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.

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