Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bront Palarae

Bront Palarae has a small role in OlaBola but he left a lasting impression. He talks to theSun about his passion for acting and directing.  

Headline: A Passion  For Movies
By Bissme S
When  I first saw Bront Palarae  in a television show 17 years ago, I did not think highly of his abilities. To me, he was just a handsome actor churning out a superficial performance. Now, I see the 37-year-old actor in a totally different light.
Bront has certainly sharpened his acting skill. Put him in any role and he will give a convincing performance. Indeed, Bront has become an actor to be reckoned with. He has been giving memorable and varied performances, from portraying an eccentric filmmaker chasing after UFOs in Terbaik Dari Langit to a mentally disturbed person in PSIKO: Pencuri Hati. His current show-stealing role as a hyper sports commentator in sports drama OlaBola is another feather in his cap.
Bront has also been roped in by several well-known Indonesian directors recently for their projects. Among them are awardwinning director Joko Anwar, who has cast the actor in the HBO Asia supernatural TV series Halfworlds, and Upi Avianto who picked him for her comedy film, My Stupid Boss.
Bront will next be seen playing a police inspector in the action thriller Headshots, under the direction of The Mo Brothers (consisting of two friends, Timo Tjahjanto dan Kimo Stamboel), which is expected to hit cinemas this year. In a recent interview with theSun, Bront shares some insights on his career.

*Tell us about your experience in Indonesian productions.

Only the directors who hire you have seen your movies, and know of your talents. Others in the production team, from the cast to crew, may not have heard of you or seen your movies. You are like a rookie, all over again. You have to prove that you are a good actor [to them all].  This experience is exciting and humbling, at the same time. Working on those productions is like being in an acting workshop where you will learn new lessons to make your craft better.

*Do you have plans to be based in Jakarta and do more Indonesian projects?

(Laughing) If Christoper Nolan calls me to act in his movie, I will go to Hollywood and do his movie. “But the moment his film has finished shooting, I will head straight back to Malaysia. My base will always be Malaysia  There is no place like home. I have always wanted to be a part of the Malaysian film industry. If you are based overseas, you will be a part of their film industry and I do not want that.

*Tell us some of the lessons you’ve learned after having been part of the Malaysian entertainment industry for 17 years.

That you should not get too happy with your highs and you should not get too down with your lows. The feelings of rejection and dejection are part and parcel of the job. When I first joined the entertainment industry, everyone kept telling me that it is a dog-eat dog world, and that I should not trust anyone; that genuine friendships do not exist here and people are eager to backstab you. Well, I have made some great friends in the entertainment industry. Nothing works without trust.

* Do you get frustrated when you are presented with terrible scripts and horrible roles?

The phase of getting frustrated has come and gone. I have come to accept how the industry works, and there is no point dwelling on the issue. I count my blessings as an actor. There are more talented actors than me who do not get the opportunity to showcase their talent like I do. I would rather spend my energy on making things better in the entertainment industry than wasting my time feeling frustrated. I am slowly moving towards production and direction, and hopefully, I can make some difference there.

* You studied to be a film director. But you became an actor, instead. Why?

While waiting for my break as a film director, I have to earn my bread and butter, so I took any job both behind and in front of the camera. But I have stuck to acting. As an actor, you have a better view of how a film is being made, and the working process of your director, your crew and your castmates. Observation is important if you want to be a good director.

* You have just directed one film, Kolumpo. Do you have plans to direct other films?

I have two projects in hand. My first project is called Dawn Raid, which is based on a real event where a group of Malaysian businessmen managed to take over the hugely-successful British-owned company, Guthrie, through the London Stock Exchange.
My second project is called Sabotage and it centres on how the government recruited some ethnic Chinese to infiltrate and spy on the Malayan Communist Party during the Emergency.

*After being an actor and now director, which do you prefer?

I love both, and I need both. Acting helps me to be a better director and directing helps me to be a better actor. When you are sitting in the director’s chair, you have to help your actors shape their performances. Indirectly, you are learning something about acting. When you are an actor, you are taking orders from directors, and you are constantly observing your director. Indirectly, you are learning something about directing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Actors from OlaBola

OlaBola is a Malaysian movie that is everyone is waiting to see. Today, theSun published an interview I have done with the three young actors from the movie.  

Headline: Reel Football Heroes
By Bissme S

The New Movie by director Chui Keng Guan (of The Journey fame) may turn quite a few first-time actors into national heartthrobs. Opening in cinemas this Thursday, OlaBola follows the trials and tribulations of a team of young footballers in the 1980s as they struggle to reconcile their personal relationships with their love for football. It also showcases their journey towards international glory as they strive to win a place in the Olympics. The ensemble cast features a mix of familiar and new faces. Among them are Bront Palarae, Marianne Tan Poh Yee, Katrina Ho Fooi Tin, Daphne Low Sin Mun, and Mark Williams. At a recent preview of the film, local media were introduced to three of the fresh-faced actors who have been gaining positive reviews for their work – J.C. Chee, Luqman Hafidz, and Saran Kumar. These young actors from different backgrounds stood out thanks to their convincing performances. theSun spoke to them on their reel ambitions to make a mark in the Malaysian film industry.

From left, Saran, Luqman and JC 

*JC. Chee J.C. (short for Jun Cherng), 26, plays Chow Kwok Keong, the captain of the Malaysian national football team who is torn between wanting to give his family a good life and pursuing his dream as a footballer. The Perlis-born J.C. started his career as a model five years ago but decided to switch to acting last year.
“You cannot be a model forever because there are always new faces who will replace you,” he says. “You need to branch out and try other things.”
So he chose to be an actor. His first film was the Taiwanese comedy drama, When a Geek Meets with a Serial Killer, released last year. OlaBola is his second film.
“Modelling and acting are totally different ball games,” he admits.
“As an actor, you will have to be in character all the time and you have to use a lot of imagination.”
 J.C. cites one scene in OlaBola where they were shooting a football match, but there was no crowd in the stadium. The crowd would be added in later using computer- generated imagery (CGI).
 “We had to pretend that we were playing to a crowd,” he recalls.
After OlaBola, J.C. will next be seen in Girl Generation, a Taiwan-Malaysia production where he plays a handsome boy who is the object of desire of all the girls in his school. The film will be due out this year. However, J.C. doesn’t want to depend on his good looks alone to shine as an actor. He says he does not mind taking on challenging roles where he doesn’t have to look dashing.
“I love eating and I could easily put on weight,” he adds with a laugh.

*Luqman Hafidz Luqman, 24, plays dedicated footballer Ali who wants to be the best player in his team. But that driving ambition somehow makes him come across as an arrogant overachiever.
“I love football,” says Luqman.
“When I heard there was a movie being made on football and the production team was looking for extras, I decided to attend the audition.”
As it was his first attempt at acting, he never expected to be offered one of the lead roles. Since then, he has been bitten by the acting bug. After this experience, the quantity surveyor is seriously considering pursuing a career in acting.
He says: “In acting, you are constantly expressing your emotions and when you do that, you are being truthful to yourself. And I loved that feeling.”
He appreciates the fact that director Chui had put his young cast through an intensive acting and football training before the cameras started rolling. Chui had three acting coaches from Taiwan to train his young cast.
“As a result, we could [deliver] a believable performance,” says Luqman.
“We worked hard, but the director worked even harder on the film.”
 Luqman also has a keen interest in music and would love to try singing.

*Saran Kumar Saran, 21, plays Muthu, the best goalkeeper on the national football team. Unfortunately, his love for the game has caused a rift between him and his father.
“I have never been interested in acting,” confesses the Kuala Lumpur-born lad who is currently pursuing a degree in electrical engineering in Universiti Tenaga Nasional. Saran was playing a friendly football game with his friends when he was spotted by a talent scout. Eventually, he bagged the role of Muthu as his first film role.
“Muthu and I are very different,” says Saran.
“Muthu is a very serious guy, and I can be funny.”
Like Luqman, Saran has also been bitten by the acting bug.
“I hope OlaBola will open up opportunities for me,” he says.
His favourite actor is Indian veteran Rajnikanth, whom he regrets not being able to see when the actor was in Malaysia last year to shoot his latest film, Kabila.
On OlaBola, Saran says the movie’s greatest strength is its multiracial cast and indirectly, that gives the film a Malaysian touch.

“OlaBola is not only about football,” he says. “It is a movie that highlights our unity as Malaysians.”

The cast in costume ... from left JC Chee, Saran and Luqman

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Osman Ali's Choice

Osman Ali has directed Langit Cinta and it is currently playing in the cinemas. theSun got Osman Ali to pick his favourite 10 movies that depicts love.  The full article below ....  

Headline:  For Love & Glory
By Bissme S

A scene from Langit Cinta 

WE ALL need love in their life. Osman Ali’s Langit Cinta, currently playing in cinemas, certainly depicts this emotion. The film centres on the star-crossed romance between Khadejah, who is from a small fishing village, and Aliff, the son of a rich businessman. They marry despite his parents’ objections, but one day Aliff seemingly walks away, leaving behind Khadejah, who is now pregnant and wondering why she has been abandoned.
We asked Osman (far right) to pick 10 favourite movies that depict “this strange thing called love”. Here are his choices:

*Alaipayuthey (2000)
This Indian film, directed by Mani Ratnam and starring R Madhavan and Shalini, is about a couple who fall in love and marry without their parents’ consent. The couple soon learn that falling in love is easy but keeping a marriage afloat is hard.
“Very few movies discuss how you keep love alive in a marriage, and Mani Ratnam has done that brilliantly here,” says Osman.


*Dil Se (1998)
Another Mani Ratnam film, this time starring Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala. Osman likes the fact that Mani has shown that even a terrorist wants to love and be loved, and how a radio producer is willing to leave behind his stable life just to love a terrorist. “Falling in love is about taking risk,” Osman says.

*Dr Zhivago (1965)
This British-American effort directed by David Lean and starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin, is an epic love story that takes place during World War I in Russia, where a doctor is torn between his mistress and wife.
“The director has beautifully captured the scenery and the tormented emotions that the characters face,” Osman adds.
*Suara Kekasih (1986)
This love story, directed by Ida Farida, stars Fauziah Ahmad Daud and Azmil Mustafa as a nightclub singer and rich boy, whose relationship encounters parental opposition
“I love one scene where Fauziah cries in the arms of her mother when she learns the man she loves will be marrying another woman,” says Osman.
“I have a similar scene in Langit Cinta [between Fazura and her mother] when she learns that her husband has abandoned her.”

 *Plae Kao (1977, 2002 and 2014)
This Thai movie was remade twice after the first film under different directors and stars. The story is about two people in a small farming village falling in love despite their families hating each other. The story ends with the lovers drowning in a river in each other’s arms.
Osman, who enjoys all three versions, says: “The story will bring tears to your eyes.”

*Romeo and Juliet (1996)
Osman loves how director Baz Luhrmann has set Shakespeare’s tragic love story in a modern setting. He also applauds the actors in the lead roles, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, for giving a brilliant performance.

*Titanic (1997)
James Cameron’s mega-hit about a rich aristocrat and a poor artist falling in love onboard a ship that eventually strikes an iceberg and sinks, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the lead.
Osman says: “The antagonist in this love story is nature. You can see a lot of nature in Langit Cinta. “
The director also manages to prick our emotion where we pine for the lovers to be together in the end.”

*The Notebook (2004)
This touching tale stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams under the direction of Nick Cassavetes. It’s about an elderly man at a nursing home reading a romantic story from his notebook to a fellow patient. His story centres on a poor country boy who falls in love with a rich heiress.
“What do you do when you remember every detail of your love story, but your lover keeps forgetting everything?” Osman asks.
“This is one love story that will touch your heart.”

*Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
This Chinese film, by renowned director Zhang Yimou, stars Gong Li in the lead as a young woman named Songlian who hopes to find love and romance. Instead, she is forced to be the fourth wife of a wealthy lord played by Ma Jingwu. She must then learn to live under the strict rules of his household and compete for the attention of the master from his other concubines. “Your heart really sympathises with Songlian, and Gong Li really performed her role well,” Osman says.
*Nang Nak (1999)
Nonzee Nimibutr directs this Thai horror-romance starring Intira Jaroenpura and Winai Kraibutr. The story is about a man who goes to war, leaving behind his pregnant wife behind. When he returns, he begins to notice something different about his wife and young child, something which has gotten all the other villagers terrified.
“Even death cannot kill love,” Osman says.

“I really admire the way the director incorporated romance and horror in the film.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Julian Jayaseela

I have spoken to film producer Julian Jayaseela who wrote his first fiction novel, The Prime Minister’s Secret. Check out his full interview in theSun today and here is the full story.  

Headline: A Woman on Top
By Bissme S

Absolute power corrupts absolutely: that seems to be the message film producer turned writer Julian Jayaseela  has incorporated in his debut novel, The Prime Minister’s Secret. The 253-page fictional work, published by Gerakbudaya Enterprise, will be launched on Jan 17 at 3pm at the Gerakbudaya bookshop in Petaling Jaya.
The story is set in Malaysia and spans four decades, from the 1980s to 2010s. The protagonist is woman politician Rabiah Kadir, who has been groomed for a career in politics from young. From being the home affairs minister, she works hard to become the deputy prime minister, and finally, the prime minister.
As home affairs minister, Rabiah implements a law that gives her the power to send her critics to prison without trial. In her mind, she believes she is doing the right thing. She is saving her nation from chaos. Readers will also learn that Rabiah will go to any length to save her crumbling marriage, including driving away her husband’s mistress. Despite her flaws, you have to admire the strong will the woman possesses. She never quits even when the going gets tough.
 From the start, Julian wishes to clarify that The Prime Minister’s Secret is purely a work of fiction. He says: “The story I am writing is not based on any of our prime ministers. This is because Malaysia has never had a female prime minister.”
Though his novel deals with the corruption of power, interestingly, Julian insists his story is about humanity and hope.
“I just want to say that we can make the world a better place and we can be better people,” says the 53-yearold who is better known for producing films such as Bukak Api, Cun and Jwanita.
“I would categorise my novel as a pop-political thriller aimed at entertaining readers.”
Part of the book also follows a character called Junid, who sees his father unfairly arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Junid becomes obsessed with abolishing the act, even to the point of blackmailing the prime minister.
Julian himself has first-hand experience with the act. At age 25, as a trade unionist, he was detained under ISA during the infamous Operation Lalang in 1987.
“It was a tense period, and human rights was a taboo word then,” Julian recalls.
Is Junid loosely based on Julian himself? Laughing, he says: “There is little bit of me in every character in my novel.”
As for his time under ISA, he remembers being interrogated and left in solitary confinement for 60 days, and later sent to Kamunting Prison. He was released a year later.
“I thought I was a superhuman and that I could handle what I had gone through,” he says, but that was not the case. He suffered from terrible nightmares.
“When you go through such a traumatic experience, your mind has a tendency to put a ‘bandage’ on your wound. But you need to take off the bandage if you want to heal your wound.”
Eight years after his release from ISA, he sought professional help to cope with what he had gone through. During his therapy, one of the exercises was writing down his experiences while under detention.
“I have always enjoyed writing since I was young,” he says.
 “My family was so poor that we could not afford a television. So my eight siblings and I spent most of our time reading. We got excited about books. On hindsight, I must be thankful that there was no television in my house. Perhaps I would not have become an ardent reader.”
Most of that credit, according to Julian, he gives to his mother, whom he describes as a strong, supportive woman.
“She created so much joy and happiness at home that I never realised I was poor.”
As for writing a book on his detention under ISA, he says he harbours no such desire to do so.
“Many people were arrested under ISA,” he says.
“I spoke to them and included their experiences in [The Prime Minister’s Secret] instead.”
 Reading the novel, it is easy to say that the lead character, Rabiah, has a ruthless streak in her. But Julian does not like to put any labels on her.
“I would leave it to the readers to [ decide] whether she is a villain or not,” he says.
“All I can say is that she takes her responsibility as a prime minister very seriously.”

Julian with his novel ... The Prme Minister's Secret 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Seruan Merdeka

Today theSun highlighted a story I have done  on an interesting documentary Return to Nostalgia where a film maker and his team go to search for one of the lost classic Malaysian made film Seruan Merdeka. Read the full story here.   

Headline: Quest for Reel History
By Bissme S
Some  of our classic films have been lost to time. In an effort to document this era of Malaysian cinematic history, award-winning Malaysian filmmaker Woo Ming Jin (below) decided to go in search of one such lost classic, the 1946 Seruan Merdeka (Cry for Freedom). Together with a team from Greenlight Pictures, the film production company he founded in 2004, Woo’s quest for that classic is captured in his documentary, Return to Nostalgia. The one-hour documentary is being aired tomorrow at 7.30pm at Content Malaysia Pitching Centre, Platinum Sentral, in Kuala Lumpur. Entrance is free.
“I have always been fascinated by Malaysia’s cinematic history,” says Woo, whose previous films have been screened at prestigious film festivals in Berlin, Cannes and Venice.
“There hasn’t been much written about Malaysian films before the 1960s. In fact, many of these films are presumed lost.”
Woo got the idea to do the documentary early last year. Production started in April and took four months to complete.
“By delving into this project, [my team and I learned] more about our country’s early cinematic forays,” he says.
When asked why he chose to focus on this one film, Woo says: “Seruan Merdeka was one of the first independentlyproduced films in the country. “I discovered that the film faced many of the same trials and tribulations that I am facing today as a filmmaker, and that struck a chord with me.”
He points out that 70 years after Seruan Merdeka was made, the Malaysian film industry today is still struggling with the same issues that were prevalent back then. Seruan Merdeka was the first Malaysian film made after World War II. It was meant to resuscitate the local film industry, which came to a halt during the war.
The film was produced by the Malayan Arts Production house, which was established by businessman S.M.A.H. Christy, and directed by B.S. Rajhans. Seruan Merdeka was also the first local film to employ a mixed-race cast of Chinese and Malay actors, with Salleh Ghani, Rokiah Hanafi and Siti Tanjung Perak as the leads.
The story takes place after the fall of Singapore in 1942. Lieutenant Rashid and his friend, Leong, are prisoners of the Japanese. The two manage to escape, but Leong is killed in the attempt. The Japanese begin a hunt for Rashid, even capturing and torturing his family members to find out his whereabouts. 
In Woo’s documentary Return to Nostalgia, it showed how the team managed to get its hands on a copy of the script, which was written in Jawi but was disappointed to discover that the final page had been torn off. Undeterred, the team members decided to put their copy of the script to good use. They recruited actors like Ledil Putra and Jasmin Chin to enact certain scenes from the film. The documentary also showed the team managing to track down Wan Khazim Wan Din, who is possibly the last living individual to have seen the original Seruan Merdeka on screen when it was first
The team travelled all the way to a small village up north to meet him but discovered that he has been admitted to hospital. These were some of the challenges the team faced in its quest for the film. Woo admits that one of the biggest challenges was finding accurate information on the film itself
“Some of the books and articles written about Seruan Merdeka contain factual errors, and that complicated matters.”
On the aim of the documentary, he says: “We wanted to make a documentary that is both entertaining and informative. We hope it will raise awareness on the historic aspect of Malaysian cinema, and also to promote our cinematic heritage to the younger generation of filmmakers.” Return to Nostalgia has been screened at the recent Busan International Film Festival in October, as well as on South Korean television.
“We hope it can raise our cinematic profile in the world too,” he says.

Below are the scenes from the Return from Nostalgia 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hamlet in Bahasa Malaysia

Yesterday theSun published my interview where a William Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet is being presented in Bahasa Malaysia.  The play would be set in a totally different atmosphere - in a fictional country in the Malay Archipelago. Read the full story here

Headline: Beyond Hamlet’s Revenge
By Bissme S

The theatre faculty of the Akademi Seni Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan (Aswara) is taking up the challenge to stage William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Bahasa Malaysia. The 75-minute tragedy, written by the 17th century poet, playwright and actor, will feature more than 40 students.
The play tells the tale of Danish prince Hamlet, who is unhappy that his mother, Queen Getrude, has married his uncle Claudius soon after the death of his father, the king. His life changes when he encounters the ghost of his late father.
Stricken by grief, Hamlet is convinced that Claudius has committed murder for the sake of stealing the throne. He then plots to kill his uncle to avenge his father. But as revenge consumes him, Hamlet soon finds his life, and his kingdom, thrown into chaos.
In explaining their reason for choosing to stage this English play instead of a Malay one, Aswara lecturer and director of the play Fasyali Fadzly says: “I have never seen Hamlet as just a western play. Shakespeare had always tackled universal themes in his plays, and Hamlet is no different.”
Fasyali feels that the themes in the play resonate with us, our own community, nation and desires. He adds that he wants his student actors to explore human emotions, and he finds Hamlet to be the perfect play for them to do that. Some may see Hamlet as a man who is slowly losing his mind but Fasyali does not share such sentiment.
“I do not see Hamlet as a mad man,” says this lecturer, who has previously won the best director and best original script awards for his play, Teater Juta-Juta, at the 2014 BOH Cameronians Arts Awards. “Hamlet’s heart is full of revenge, and it is slowly blinding him. He knows the ghost he sees is not real. But he lives in a world of nostalgia. He wants to believe his father was a great king. [But] you cannot move forward if you keep on living in a world of nostalgia.”
Final-year student Afiq Azhar Ali, who is taking on the lead role, is happy to be playing Hamlet. He confesses that he has seen many film versions of the play, from the 1990 film starring Mel Gibson, to the 1996 version starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh.
“I learn something from these actors but I will not be imitating them,” says Afiq, who wants to inject his own style into the Hamlet.
“Film and theatre are two different media. What works in film may not work in theatre.”
Initially, Afiq was given the role of Claudius. But he was eager to play Hamlet and begged Fasyali for another chance. The director was so impressed with his determination and his second audition that he finally gave him the role.
Nurul Wardah Mohamed Sharif is the person in charge of the play’s production. This final-year student in the faculty of arts and culture management understands that Hamlet would not be an easy play to stage.
One major change they have made to the play is setting the story in a fictional country in the Malay Archipelago. It will also feature elements of Malay culture, including Mak Yong and Bali mask dances. Fasyali says setting the play in an ambiguous, but familiar, environment and culture will give the production team more room to be creative in terms of set, costumes and story presentation. Nurul Wardah is up to the challenge.
“Aswara is a place where the students are given difficult challenges, and it is the job of the students to rise above these challenges.”
She points out that Aswara is training them to be excellent so that they will be marketable when they graduate. Hamlet will be staged at the auditorium in Aswara from Jan 15 to 16. For details, visit the Aswara Facebook page.