I was a young girl, things were different. The opportunities were fewer. Things were easy going and we had more time for each other. We had more time to sit at home and talk. Our parents had more time for us.
Now everybody is put in a rat race. Parents these days don't have enough time for the children. The lifestyle nowadays is far more challenging and difficult. Unless you are able to accept the changes and the demands of the lifestyle, you will feel horrendous.

What is the big difference in the theatre world between your early years and now?

Theatre is much more professional now. People are studying the arts and people want to make art their life, their career, their job and their business.
It was not so before. You do theatre because you enjoy it and you want to learn. You don't really get paid. You may get a small allowance and that is all. I remembered that the first play (for which) I got paid RM1,000 was for the role of Uda's mother in Usman Awang's Uda and Dara in 1984.

Being a theatre artiste can be a huge struggle. What has kept your interest in theatre alive all these years?

My love for it. That's all.

Have you had at any time thought of giving it up?

You always have such thoughts. When I came face to face with certain problems, it did cross my mind

Can you give an example when you felt like this?

They are not really learning, and it is constant teaching and teaching and teaching. The way I teach is different. I'm not the kind who'd hold your hands and tell you to do it this way or that way. I have less and less patience as I grow older. I just wonder why people don't use their logic and their thinking capacity.

Who are 'they'?

Some people who work with me and some young people who come into The Actors Studio as interns. I must admit I have little patience and Joe has immense patience and that is the reason we make a good team.

Aren't you afraid that you will be tagged a tyrant?

People can call me garang (strict) and jahat (bad ). They should know my heart is in the right place and I am doing it for the arts. I am a stickler for doing things properly.

So you are disappointed with these young people?

I get disappointed when I come face to face with people, no matter young or old, who don't use their brains and who don't think. If you are given an opportunity to do something, use it well and learn, and don't waste it. It is not easy to learn.
There are moments I wish our education system planted the seeds that I had in my school days. I wish our education system prepared them for the arts.

Do you think something is wrong with our education system?

Absolutely. It doesn't focus on the arts. It doesn't give the opportunity to the students to be well-rounded and learn everything. Then you will have a choice ... you want to be doctor, lawyer, artist and writer ... You have a choice because your education is all-rounded.
I want the arts to be taught in school. Put the arts back in the school curriculum --have literature, poetry, debate, painting and creative writing.
From what I hear, the focus on the arts is missing. Parents may worry that children may not spend enough time to learn the subjects you need to pass exams.
It doesn't mean bringing back the arts into the school curriculum will stop your children from getting 13A1s. Your children will still be very intelligent and, in fact, they will be all-rounded.
I wish for a school that will be specially dedicated to the performing arts. It should start from the first day a kid steps into a school. Perhaps even from the kindergarten. It will teach other subjects but the focus will be on the performing arts.

Do you think the government is doing enough to help the performing arts in the country?

The current minister of art, culture and heritage is certainly focusing his attention on the arts. Our prime minister and his wife are great supporters of the arts.
Previously, arts were a part of the Tourism Ministry and now we have separate ministries altogether. They are meeting us and constantly having dialogues with us.
They have announced funding schemes not just for production but also for training.

Some have the impression that the government is only helping Malay theatre.

Sorry to say, we have moved with the times. This was what it was previously. But now, no! I have received help from the ministry and I am doing English theatre.
If there is somebody out there who has undergone some kind of discrimination, he should write to the minister and say this. Just don't bitch about it behind the back of the ministry which may not even know the problem exists.
During dialogues with the ministry, every theatre company is represented. They should speak up.

Tell us more about Kuala Lumpur Performance Arts Centre in Sentul?

KLPAC is a foundation made of three parties -- YTL, Penyayang and The Actors Studio which will be running the operations.
The main stage called Pentas 1 will have 508 seats and the second stage called Pentas 2 is more of an experimental stage. It has a resource library where you can browse books on arts and it will have a workshop where one builds one's own set and props.
It also has a bistro where people can have their food and drinks. We have 10 studios where we will be teaching arts courses as well as for rehearsals.

When will KLPAC be officially open and what will be the first play to be staged there?

The official date has not been decided. We plan to have a soft launch on May 13. We are doing a show called Pre Buka where various theatre friends of ours will be doing a variety show -- poetry reading, a little comedy, a little dance performances, etc

What do corporate sponsors expect from such ventures?

They want mileage.They want to be associated with groups of people who give them a good name as a supporter of the arts.
One particular company I am impressed with for its contribution to the arts is HSBC. They have supported several theatre companies and theatre personalities such as Ramli Ibrahim and Marion D'cruz. They are certainly a company that others should emulate.
Basically it all depends on the top management of organisations. If he (the top man) believes in the arts, and thinks it needs support, he will pass this thought down to his people.

You never got involved in the silver screen which has more glitter and fame. Why?

That is not where my interest lies. I was not chasing that dream. So far I have only acted in one television drama, Alang Rentak Seribu, under the direction of Syed Alwi. It was a stage play that was translated onto the screen. I am very focused on stage and theatre.

You and your husband Joe are in theatre together. Is there creative rivalry between husband and wife?

We have no rivalry. We have togetherness. We have the spirit of working together and learning from each other.

What is the one aspect of theatre that you like so much?

It doesn't make any differentiation. We work with everyone ... regardless whether they are Malaysian or not ... regardless of their race. We don't question their ethnicity.

Some say we keep seeing the same faces in theatre. Is this true?

That is not true. There are new faces in theatre. Whenever The Actors Studio does a play, we always bring in new faces.

There is the perception that theatre seems to draw only the elite and the arty farty. Can something be done to attract the masses?

Can we please change our mode of thinking? This is old hat. This is something that was talked about years and years ago. Let us find new angles about the arts to talk about.
This elitist business in the arts is simply rubbish. I don't think theatre has been elitist. The Actors Studio has given tickets as cheap as RM17 for students, senior citizen and the disabled. Have they come to the theatre? I don't believe this is true and I don't think anyone involved in the arts believes this is true.

What is your ultimate dream?

I would like to see theatre performances taking place at every street corner of this country.

Do you think this dream will come true?

Not in my lifetime

Any wishes?

I would love to see the media play a more important role in exposing the arts. Dedicate a page a day to tell what is happening in theatre.
There is not enough writing and there is not enough publicity. There are a lot of entertainment stories which focus on entirely different genres but not theatre. I know when I make statements like this, I am told it is because they sell and theatre doesn't.
It is a Catch-22 situation. If the media don't help us to sell, how are we going to sell? I feel a bit sad that a lot of help is required to put arts into our lives. We can never get commercial enough like the West End.

If you could live your life all over again, what will you change?

Nothing at all. Well, maybe I would have studied arts instead of going to teachers training college.

What is your opinion of the national theatre Istana Budaya?

Pass. Next question please.

What is the greatest misconception people have about Faridah Merican?

The Malays think I am bit non-Malay because I don't do enough Malay theatre.
Sometimes, I criticised Malay actors and they get a little upset. I am not worried about people's perception of me.

In your early days, you did a few Malay plays. What stopped you from continuing doing Malay theatre?

There is a great number of good people in Malay theatre companies. That is not my forte. In my school days, I was taught in English and I was speaking in English and I was more inclined towards English. That is my background. That is my education. I don't have any regrets about that. I don't think I should be ashamed of it. It doesn't matter what language I use to do performing arts.

Some have the impression that you look down on Malay theatre. What is your comment?

I don't look down on Malay theatre. I only look down on the people who don't have the discipline required of them when they are doing the arts. It is part of my training.

You have been in the theatre industry for 50 years. What is your worst memory?

The flood that destroyed our theatre company in Dataran Merdeka on June 10, 2003. It was a terrible time for us. We were lucky to have another stage in Bangsar. We had to pick up the pieces and do it all over again. KLPAC is a blessing in disguise.

How do you like to be remembered?

After I am dead and gone, it is not important whether people still remember me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Raja Azmi

There was a time where the Malaysian censorship wanted a ban on local movies depicting Mat Rempit and transvestites. This is an interview of a film producer Raja Azmi who was making a movie on sex change and was furious over this new ruling. In the pictures you will see Raja Azmi with his two male actors Arja Lee and Wan Raja who will playing gay lovers in her film called Anu Dalam Botol. This interview appears in the sun Aug 27, 2009.
Here is the full article

Title Putting truth to film

Controversial film producer Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman talks to Bissme S about censorship, the industry and her love of the limelight.

Why are you going ahead with Anu Dalam Botol (a film on sex change)?
We should not mix religion with creativity. Let us not politicise religion. All these rules we have simply show we are forcing people to do the right thing. And if they don’t, we punish them.
We are not supposed to force anyone. Even God doesn’t force us to pray. God wants us to pray willingly.If we want, we can educate them and the education should start from primary school. We can tell this is wrong and that is wrong and the rest is in their hands. But we cannot force someone to be good.
Up to 2008, there have been more than 50,000 Malaysians who have changed their sex and most of them are Muslims. I got these statistics from the registration department. Do not punish filmmakers for portraying reality. My movie is based on a friend’s experience. He regrets going for a sex change. Indirectly my movie discourages people from going for a sex change.

People with a different sexual orientation are likely to be unhappy with the movie’s message.
I’m just telling a story. Some people go for sex change surgery without considering the pros and cons. They do it because their friends are doing it. My movie is targeted at those who are contemplating having a sex change. I am highlighting the other side of the coin.
I have a few friends who are gay. As a Muslim, it is said you should not be supporting them. But I understand them as human beings and I am not going to judge them. Whatever their sins, it is between God and them. It is for God to judge them. Why should I discriminate against them? I am no angel. I have my sins too.
If you talk about religion, there are a lot of sinful people. Some are not gay (but) they kill, rape and steal. They are far worse than being gay.

What if the movie is banned?
I will fight to lift the ban. I will go to court if I have to. I have spent more than RM100,000 before the ruling (banning Mat Rempit and transsexuals) came out. Are they going to reimburse me? Nobody should stop me from expressing myself. I am not doing pornography.

Would your movie encourage more people to have sex change?
I hate it when people say movies can encourage people to become Mat Rempit and transsexuals. Do you think movies can change people’s lives so drastically? Why do we have this mentality that if we made a movie about Mat Rempit the whole of Malaysia will become Mat Rempit. Movie-makers depict what is out there.
People ask why we don’t make movies like those by Iranian filmmakers about good people, good Muslims and innocent children. Their films have been winning awards. But do these people think there are no drug addicts in Iran, no rapists, no murderers. Of course there are no Mat Rempit because I hardly see motorbikes in Iran. But there are a lot of gays in Iran and there are a lot of "bad" men who seduce women. And Iran never made movies like that. But these things still exist in Iran. Can you can explain that?

You wanted singer Anuar Zain to play the lead in Anu Dalam Botol. Is that true?
Yes. But he turned down the role. He doesn’t want to act any more because he feels that he isn’t a good actor. I could visualise him being a beautiful girl. Even when I was writing the script, I had him in mind. If he ever changes his mind, I will take him back immediately. He is perfect for the role.

You felt the ministry is curbing your creative freedom. But you were harsh on (the late) Yasmin Ahmad’s movies and some people felt you were curbing Yasmin’s creative freedom.
I have never said Yasmin Ahmad should stop making movies. If I was on the censorship board, I would not have censored Yasmin’s movies. I would have given her the creative freedom to express herself.
I just dislike some elements in her movies and I was expressing my opinion. I am entitled to it. If she commented on my movies, I would not have minded. A lot of people pass negative comments about my movies, I don’t mind. It is about sharing opinions.
But it is a strange thing in Malaysia, if you do not like a film it means you hate the filmmaker. Let me make one thing clear. I have nothing personal against Yasmin. I did not know her. I had never met her.

What is your stand on people who have a different sexual orientation and people who undergo a sex change?
They are very brave. They dare to follow their heart. They dare go against religion and face society’s discrimination.

You have spent more than RM100,000 on Anu Dalam Botol. But a sensible producer will cut her losses and discontinue making this movie.
You are right. But I make movies not to make money. I make movies to get satisfaction. I have said many times that making movies is like delivering a baby. No matter how painful it is to deliver a baby as a woman, I still want to deliver more. When you see your baby growing up, you get a certain satisfaction. Same goes for my movies. They are the legacy I am leaving behind. Ten years from now people will be talking about my movies. When I am dead, people will still talk about my movies. They will dissect the creativity behind the movies I produced.
The other reason I love making movies is because I love being in the limelight and making movies is one way to be in the limelight. I do not know anyone who doesn’t like being in the limelight.

But you love to court controversy.
What is life without controversy? When there is no controversy, I find life boring. But I do not look for controversy. I do not aim to be controversial. In fact, controversy comes looking for me.

Writing about your first sexual experience, people might have less respect for you. Are you afraid of that?
I think society should not judge a person just because she tells you of her first experience. There is something wrong with our community. They love to judge people.

How does your family especially your husband (Jalani Sidek, the badminton player) feels about you being outspoken?
My family, especially my husband, understands me. They know that I am an open book. My husband is a very tolerant and strong man who can stand me. He stayed with me for 25 years.

You like to feature sex in your novels. Some have called you a sex maniac.
I believe sex maniacs are people who think about sex all the time and have many sexual partners. I am not like that. I believe that in life, you should have sex, religion and love. Your life is incomplete without these elements. You must be able to discuss these issues openly.
Sex is a creative part in a human being. There is a lot of creativity in sex. My husband and I discuss openly about sex. Every married couple should do that.

What are your views of the film industry?
We have too many rules.We are eager to ban this and ban that. There should be some form of censorship. (But) Too much censorship curbs our creativity. I also find our film industry is not united. Everyone is worried about their own rice bowl.

Why do you say our film industry is not united?
The recent ban on movies depicting Mat Rempit and transsexuals proves that we are not united. Some film-makers do not care about the ban because they do not make this kind of movies. So they have nothing to lose and they will not speak up for producers affected by this ruling.
If we are united, we will have a stronger voice. And with a stronger voice, we can make more demands. For example, we are making many local movies but we have to wait our turn to show our movies at the cinemas. The cinema chain owners are more eager to show foreign movies.
If we are united, we can demand that the government and cinema owners should give priority to local movies. If we are united, we can organise an effective campaign to get more locals to watch local movies.

Why do you think most audiences don’t like Malaysian movies?
Our movies are of inferior quality compared to foreign films. But you cannot compare local movies with foreign movies.
Only with support, will the local film-makers be able to improve. If we can collect a bigger profit at the box office, we will have a bigger budget the next time. With a bigger budget, the quality of our movies will improve. Watching local movies should be a patriotic act. You are helping the local film industry to grow by just spending RM10.

But the audience might say "it is my money so I have a right to make my choice."They are right. But look at the bright side, if you have paid money to watch a film then you have the right to criticise it. You can get satisfaction by cursing that movie. You can tell friends, "That was the worst local movie I have seen (we laugh)." But now most of them criticise even without watching.

What do you think of Finas?
It is getting better. It is helping us a lot in the technical department. But that is not enough. I believe Finas should conduct an effective campaign to get more Malaysians to watch local films.

There are stories circulating that you wrecked a badminton player’s marriage. Do you care to explain?
Roslin Hashim is a badminton player whom my husband has been coaching and he has been staying with us for the past 10 years. He has become like a part of my family. He is like a younger brother to me. I was the one who match-made his marriage. So why should I break them apart? My conscience is clear. I am not affected by the story. When the story first came out, I said to myself, ‘See, I am famous again’ (she laughs).

But you are in the limelight for the wrong reasons.
Being in the limelight in the wrong way is the best and hottest way. When people talk about the devil and the angel, who gets more limelight? The devil. I have done lot of good things. I donate to orphanages. Every fasting month, I teach Quran to my children and my relatives. But these stories don’t appear in the newspapers. Nobody is interested to write about your good side.

Do you think the Sidek brothers have been forgotten?
No! They are living legends. People do not remember living legends. Wait till one of them dies, people will start showering praises on them.
Misbun is still producing champions. My cartoon show and book Anak-Anak Sidek are always there to remind Malaysians of the Sideks’ achievements. I believe as long as there is badminton, the Sidek brothers will not be forgotten.

I heard that you are working on another novel. Tell us more?
Yes. It is called Karkuma and is an epic war story between humans and demons.

Will your novel encourage Malaysians to believe in spirits and demons?
Here we go again, blaming movies and novels for bad things that happen in our society. I did not know I had so much influence.

What is the greatest misconception people have about Raja Azmi?
People have said I am crazy. People have said I am mad … for writing books like these and being outspoken. But do I look like one? I want to enjoy life. I like glamour. I like the limelight. If I want to live the life I want, I cannot be sensitive about what people say. Otherwise I will go crazy. I have to be strong.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal

Today I am highlighting an interview that took place last year where it highlight an opinion of artist about the visual art scene in Malaysia. The interview appears the sun newspaper on Nov 12, 2009
Suggested Headline :On the side of truth and justice
National Art Laureate Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal talks to Bissme S about the art scene and his hope to see Malaysian works make a name internationally.

What is the biggest difference in the art scene today compared to the past?

I have seen the art scene progress from Merdeka to now. I witnessed the British flag come down and Malaysian flag go up. In terms of art, you could say I am a child of Merdeka.
A year after Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman set up the National Art Gallery to preserve Malaysian art. There were groups of people in power, mainly government servants, who supported the arts and wanted to see the art scene grow. The support given to nurture the arts was healthy and fantastic. Artists like me had more freedom and were not hampered by tradition.
Art was seen as an expression of society. The government encouraged and supported artists to take part in international exhibitions.
Malaysian art was travelling all over the world. International audiences and critics were impressed with our work and praised it. I was only in my 30s when I got such exposure and responsibilities. But slowly the exposure of Malaysian art in the international art scene declined.

Why do you think this happened?

The focus was on the economy, culture and politics. The emphasis was more on science and technology. There was a period when the government was even suspicious of artists.
I believe we should have continued our effort to expose our art outside Malaysia. We should have taken part in more international exhibitions.

Are you saying the government doesn’t support the art scene any more?

The government is still giving support. But it is not on a big scale. There are more artists now and the artists are more successful economically. They can paint and still survive. In the old days, artists like me could not make a living as an artist. A lot of us had to become art teachers. Now, there are art patrons such as banks, various organisations and individuals who are willing to buy art works. The art scene is healthier.
If we had continued to actively promote our art outside Malaysia, by now our art would have gotten international recognition. Right now, there is no vision of bringing Malaysian art outside Malaysia.

Why do you think the emphasis is more on science and technology?

It is not for me to say why the government decided to do this but I would like to see an equal emphasis on the arts. It is still not too late to get international recognition. We have the artists and the work to impress international audiences and critics.

Are you sad, bitter and de-motivated that the government has given less emphasis to the arts?

I am not. If I was sad, bitter and de-motivated, I would not have carried on. If you look at my body of work, you will know I have been producing art works despite the condition we were in. I believe everything that happens is God’s will. We must make the best of any situation. We cannot protest so much. We cannot be mourning always. Besides, I have never created art just to get fame and fortune. I create art because I need to express myself as a creative individual.

Is the government doing enough?

It is never enough no matter how much they do. I will always wish for more. (We laugh).

Are artists respected in Malaysia?

I do not know about respect. But I think there is recognition. People are willing to pay RM200,000 for a painting. It goes to show there is recognition. When I became an artist, it was never about the money. If I thought about the money I would have done something else. In my early days, I could not survive as an artist. I became an art teacher so I could paint in the afternoon.

Some people have this impression the art in this country caters to the elite. Do you agree?

It has become such a cliché. I never paint for the elite. I paint because there is a compulsion in me to express myself as a creative person. Sometimes I give a free talk on art because I want to give back to society.
There are organisations who would love to buy some of my works at any price. But I am not willing to part with those works because they involve the history of this country and it should belong to certain organisations where everyone has a chance to see them. If I had painted for money, I would have parted with those works a long time ago. There might be some artists who create art for the elite only. But that is not my concern.

What is your advice to young painters?

You must be honest and sincere in your work. If you paint for money, you might be successful for a while. You create art because you are compelled to … it is part of your existence.

What is the constant message in your work?

There is an aspect of truth and reality in my work. My work reflects my relationship with the world I live in ... my relationship with my country ... my relationship with my environment … and the political situation. I am not envious of people in power. But I am not fond of pretentious politicians. I have addressed unpleasant issues on canvas such as Palestine, Reformasi and the May 13 riots.

Has your work offended anyone?

I held an art exhibition where I had painted Mahathir (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was the prime minister then) and Musa (Tun Musa Hitam, the former deputy prime minister) on one canvas. My work showed the 2M (Mahathir and Musa) factor in political scenario. Obviously, Mahathir was not happy with the piece. But I didn’t paint for him. As an artist, I study the situation around me and put it on canvas.
Much later I had another exhibition that showed the country’s progress over 50 years. He (Mahathir) was smiling moving from one canvas to another. He stopped smiling when he came to one work that reflected the Reformasi period (Anwar Ibrahim being sacked as deputy prime minister). This time around, he was not so angry. My wife and I even bumped into him at Starbucks after the exhibition. My wife wanted to take a picture with him. He obliged. He even took a picture with me and jokingly said he could use the picture against me and show that ‘I am on his side.’ (He smiles). I didn’t create those pieces to offend him. I paint to reflect the situation around me.

Have you come to a stage where people are afraid to criticise your work?

I do not expect people to praise my work all the time. But if you criticise my work, you must have valid reasons to support your views. You must have some knowledge of art before criticising my work.

But are you ready to face bad reviews?

So far nobody has said anything bad about my work. Are you going to be the first to give me a bad review? I am ready to face any review. But it is must be constructive criticism.

There is a belief that Islam forbids Muslim artists from drawing figures and portraits. What is your stand?

It is not forbidden. If you look at Persian, Turkish and Moghul paintings, there are figure drawings and portraits. As long as you do not create an image with the aim of worshipping it, you are not going against Islamic teaching.

What is the greatest misconception people have about you?

People believe that I belong to a certain political party. But I do not. I stand on the side of truth and justice.

Why do you think people jump to this conclusion? Is it because you created the logo for Parti Keadilan?

I created a few paintings about Anwar and the Reformasi period and I would not deny that I created the logo for Keadilan. I called it Adil (Justice). But they modified it and called it Keadilan.
So people jump to the conclusion I belong to the opposition camp. But that is not the case. I have also painted on other issues. I paint what I see. I have done logos for other organisations.
PAS asked me to join them. But I refused. I do not want to belong to any political party. Like I said earlier, I want to be on the side of truth and justice.

Were you disappointed when the party changed your logo from Adil to Keadilan?

Why should I be? It is their organisation. They have the right to modify my logo. They have every right to do what is best for their organisation.

What is your view on 1Malaysia?

There has always been 1Malaysia and there will always be 1Malaysia. Since independence, we (all of the different races) have always worked together peacefully in every aspect. Of course there will be hiccups and we will not always be perfect. It is the same with any other country, including the United States and United Kingdom. The idea of us working together should not be a deliberate effort. It should be a natural process.

Do you have any dream as an artist you want to accomplish now?

Yes. I have a few projects in mind. These art works are large pieces … huge sculptures and art designs. One of my projects is to show the Malay culture from the past to the present. It will be like mini-museums where you see the influences that shape the Malay community. People tell me that these dreams are difficult to materialise because of the size. I will not stop trying to make this dream come true. I believe as long as there is hope, there is a chance that these dreams will come true, God-willing.

Do you remember what inspired you to become an artist?

I was 10 or 11 when I saw some artists in Johor Baru (his hometown) painting in water colour and I thought these works were beautiful. I was inspired to create similar works.

Who are the artists you admire?

Titian Bohicelli (Italy), Picasso (Spain), Braque (France), Matisse (France), Truner (Britain), Monet (France) and many more. They were innovators and ground breakers who gave shape and form to the manifestation of human spirit.

If you were not an artist, what would you have become?

Most probably a writer. In school, I actively took part in writing competitions and won a few. I have written several articles and a few books on the arts. My memoir Kunang-Kunang: Kenang-Kenangan Syed Ahmad Jamal was published in 1997. It was in Malay. I have plans to write a memoir in English.