Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marina Mahathir: Telling It Straight

Marina Mahathir has just came out her latest book Telling It Straight. Her launch took place at the Borders The Garden Kuala Lumpur. This article appeared in theSun on Nov 28. 

Caption : From left : Ineza Roussille ( Marina's  daughter), Tun Dr Siti Hasmah ( Marina's Mum), Marina and Shaista Mayada Sosrowardoyo ( Mariana's daughter)  

Headline : Making A Difference 
By Bissme S 

DATIN Paduka Marina Mahathir has been commenting on the political and social affairs of this country through her column in an English daily for the past two decades.
Recently, she decided to compile 90 of her best pieces of writing covering a wide range of topics like gender equality, politics, religion, HIV, education and free speech (some of which have never been published before), in a 264-page book entitled Telling It Straight (Editions Didier Millet/RM39.90).
At the launch of the book at Borders The Gardens in Kuala Lumpur, Marina sat down to talk about her work.

* What makes your book stand out from other compilations?

"I have no idea really. Maybe because my column has been around for so long. And perhaps because I'm a woman writer and there aren't that many books on popular social commentary by women in our country."

* Why is that? 

"Probably because people generally don't take women seriously. Women writers have to write novels, preferably on romance because apparently, that's all we think about.
"And we are not allowed to write about current affairs unless we're academics, in which case, nobody reads us anyway.
"Men churn out books on social and political commentary all the time. But not all of the books are good, yet people still read them because they think men, by virtue of being men, have the authority to talk about these things while women don't."

* Some believe books have lost their power to change society. Do you agree? 

"I think the power of ideas will always be strong and this power is conveyed through words. In the end, an idea has no power if it is not accepted by a lot of people.
"So how would they find out about this idea except by reading? Surely, this is one reason why people love putting quotes from public figures on their Facebook or in whatever they write.
"I do think writers play an important role in conveying these ideas to people.
"Many ideologues have written books and these books have been powerful, for example, Karl Marx's Das Kapital or Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. They get lots of followers this way.
"Similarly, with the words in the Quran or the Bible, beautiful and powerful words conveying ideas about justice, morality, etc are conveyed. So yes, books can change the world."

* What do you think about censorship in the mainstream media? Do you see yourself writing for online media where you can express yourself better without censorship?
"I think censorship is unfortunate and no media can truly call themselves credible if they insist on censoring, especially when there are alternative media around these days.
"It's frustrating for writers but our job is just to write, not to practise censorship on ourselves. Self-censorship is really the most insidious form of censorship.
"I have my blog, Facebook and Twitter, so I don't really need to go to any online media just to get my opinions published.
"That's the beauty of the internet today. Anyone can publish their own opinions.
"Then it's left to the discerning readers to decide which opinions are credible.
"And by the way, I don't know if it's true that online media never censors anything. When you select what you want to publish, you are already exercising a form of censorship."

* What are some of the changes you would like to see taking place in our country? 
"I'd like to see more openness in government and among people in general. People are so used to thinking in one way that they aren't aware there are other ways of thinking and seeing things, and therefore, find it discomfiting, even frightening, when a different point of view is put forward. The openness can only happen when all points of view are given equal airing."
* Some people think reading is a dying art form in Malaysia. Do you agree?   

"I don't think reading should be thought of as an art form because that immediately makes it elitist and inaccessible to most.
"It amazes me how many large bookstores we have even when we're being told that Malaysians don't read much.
"They are reading something but we need to see what it is that they are reading. Are they stretching their minds when they read?
"There is no other way to encourage people to read than by getting interesting books published. If we encourage good writing, then people will read.
"Just look at how Harry Potter made so many children read."
"I was just at the Singapore Writers Festival and was amazed at what an interesting event it was with so many different authors and genres of writing, in different languages.
How come we don't have something like that in Malaysia?"

*What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you?

"That I'm hard-working. But actually, I'm very lazy and procrastinate all the time."


Because of space constraint, there were some questions that I asked Marina Mahathir was not published in the interview that appeared in theSun newspaper. However I take the opportunity to put the extra question this blog.   

*Most people have the impression compiling your columns into a book are an easy task. Do you agree?  

Most people think that because the columns are already written.  But they forget that I write 24 or 26 columns a year and I've been writing for some 20 years, so there are about 480 columns we have to choose from because obviously we can't put every single one in the book. That's the tough part, the selection. Luckily my editor does that because I can't. Once they are selected, it's a matter of grouping them according to themes and writing some introductions for them.

* What are some of best compliments and worst criticisms you have received about your writing? 

The best compliment is probably when people say that I put into words what they think and feel. I don't pay much attention to criticisms  so I wouldn't know what the worst ones are.

* You have been writing for more than 20 years. Do you ever face a burn out? 

No I don't actually. In fact I think I should write more but I am so busy that I don't really get to. Actually I write much more than my columns because I give a lot of talks and I write my own speeches. I have my favourite themes but there are never-ending subjects to talk about so I never feel burnt-out. I feel more burnt-out with the state of things in our country but I do think writing is one way of getting different perspectives across.

*Tell us something about your childhood years that have a big influence on you as a  writer?

I always loved reading and writing in my childhood, something which my parents always encouraged. My favourite and best subject in school was English. So I knew I would be a writer of some sort, possibly a journalist. And that's exactly what I became for a while until I realised that there is more to writing than just reporting.
My parents always also encouraged me to be aware of what was happening in the world and I realised as an adult that I could combine that with my writing skills to convey certain messages to whoever reads me. Communications is about being able to convey complicated ideas and events in a simple way. without compromising the integrity of the information. That's what I try to do.

* What is the biggest challenges  you faced as a  columnist in Malaysia?

Trying to stay current is always a challenge. My column comes out once every two weeks so I have to keep in mind that I'm not talking about something which is already stale. Sometimes things just don't happen within the week I have to submit my column so when it does appear, it can seem a bit out of synch with the topic of the day. I can't help that and I certainly don't want to change to a weekly column because it's hard enough trying to keep up with a fortnightly one.

* What is your advice to budding writers out there? 

If you feel an urge to write, then write. Like everything else, writing takes practice so you just need to start writing and not worry if you're writing well or not. Eventually you'll find your unique voice and that's really what people want to read. Blogging is good because it gives you feedback and I've discovered so many good writers through reading blogs.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Story Of Deepavali

Deepavali had just passed. To celebrate this occasion theSun run picture story on one of the mythologies behind the celebration. On the front page of the Sun, on the eve deepavali ( Nov 12), we had a picture of a dancer in a multi exposure. ( like below) 

Then on the page 19, we run a picture story of how the evil King Narakasura was defeated which also marks the triumph of good over evil ( like below   

I would like to thank The Temple of Fine Arts for agreeing to do this photo shoot. Many thanks to the sun photographers Syed Azhar Syed Osman and Norman Hi who put their sweat and blood into this project. Now for the full story 

Headline: The story of Deepavali 
By Bissme S 

TOMORROW, Hindus all over Malaysia will becelebrating Deepavali, also known as the Festival of
Lights. There will be rituals to follow such as taking an oil bath, prayers to be said, putting on new clothes and preparing delicious food like ladoo, jalabi, murukku, mysore pak and adhirasam to be served to family, relatives, friends and guests who will be visiting them.
To celebrate this festival, theSun invited five dancers from the Temple of Fine Arts to tell in dance form the most popular mythology associated with the origin of this festival – the tale of King Narakasura who was corrupted by power and was in the end defeated by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama in a
triumph of good over evil.

Scene 1
King Narakasura (played by PremSagar Krishnan, 23) has been praying and meditating for many years.

Scene 2
From heaven comes Lord Brahma (Nageshwaran Ramachandran, 13) to bless King Narakasura. Lord Brahma says to him: “I am impressed with your prayers. You can ask me for any thing you want.” Narakasura asks that no one can kill him except his mother,
Bhuma Devi (Printha Selvadurai, 20).

Scene 3
Knowing that no mother can kill her own flesh and blood, Narakasura becomes corrupted by absolute power. For years, he rules his kingdom with an iron fist bringing terror and misery to the people

Scene 4
Up in heaven, Lord Krishna (Pankhuri Agrawal, 21) and his wife Satyabhama (Swathi Sivadas, 21) hear the cries of the people. Lord Krishna says: “I have to save the people.” So war is declared between Lord Krishna and King Narakasura.

Scene 5
Lord Krishna is wounded in the battle. Satyabhama is furious and vows to kill Narakasura, who replies arrogantly that no one can kill him except his mother.

Scene 6
Satyabhama manages to defeat Narakasura who begs for his life. But she shows him no mercy and kills him.

Scene 7
Narakasura realises that Satyabhama is the reincarnation of his mother Bhuma Devi and that’s why she could defeat him. He breathes his last on his mother’s lap. He tells Satyabhama: “Do not cry mother. You have done the right thing to kill me as I have been evil. I’m glad to have you as my mother.” Showing regrets for being an evil king, Narakasura says that his death should be celebrated as a victory of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil.

Scene 8
Because Narakasura has repented forhis evil deeds, he becomes a celestial being after his death. He then seeks blessings from both Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama.

Friday, November 2, 2012


The stage play Nadirah  directed by Jo Kukathas and Asmalan Doraisingam  and written Alfian Saat is currently playing at KLPAC. The play has been getting some positive reviews. 
The Sun carried two articles on the stage plays. Both has been interesting interviews. The first article appears Aug 31 where I interview the director of play Jo Kukathas.  
The second article appears Nov 1 where I interview the lead cast Patrick Teoh and Neo Swee Lin.  In both of the articles the cast have said something very interesting.  I have posted both of the articles here. 


Jo Kukathas  from the Instant Cafe Theatre Company (ICT) has directed compelling theatre productions such as Air Con and Parah in the past. Her latest play, Nadirah, to be staged at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) from Nov 1 to 11, will be another eye-opener for theatre fans.
The story takes place in Singapore and centres on university student Nadirah who is a product of a mixed marriage. Her father is a Malaysian Malay and her mother, a Singaporean Chinese who had converted to Islam.
After her parents’ divorce, she lives with her mother, Sahirah, in Singapore. Both mother and daughter share a close bond.
But then, the relationship hits a rough patch when Nadirah finds out, to her dismay, that her mother is considering getting married to a Doctor Robert, who is a non-Muslim.
In Singapore, a Muslim can get married to a non-Muslim under civil law, with each spouse maintaining his or her own religion.
Will religion cause friction between mother and daughter? Will love or faith prevail?
Written by Alfian Saat from Singapore, the cast comprises Neo Swee Lin (as Sahirah), Ani Juliana Ibrahim (Nadirah), Patrick Teoh (Robert), Redza Minhat (Farouk) and Farah Rani (Maznah).
Having watched a rehearsal of the play, it is quite clear to this writer that Nadirah will touch the hearts of the audience and even stimulate their minds into having interesting discussions. This play is another winner that can be added to Jo Kukathas’ belt.

* What attracted you to direct Nadirah?

“The story draws inspiration from the Maria Hertogh case (which took place in Singapore during the 1950s). Maria’s Dutch parents were involved in a custody battle with her adoptive Malay mother.
“There was a public outcry over the case, not out of love for Maria but out of moral righteousness, and there was tension in the country.
“In Malaysia, we have our fair share of such stories and our hearts go out to those whose lives are suddenly turned upside down simply because they dare to love.
“Nadirah tells how the love between a mother and her child is tested by their different beliefs and the beliefs of those around them. So, the dilemma faced here is whether we follow the path of love or the path of religious conviction.
“Nadirah is part of a trilogy written by Alfian as a tribute to (the late) Yasmin Ahmad. Nadirah pays tribute to Yasmin’s film Muallaf in a very essential way.
“The tag line for that film was “It is in forgiving that we are forgiven’. I think now in Malaysia more than ever, we have to return to compassion, forgiveness, love and humour. If not, we are lost.”

* What is your favourite scene in Nadirah?

“It’s the scene between Robert, who is the doctor Nadirah’s mum meets and falls in love with, and Farouk, who’s Nadirah’s classmate and love interest.
“These two men meet to talk over some very difficult and personal issues of love and faith. But they also end up talking enthusiastically about football.
“And through this very human and warm interaction about that ‘beautiful game’ they love, the audience get to see their common humanity.”

* What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in directing this play?

“It’s a sad fact that my company and other theatre companies are unable to find funding to do even one play a year. I’m forced to work in Singapore and it’s out of necessity.
“I would really love to direct more plays in Malaysia but I believe there is still a lack of political will to support the local performing arts. If indeed there’s funding from the government or other agencies, it’s not clear where it is going to.
“The lack of funding is one of the reasons the performing arts scene in Malaysia is not developing. We have lagged far behind our Singaporean, Thai, Indonesian and Cambodian
neighbours. You can say our arts scene is in financial doldrums.”

* How do you overcome this?

“Our funds have always come from individuals who felt a strong link to our work as a different artistic point of view and also a much needed voice for urban Malaysians.
“Our previous production Parah is a prime example of the deep personal relationship we have with the audience.
“The conservative corporations and government bodies felt Parah was not a great fit for them to support financially.
“But thanks to great individuals who stepped forward (such as Instant Cafe Theatre Angels) and independently helped to raise funds for the production, we were able to stage Parah and get a wide section of urban Malaysians to watch it. We had a completely sold-out production.
“If you believe in plays such as Parah and want us to bring more good theatre to the stage, then sign up to be an Instant Cafe Theatre Angel.
“You can be a Bronze Angel for RM500 or a Blue Sapphire Angel for RM9,999 and above. Every ringgit counts.
“If you want to support us and be an angel, email to admin@ for details.”


Suggested Headline : Love Story 2012 
By Bissme S 

A Singaporean Muslim convert and divorcee, Shahirah, and a Christian widower, Robert, fall in love and plan to get married. In Singapore, a Muslim can marry a non-Muslim under civil law, with each spouse maintaining his or her own religion.
But Shahirah’s university-going daughter Nadirah disapproves of her mother’s relationship with a non Muslim. Can this love story have a happy ending?
This interesting plot is being tackled in a theatre production entitled Nadirah. Written by Alfian Sa’at and directed by Jo Kukathas and Amsalan Doraisingam, this play will be staged at klpac (Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre) from Nov 1 to 11.
Playing the forbidden lovers are 49-year-old Singaporean award-winning actress Neo Swee-lin and 65-year-old Malaysian actor and former radio personality Patrick Teoh. Others in the play include Redza Minhat, Farah Rani and Ani Juliana Ibrahim.
In this exclusive interview, Neo and Teoh share their views on the play and how they fell about working in Malaysia and Singapore.

* What attracted you two to the roles in Nadirah?   

Neo: “This is my first role playing a Muslim. The gift of theatre is that you can lead other lives that you will never be able to discover otherwise. What I like best is when my character fell in love with a man of a different faith, she believes it is possible that they can be together and still hold on to their different faith.
“It is so cute and touching to see this middle-aged couple, who are close to their 50s and who have already lived lives and had relationships with other people, falling in love and behaving like teenagers. What makes us think falling in love is only for the young?
“The play doesn’t provide solutions but it does ask questions. In theory, it will be great if everybody has one religion. But we do not. We are a plural society and we should celebrate the diversity of it.” 

Teoh: “I am not a method actor. I play a doctor here but you will not see me in a doctor’s office to find out what goes on there. I depend very much on the director and the words and situation the writer gives me. I strongly believe an actor is only as good as the material that he has to work with. 
“When I do theatre, which is not very often, I only work with people I know. It will take a lot from me to accept a role with a director I’ve never worked with before. When you work with strangers, you have to deal with egos. 
“Nadirah is a timely play for us in Malaysia. We are living through inter-religious and inter-racial tensions every day of our lives. This play is very relevant to what’s going on here.”

* How will you react if you were in the character’s shoe in real life?  

Neo: “I cannot speak as a Muslim because I’m not a Muslim. But as a Catholic, I married a man who was a free thinker. Suddenly, after 15 years of marriage, he wanted to convert to Catholicism. I did not force him, neither did my family. Even my mum told my husband that he should do it for himself, not because he’s married to me.” 

Teoh: “I’m one of those people who will jump into the relationship if I was attracted to a woman of a different faith. I will fight whatever problems I might face in the future. Religion has always been manipulated to divide people.”  

* You two have worked in both the Malaysian and Singapore entertainment scene. What is the biggest difference and challenge you find?  

Neo: “People in Singapore are very much into goals. I do not feel very stressed when I was in Malaysia for my theatre rehearsals. They do not fine you or lock the doors if you are five minutes late. Discipline is important but once you start going crazy over it, you are creating a negative environment. I guess I like the organised chaos here.
“The only thing that is not so nice here is that you can only rehearse in the evenings because most of the actors are not full time. In Singapore, that is not the case but the problem there is that the actors take on too many jobs and by the time they come for rehearsal, they are drained.”

Teoh: “In Singapore, I have only worked for television shows. Everything is orderly. Everything starts on time. In Malaysian television productions, you are eating all the time. Personally, I like the relaxed atmosphere here. But it must not affect the work we are doing.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012


On September 18 theSun published an interview of mine where I have interviewed Shuhaimi Baba talking about her latest film Tanda Putera.  

 Title: That one day in May

Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba shares her views on her latest movie which revisits an unpleasant part of our nation’s history

BY Bissme S

Award-winning filmmaker Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba’s latest movie Tanda Putera delves into a dark yet significant chapter of Malaysia’s history.Its storyline centres on how the late Tun Abdul Razak, who was prime minister from 1970 to 1976, and his deputy, the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, restored racial harmony and peace in the country after the infamous racial riots of May 13, 1969. 
Award-winning actor Rusdi Ramli plays the titular role of Abdul Razak, while model-turned-actor Zizan Nin takes to the screen as Ismail. Others in the cast of local celebrities include Faezah Elai, Linda Hashim, Kavita Sidhu and Norman Hakim.
Here, Shuhaimi sheds more light on Tanda Putera, produced on a budget of RM5 million and set for a nationwide release on Nov 15.

*Why did you make this film?

I wanted the younger generation to be aware of the May 13 incident, how racial riots almost destroyed our country and why we shouldn’t let this happen again. We must now selfishly safeguard the peace of  this country.
“This is not a political film. It’s a film about humanity. No country in the world has faced a similar situation like ours, where both the prime minister and deputy prime minister had to brace a critical illness (Razak was suffering from leukaemia and Ismail had a heart problem) while having to handle tension among various racial groups.
“These leaders put the nation before their health. There were allegations that Razak had orchestrated the racial riots just to win the election. But I believe that was impossible.”

*Why do you think these allegations existed in the first place?

I don’t understand much about politics. But what I do know is that in politics, you have camps and you want to safeguard your power base, so you create conspiracy theories.
Our research shows that after Singapore left Malaysia (in 1965), there had been many efforts to destabilise this country.
The young people today do not understand that at that time, the threat of communism and radical elements were very real. It’s difficult to imagine the situation today, because our country is so peaceful now.

*Comments have been made that you make the Chinese look bad in this film. What do you have to say to that?

You cannot judge the entire film by just looking at the trailer. In the movie, I highlight the communists who create chaos but I also feature Malay gangsters who cause discord too.
There is also a rally before the 1969 election where some people are singing songs that praise Mao Tse-tung. Some are holding placards that belittle the Malays. It’s clear the rival groups are going beyond the limit.
What upset me most were the remarks I received (via Facebook). They were racist, rude and vulgar. I didn’t create those images in the film out of nothing. I have done much research [on the subject].”

*What have you learnt about Razak and Ismail while making this film?

I learnt of Razak’s great love for the people, especially the poor and the destitute. He always carried a book with him wherever he went. The book was called The Pathology of Leadership and it tells about leaders around the world who are suffering from critical illnesses and how they are dealing with it.
These leaders believed that they should not make their ailments public as it could destabilise the country. So, Razak kept his illness a secret because he didn’t want to weaken the country.
As for Ismail, I found out that he had given his Chinese maid a loan so that she could buy her own house. Apparently, she is still keeping the house in remembrance of  Ismail.
I was also always under the impression that it was Tunku Abdul Rahman who gave former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad the boot from Umno.
“But I was wrong. It was Ismail.”

*Is there any other historical event in our country that you would like to make a film on?

I would like to make a film on how Mahathir saved our country from economic disaster in 1998 when the world economy crashed.
Then there was the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim by Mahathir, which gave rise to  another dramatic chronology of events in Malaysia’s history.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Saloma & Sharifah Aini

Today I am highlight a story that appeared in  the Merdeka supplement  of theSun  newspaper  in Aug 31, 2012. Here is the story  

The two nightingales of the nation

Biduanita Negara is the most prestigious title awarded to singers who have contributed immensely to the music industry and to the nation. The first singer to receive this honour was the popular Saloma in 1978. 28 years later, after Saloma’s death, Persatuan Penyanyi, Pemuzik, Penulis Lagu Tanah Air (Papita) honoured this title to the evergreen Sharifah Aini in 2006. Indeed, the two nightingales are our national treasures and this Merdeka, theSun’s BISSME S. pays a special tribute to them.  


Saloma’s real name was Salmah Ismail. Born on Jan 23, 1935 in Singapore, Saloma harboured the ambition of becoming a singer from young.
“When we were children, she would always tell me: “I will become a famous singer and you a famous actress.” 
“I asked her – ‘Why would you become a singer and I become an actress?’ She told me that I was fair and she was dark,” said Saloma’s elder sister, actress Mariani. 
Saloma’s prediction became a reality. Mariani won a beauty pageant and was offered an opportunity to become an actress. Saloma made her mark as a singer. At the age of 13, Saloma was singing at weddings and festive events.At the age of 17, she was singing at the nightclub circuit and dabbled in acting. She also performed in Australia, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
One of her fondest memories with Saloma was when they were working with the Malay Film Productions (MFP). It was a Singaporean film studio, set up by the Shaw Brothers – Run Run Shaw and Run Me Shaw – in 1947, producing Malay films.
The sisters had a great time meeting and mingling with popular Hollywood actors – from sultry actress Eva Gardener to the great thriller director, Alfred Hitchcock, who visited Singapore as well as the MFP.  
“I remember we helped Elizabeth Taylor to get dressed in a songket,” she said.
“John Wayne carried us in his arms when he took pictures with us. Marlon Brandon was checking out my sister from top to toe. My sister was then known as Singapore’s Marilyn Monroe.”      
Mariani claimed that the sisters had never had any fierce arguments.
“When I was seven and Saloma was five, we had a big argument,” said 79-year-old Mariani.   
“Our father was angry at us for quarrelling and tied us to a guava tree for hours. Ants were all over our legs.
“We suffered. Since then, we were so afraid to quarrel because we do not want our father to punish us again. Even as grown-ups with our father no longer around, we carried on with the tradition of not quarrelling with each other.”
In 1961, Saloma got married to the legendary multi-talented P. Ramlee. It was her third marriage.     
“P. Ramlee and I were dating,” said Mariani.
“We were supposed to get married. But when I learned that my sister Saloma was in love with him, I sacrificed my love for her.”   
P. Ramlee disliked the idea of Mariani becoming an actress. So Mariani went into acting and that was enough for P. Ramlee to end their relationship.
“But I have no regrets of giving him up,” she said.  
“You can always find boyfriends and husbands but not sisters.”  
She pointed out that P. Ramlee was the love of Saloma’s life and a part of Saloma died when P.Ramlee succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 44 in 1973.
“She (Saloma) always said to me – With him gone, I have no reason to continue living,” said Mariani.  
“I had to comfort her and always encourage her to carry on with her life without Ramlee.”   
Ten years later, on Apr 25, 1983, at the age 48, Saloma passed away due to liver failure associated with jaundice. She was buried next to P. Ramlee, as she had wished.
“After my sister died, for 20 years, I refused to listen to any of her songs,” said Mariani 
“I refused to see any of her movies. I sent all her pictures to my daughter’s house. I did not want anything that reminded me of Saloma. Any memories of her would just bring tears to my eyes.” 
Now that she has come to terms with her sister’s death, Mariani expressed sadness and disappointment that her sister’s contribution to the entertainment industry has been overlooked.
“Every year, the authorities will hold prayers (tahlil) for P. Ramlee on his death anniversary,” she said.
“But no one holds any kind of prayers for my sister on her death anniversary. She had contributed a lot to the entertainment industry. 
“Till today, her songs are played in the radio. Saloma’s voice is very unique and cannot be imitated. Her voice is a gift from God.”      
Mariani is nevertheless grateful to see the set up of Saloma Theatre Restaurant in 2001 to honour her sister’s contribution to the nation. Mariani’s daughter Melissa Saila, who is also an actress cum director, is in the midst of making a docu-drama that depicts the life of Saloma. 
Titled ‘Hanya Saloma’, it will have eight episodes, half an hour each, which is likely to be aired in television next year.
“Most people only remember my aunt as the wife to P. Ramlee. But she was a star of her own right. Her life should be documented. She should not fade away,” said Melissa.  
She remembers her aunt as an introvert, reserved and shy, unlike her mother who is an extrovert and loud.
Initially, Melissa wanted to make a four-part TV series that focussed on Saloma and her mother as two sisters making a name in the entertainment industry.
“Sorry to say I could not find the budget to make this TV series,” she said.


For Sharifah Aini, the road to success was not an easy one. Her childhood years in Johor Baru were filled with poverty. It was her grandparents who took care of her.
Her grandfather was only a taxi driver. To earn extra income for her household, she began working when she was seven years old.
“There were several jackfruit trees behind the house I lived in. When the trees bore fruits, I would sell them to the village folks. I was the youngest peddler in my village,” recalled Sharifah Aini.   
She would also grind chillies into fine paste and earned RM1.50 for every two kilograms of ground chillies produced.
“My fingers suffered from handling too much chillies,” said Sharifah Aini, who will be celebrating her 45 years in the music industry next year. Her other source of income came from stitching Baju Kurung Johor, where she made RM2.50 for every dress. 
At the age of seven, she braved herself to sing in front of the crowd at funfairs where her payment ranged between RM5 to RM10 and ten Satay sticks.   
“Seven of us would be packed in a car like sardines and travel long distances from Johor Baru to funfairs in places as far as Pahang, Kelantan, Perlis, Kedah and Perak,” she said.
One thing she is truly grateful about her childhood years was that her grandparents had filled her life with love and care.
She remembered one occasion where her grandfather saved every penny so he could buy her a pair of red Bata shoes that she had desired. She also recalled one Hari Raya where her grandmother took three of her best baju kurung and trimmed them to Sharifah Aini’s size. 
“They had given me so much love that I felt secured and I didn’t feel poor at all.”
Her big break came in 1967 when she entered a singing contest organized by Radio Television Singapore. 
She bagged the second place and at the same time caught the attention of a recording company that offered her a recording contract.
Her first album, ‘Seri Dewi Malam’ released in 1968, became an instant hit. She was hardly 17 when fame came knocking at her door. 
“I came to KL with only RM75 in my pocket and with the ambition to be someone successful,” she said.
One of Sharifah Aini’s idols that she really admires and wants to emulate is the popular TV host, Oprah Winfrey.
 “Over the years she has helped a lot of people from the less fortunate in undeveloped countries to people in her own backyard,” she said.
Sharifah Aini, who has a son, takes care of over 2, 500 orphans. Over the years she has performed in countless shows where the profits have been chanelled to various charity organizations, especially orphanages.
“One advice I would like to give young artists out there is to be charitable and give back to the society,” she said.
“The peace you will feel is simply indescribable.”
When asked about some of the misconceptions people have about her, she said: “People like to think I am a diva who is difficult to work with. I have two maids who have been working with me for the last 20 years. I have a driver who has been with me for the last 28 years. If I am so difficult to work with, do you think they will stick with me for so long?”  
Sharifah Aini, who had had two failed marriages, said that she is still open to finding the right companion.
“I want to grow old with a best friend,” she said.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Marina Mahathir on Mahathir Mohamad

This story was published in theSun newspaper on  June 15, 2012  in conjunction with father's day that falls on June 17.  It is story about a  close relationship between a father and daughter who have different opinions but who still  respect each other.  

Headline : My Father's Daughter 
By Bissme S 

THE world knows him as the former prime minister of Malaysia but to Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the man she calls dad.He was strict about matters pertaining to school but, at the same time, very affectionate towards his children, says this writer and human rights activist about her father.
“He cannot tolerate bad manners and rudeness,” adds Marina, 55, who is the first of seven children of the 86-year-old Mahathir and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.
“I remember as a child, he spanked me because I stuck my tongue out at our gardener.”
But when it comes to his 17 grandchildren, it is a totally different picture. The strict father turns into a much more lenient and indulgent grandfather.
“Once I smacked one of my children lightly and he scolded me: ‘Don’t smack my granddaughter’!
But like any child growing up with strong opinions, Marina’s obvious support for the Bersih street demonstrations last year and this year had set some tongues wagging that it had caused a serious rift between father and daughter.
Marina, however, denies this. “I took part in Bersih because I believe in fair and clean elections. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.
“I’ve stated my opinions and my dad has stated his opinions. Our opinions happen to be different.
“But both my father and I believe that it’s okay to have different opinions.”
She feels that some people are making a big deal out of their differences in their opinions.
“They want me to say that my dad’s opinion is wrong. I’m not going to do that. He is my father. Would you do that to your father?I respect his opinions the way he respects mine.”
Marina also feels that her father had brought about much progress to the nation during his tenure as prime minister.
“I know people would say that I only have good things to say about him because he’s my father.
“But I’m sure that our history would reflect a much more balanced account of his contributions to this country.
“As people enjoy the fruits of development, they want more. In particular, they want more space for different ideas to be aired and for that, they need the freedom of expression and speech.”
Marina says Malaysians generally do not appreciate her father until they travel and meet foreigners, especially other Asians, who yearn for a leader like him.
Recalling a 2008 visit to the Asian University for Women, on whose International Advisory Committee she sits, in Chittagong, Bangladesh, she says the people there looked up to her father and regarded him with respect and admiration.
“I was treated like a rock star’s daughter when I was there,” she recalls. “Everywhere I went, I was greeted by journalists and people eager to meet me just because I was related to him.
“They admired dad for what he had done for Malaysia. They wished they could have a leader like him.”
On allegations that Mahathir had curbed press freedom in Malaysia when he was the prime minister, Marina has this to offer: “He had, shall we say, a fractious relationship with the media. It was one of those things I’d always disagreed with him.
“But he was always far-sighted when it came to new technology.
“I remember one of his ministers wanted to ban the use of fax machines but he would not allow it.
“We must also not forget that he set up the Multimedia Super Corridor.
“Whatever you may say about my dad, you cannot deny that he has an intellect far superior to that of most people today. He certainly reads more than almost anyone in public office too.”
When asked about her opinion on internet forums that criticise her father, she says: “I don’t read what they say. What’s the point of reading them? They are not going to change their opinions, no matter what you do.
“My father had never gone around thinking that he’s the most popular guy on earth. If you do your job with the idea of being popular, you already have the wrong approach.
“For that matter, I don’t even read his fan forums either.”
She also points out that her father was a strong supporter of women’s rights and one of the few leaders around who had the guts to stand up against those religious scholars who used religion to deny women their rights.
“Once, my friend told me that she had heard an Ustaz declaring in his religious sermon that ‘it’s better to roll in mud with a pig than shake hands with a woman’.
“Later, I told this to my mum and she related it to dad.Then, at the very next Umno general assembly, my father brought up what the Ustaz had said and asked how he could have forgotten that his mother, sisters and wife were also women and how he could have spoken of them in such a degrading manner.
“For saying that, my father received a standing ovation, including from those women who really should have stood up against men who have such a sexist attitude.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Helmy Samad On A Samad Said

The story appeared in the sun newspaper in conjunction with father's day. I highlighted the story of writer cum publisher  Helmy Samad talks about his father National Laureate A Samad Said. The story published on Monday June 25, 2012 

Headline : On being the son of a living legend

WRITER-publisher Helmy Samad can talk to his father about anything – including his love life.That's how he describes his relationship with his father, National Laureate A. Samad Said.

"He knew who all my girlfriends were," adds Helmy, the second of five children in the family.

Last year, when his marriage was on the rocks, Helmy instinctively turned to his 77-year-old father for advice. "My dad only said one thing to me: 'Jadi anak jantan (be a man)'," he recalls. 

Now, at 48, Helmy is a single parent to two boys – Muhamad Firdaus, 23, who is pursuing a Master's degree in Mass Communications, and five-year-old Ali.

"My eldest son and my father have different ideologies and they can debate for hours," Helmy says. 
"But my father doesn't mind the difference of opinions between them. He feel it's better for his grandson to have a stand in life than to have none at all."      
One virtue that Helmy's father taught him is kindness and now he is instilling this value in his sons.
"These days, people believe that kindness is a mark of a loser," says Helmy. "But some of the greatest people in history displayed kindness and one of them was Mahatma Gandhi."
"It's not easy to be kind," he adds. 
Helmy also points out that his father never scolded his children in public.Recalling an incident which occurred in his childhood, Helmy says his neighbour had caught him smoking with his friends. When the neighbour complained about it to his dad, Samad had said: "So what?"
"My neighbour went away feeling embarrassed but I got a two-hour lecture from my dad. The point was that he didn't want to embarrass me in front of the neighbour."
When he and his siblings were young, his father also instilled in them a love for the arts by encouraging them to draw and paint.
"If he liked one of our paintings, he would buy it at 50 sen or so. That reward created some kind of excitement in us and also healthy competition between me and my siblings."
Ten years ago, Helmy gave up his lucrative career as a computer programmer to follow in his eminent father's footsteps. He became a writer. 
"My father discouraged me [from becoming a writer] and he kept telling me that a writer's life is a hard life," he says. 
"But at the same time, he gave me books to read to broaden my horizon."  
When some of his short stories were published, there were some critics who began to compare his writings with that of his father's.
Helmy became frustrated at one point and even quit writing for a while.
"I was just starting out as a writer and to make that kind of comparison was unfair," he says. "I believe my writing style is different from my father's."
But his dad advised him to continue writing. "He told me that it's only natural that people will compare me to him and with other writers."   
Last year, Helmy finally went back to writing and even started a publishing company, Wira Bukit Sdn Bhd, which mainly publishes his father's books.
"But my father and I are lousy businessmen," he says, laughing.
"We like giving away books because we want to encourage reading among Malaysians. But then giving them away for free is not good for business."
To date, Helmy has written three novels which have yet to be published.  
"I'm more mature now to handle any comparisons that critics may make between my literary works and my father's," he says.  
Of late, his dad had been making headlines for taking part in the recent Bersih 3.0 protests and some quarters had even accused him of creating trouble in the country.
Helmy begs to differ, saying: "Like all peace-loving citizens, my dad was merely pressing for fair elections and seeking an end to corruption.
"My father has always fought against injustice. If he sees something is wrong, he would speak out."  
Although Helmy admires his father's courage, he fears for his safety.
"My father lives a simple life and moves around freely ... it's easy for someone to harm him. I've voiced out my concerns but dad says life and death is in God's hands." 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mislina Mustaffa : Homeless By Choice

Recently I interviewed the actress Mislina Mustaffa where she talks about her interesting project Homeless By Choice.  The article was printed in theSun on April 25, 2012. 

By Bissme S
FRENCH author and feminist Simone de Beauvoir once said that 85% of a woman’s daily life is spent cleaning the dirt that keeps coming back.This remark influenced local actress Mislina Mustaffa to embark on an interesting journey – to go homeless for a year.
“When you have no house, you have no dirt to clean,” says the 41-year-old. “I’m curious to see what I’ll be doing with this 85% of my time.”
Mislina is keeping a journal to record all her experiences from her adventure and plans to turn it into a book for publication next year.She also intends to use the journal as the basis for her thesis in her studies in the future, most likely in the field of performing arts.Interestingly, it was not difficult for her to give up the place she had called home for the last eight years and disposing off most of her furniture, except for a few of her favourite books and paintings which a friend would be keeping for her.What she found difficult was giving up Atan and Mong, her dogs who had been with her for more than a year. Fortunately, she managed to find a new home for them.
“I learnt that it’s easier to give up material things,” says Mislina, who has acted in films such asAnak Halal, Talentime and Cun, as well as Karaoke that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009.
Asked if she plans to get her pets Atan and Mong back, she says: “I’m sure the new owners will get attached to the dogs and they to them. It will be cruel, heartless and unfair to tear them apart.”
For her project, which she dubs ‘homeless by choice’, Mislina only has four changes of attire and basic essentials in her bag. If she has a film or TV drama shoot, she will stay in the city. Otherwise, she will be travelling all over Malaysia.So far, she has visited Pulau Tioman, Peang and Bintulu in Sarawak, staying mostly in budget hotels. She has met people from all walks of life – from a Canadian hippie to a Korean student who could not speak proper English.
“The journey has been tiring but the experience has been enriching,” she says.
Mislina has also adopted ‘a couch service’ from good friends as well as kind-hearted strangers who offer their couch to her to bed down for free. 
“Usually, I would stay with them for two or three nights,” she says.
Most of the time, her gracious hosts are kind enough to invite her for lunch and dinner as well.So far, she has stayed with four families, and mingling with them has exposed the actress to new experiences.
“When I stayed with a Chinese family, I noticed a picture of a rhinoceros pasted on their front door,” she says. “Later, I learnt that it’s a fengshui symbol to keep robbers away.”
Mislina says staying with people from different backgrounds has helped her to sharpen her skills as an actress.
“Through this project, I hope to get to know our society and its people a little better.
“Should I write a script in the future, I’ll include bits of my experiences. It’ll make the script more interesting and realistic.”
Mislina also hopes to show that a woman has many choices in life. “Many Asian women’s ultimate goal is to get married, have kids and have a house that they can call home,” she says.
“They have become slaves to this social and stereotypical image. All their efforts, money and energy are dedicated towards this goal.
“It’s okay to have a home. But your home should not become your prison. Your home should not be your only dream.”
Mislina’s ‘homeless by choice’ project has also helped her to create a better bond with society.She says many actors have this wrong perception that they should not mingle with ordinary folks. They, in fact, feel that they should remain reclusive and exclusive.
“They would make their assistants do all their chores for them, even buying fruits from a street vendor. And, they definitely wouldn’t think of queuing up at a coffee shop to get a cup of coffee.
“But we actors represent society. We play roles that we see in society. If you refuse to be associated with society, how convincing are you going to be in your performances?
“For instance, if an actor has to play a fruit seller, how will he know the emotions experienced by such a person? This is why some actors put up such shallow performances.”
Actors cannot be aloof and keep away from society. They should be part of society, adds Mislina.