Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Merdeka! Merdeka ! Merdeka !

I have interviewed several celebrities who talks about  Malaysia. This article was published today in theSun where Malaysians celebrate their independence day 

Headline: Saluting The Merdeka Spirit
By Bissme S

FIFTY-NINE years ago, Malaysia gained independence from the British and became a sovereign nation. We asked several celebrities what makes them proud to be Malaysians on this special date today. 

Siti Nurhaliza (singer) 

“I feel proud to be living in a country where many races have learned to get along and live peacefully. We must never take our peace for granted and we should not let anyone sabotage this beautiful peace we have among us. “We cannot always ask what our country has done for us; sometimes we need to ask what we have done for our country.” 

Sharifah Amani (actress) 

“P. Ramlee and Yasmin Ahmad [united us]. Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, enjoyed their films. The latest personality to [bring us together] is Datuk Lee Chong Wei. If you [watched] the recent Olympic, you could see everyone cheering him on during the badminton matches. His victory was our victory. We became like a family. We forgot about our differences.” 

Saw Teong Hin (director) 

“We are lucky to live in country where we can enjoy a variety of food 24/7. We can even have hot food in the wee hours of the morning. “One fruit that I will recommend to foreigners is durian. I know they can’t stand the smell of this fruit but I always tell them that they must learn to eat durians … to separate the men from the boys!” 

Shanjhey Kumar Perumal (director) 

“I’m amazed how the entire nusantara, including Malaysia, was influenced by cultures from India, China and a few other European countries. Nusantara adapted these cultures [and gave] birth to a new rich diversified culture and lifestyle. I wish people would not lose hope in our society despite [what] we are facing now. I wish we have a common symbol of hope – just like how Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was used to boost spirit during WWII, and how when European immigrants travelled to America in search of a new life, they looked to the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of hope in their new land.”

* Afdlin Shauki (actor and director) 

“All of us regardless of our race and religion became united and wanted [Datuk Lee Chong Wei] to win gold at the Olympics. “We were cheering our hearts out on social media and at the mamak shops. The unity we showed was really unique and beautiful to see. “In school, we were taught to live harmoniously with one another. But when we come out into the real world, we find certain people are using the race card to [divide] us. It is about time we stopped being suspicious of each other.” 

M. Subahsh (actor and film director) 

“Dataran Merdeka is the place where we [first came together] as Malaysians [and] unite as one to celebrate our Independence Day. This place symbolises a true Malaysian spirit. As a movie-maker, I would like to see Malaysia enjoy a more freedom of speech. When you have freedom of speech then filmmakers will be [able] to express themselves in movies.” 

Hans Isaac (actor, producer and director) 

“Whenever I walk into a mamak shop, I find different races sitting at one table, having lively conversations and laughing. I get goosebumps looking at that scenario. Of course, there are times you go on social media [and see] the ugly side of Malaysians. “I am a non-Malay actor acting in Malay movies. Yet the Malay fans accepted me  and the work I have done. And I am always striving to give my best to them, too.”

Ramli Ibrahim (dancer) 

“We need to reform our education system progressively. Currently, the only time we make our youths love our nation is two days in a year (Aug 31 on Merdeka Day, and Sept 16 for Malaysia Day). “We need to get the young to love the nation throughout the year. Education is a great vehicle to shape our youth to be good citizens. “I am always physically connected to Malaysia. I could have gone abroad and based myself there. I had performed abroad but I always come back to Malaysia.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Shanjhey Kumar Perumal

Movies have no languages.  Malaysian director Shanjhey Kumar Perumal who has directed the critical hit movie Jagat that strong contender at the award show 
Malaysian Film Festival that will take place in this Saturday  proves  that when he picked ten of his all time favourite movies. Below the full story in theSun today .  

Headline: More than Words  
By Bissme S 

Shanhey Kumar Perumal 
When this year’s nominations for the Malaysian Film Festival (FFM) were announced, the list sparked a controversy. The FFM jury had created three new subcategories for the major awards for director, screenplay and picture. It had separated nominees into best non-Bahasa Malaysia nominees, and best Bahasa Malaysia nominees, ostensibly because some films did not contain at least 70% of their dialogue in the national language. 
This new ruling seemed to target several popular films, such as Jagat, Ola Bola and The Kid from the Big Apple. The controversy was finally resolved when the jury decided to do away with the divisive new categories, and instead add a category for best picture in the national language. 
Director Shanjhey Kumar Perumal’s film Jagat is a strong contender, with nine nods. Shanjhey’s debut film set in the 1980s tells the story of an ethnic Indian teen who gets involved in gangsterism. 
Shanjhey  insisted: “I love the national language. But when it comes to film, language is never that important. The audience goes for the content and the story.” 
We asked Shanjhey to give his 10 best films in any language and why he chose them. 

*Satya / Truth (India; 1998) 

Directed by Ram Gopal Varma, this film traces how a man turns to a life of violence and joins the criminal underworld. 
“The production team breaks away from the usual [Bollywood] formulas ... and presented a gangster movie with social realism. I applaud them for taking risks.” 

*Goodfellas (USA; 1990) 

Directed by Martin Scorsese, this biographical film narrates the rise and fall of a Mafia gangster. 
“I love the way Martin Scorsese directed his films. He’s very particular about details – from the dialogue to the way his actors get under the skin of their characters.” 

*City of God (Brazil; 2002) 

Directed by Fernando Meirelles, it tells the story of two boys growing up in a violent neighbourhood and taking different paths in life – one becomes a photographer and the other a drug lord. 
“I could relate to this movie. I [grew] up in a poor neighbourhood in Parit Buntar (Perak). I wanted to be a gangster myself, [but] quickly realised my mistake and concentrated on my studies instead.” 

*Election Parts 1 & 2 (Hong Kong; 2005 and 2006) 

Directed by Johnnie To, it is about two rival gang leaders who go to war to control the triads, set against the backdrop of the 1997 handover to China. 
“The director has cleverly shown how a change in the political landscape also changes the landscape of the underworld.” 


*Jogho (Malaysia; 1997) 

Directed by U-Wei, this story of murder and revenge is set among the Patani Malay community of Southern Thailand. 
“The director [depicts] the life of a minority group and uses their dialect to convey the story. He went for realism and that is why I like it. 
“In Jagat, I showed the [problems faced by the] minority community of my country.” 


*Once Upon a Time in America (USA-Italy; 1984) 

Directed by Sergio Leone, it chronicles the lives of several youths from the ghetto who rise to prominence in the world of organised crime. 
“I love the way the director shows the changing scenarios of the criminal world for four decades from the 1920s to the 1960s.” 

*Red Sorghum (China; 1987) 

Directed by Zhang Yimou, the film tells the story of a boy who reminisces about his grandmother who inherited a winery and fought the Japanese to save it. 
“The visuals really capture my imagination and the director has successful blended culture into the film.” 

*Stalker (Russia; 1979) 
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, this 1979 science fiction art film is about three individuals who explore a room in a guarded city where dreams come true. 
“The movie beautifully combines spiritualism, science and philosophy with strong visuals.” 

*2001: A Space Odyssey (USA-UK; 1968) 

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film looks at the evolution of the human race through the centuries – from a tribe of manapes to a man in space. 
“[It] combines spiritualism, philosophy and strong visuals brilliantly. The movie could be interpreted in many ways and had sparked some interesting discussions.” 

*Suna no Onna / Woman in the Dunes (Japan; 1964) 

Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, this surreal Japanese film centres on a schoolteacher who finds himself trapped in a village and told to marry a woman who lives inside a sandpit. 
“This movie is a perfect fusion of image, sound and eroticism.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Norhayati Kaprawi & Ibu Nyai

Today theSun published my interview with Norhayati Kaprawi  who has done documentary on a very amazing Indonesian woman Read more here 

Headline: A Woman Leads The Way  
By Bissme S

NYAI MASRIYAH AMVA was a blissful housewife nine years ago. Her husband ran a religious Islamic boarding school called Pondok Kebon Jambu Al-Islamy, in Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia. When he died, Nyai gamely took over the administration of his religious school. It was not an easy task heading a religious school with 700 male and 500 female students. 
Her story has inspired Norhayati Kaprawi to do a documentary on her. Bangkit Dari Bayangan (right and far right) chronicles the many challenges faced by this Indonesian woman known as Ibu Nyai to her students. 
 “It is extremely rare for a woman to be a leader of a traditional Islamic school,” says Norhayati. 
“Some Islamic scholars claimed that Islam does not encourage women to be leaders. They believe that only men should lead, and women should just follow. 
“They [claim] that women are far too emotional and less capable of handling the responsibility of leadership.” 
Norhayati believes Ibu Nyai has certainly proved these scholars wrong. 
“She [has shown her critics that she] is a capable leader. The school did not fail under her. In fact, it became more prosperous under her administration. In this documentary, I want to show how female leadership is possible in Islam.” 
One of biggest challenges faced by Ibu Nyai when she first took over the running of the school was from the parents of the students. Many of them threatened to pull their children out after realising she was the one running the show. 
“These parents had the impression that an ustazah (female religious leader) would not be able to run a religious school as efficiently as an ustaz (male religious leader),” says Norhayati. 
In the end, Ibu Nyai proved them wrong. The determined woman told Norhayati that she believes that if God can bestowed greatness to a man like her husband, then God can surely grant the same greatness to a woman like her. 
“She believes God loves everyone equally, and that God does not discriminate,” says Norhayati. 
The director agrees, pointing out that if we examine the Islamic teachings, we will realise that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadija was herself a successful businesswoman, and that the prophet worked for her before he married her. 
“In the modern context, Khadija could have been easily considered the CEO of a successful company,” she says, adding that this shows “female leadership in Islam existed a long time ago”. 
At a recent preview of Bangkit Dari Bayangan, one scene stood out. It shows Ibu Nyai teaching her male students about respect for women as she says women and men have equal status in society. “Not many ustazah will discuss gender equality with her students,” says Norhayati. 
Another impressive scene shows Ibu Nyai going to a meeting for ustaz who run religious schools. Most of the men there welcome her with open arms and as their equal. But there are still some male religious leaders who make her feel inferior for being a woman and totally ignore her successful track record. Instead of lashing back at her critics, Ibu Nyai takes their sarcasm in stride and prefers to focus her energy on making her school better. 
When asked what inspires her most about Ibu Nyai, Norhayati says: “She is willing to listen to people’s opinions. She always says that ‘mendengar itu tidak berdosa’ (to listen to people’s opinion is not a sin).” 
Currently, Norhayati is working on a new documentary that will showcase the impact of syariah law (Islamic law) on two women, one a non-Muslim and the other a Muslim. The non-Muslim in the documentary is M. Indira Gandhi who is currently involved in a controversial custody battle with her exhusband, K. Pathmanathan, who had embraced Islam and then converted their three children without her knowledge. She fought for custody of the children and also against their conversion in the civil court while her husband took his fight to the syariah court. As for the Muslim woman in the documentary, Norhayati prefers to keep her identity a secret for the time being. 
The director is also working on several short animations that will give a better perspective of Islam and syariah laws. 
Asked why religion seems to be a prevalent issue in most of her documentaries, Norhayati says: “The interpretation of Islam should not be monopolised by the conservatives only. Islam is close to my heart. I do not believe Islam is oppressive. I do not believe Islam is violent. That is what I want to show in my documentaries.”

The film maker

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fahmi Mustaffa

I interviewed Fahmi Mustaffa in Chawan Bangsar sometime ago and today the interview was published in the Sun  

Headline : Switching Lanes 
By Bissme S

Last year, Fahmi Mustaffa bravely quit a stable job as a biology lecturer, and turned to a new career path – writing fiction. 
“At the end of the day, I only have one life and I want to live [it] my own way,” says Fahmi, 29. 
The Kemam, Terengganu, native adds: “I have a soft spot for literature. I spent my childhood making up stories. During my schooldays, my teacher always asked me to read my essays to the class.” 
Fahmi initially expected some resistance from his family, but fortunately, his mother understood his motivation for leaving his full-time job to pursue his passion for writing. 
“She wants me to do something that makes me happy,” he says. 
His debut novel, Laknat, which deals with the subjects of homosexuality and religion, earned him some success. The book also sparked some interesting discussions. 
“I tackled [a topic] people want to discuss but are too afraid to [approach],” says Fahmi. 
Prior to Laknat, Fahmi had attempted to write novels, but never managed to complete one. 
“Laknat was different,” he says. 
“Laknat was something I wanted to complete so I could send it to a publisher. Before Laknat, I felt so insecure about my writing.” Now, Fahmi’s second novel, a science fiction tale titled Suatu Hari Nanti Manusia Akan Melupakan Tuhan, has also been published. The story is set in a postapocalyptic future where survivors have created a new human race. They believe that their creations are better than God’s, and God is slowly becoming a forgotten character. But there is a small fringe community who still believes in God and religion, and this sparks a conflict between the factions. Readers will find Fahmi’s future world vastly different from the one they are familiar with today. For example, half of that future United States is underwater. And today’s bitter enemies, the Isrealis and Palestinans, have made peace. 
“My second novel is like an experimental piece of history,” he says. “[Humans] are comfortable living within their divisions, but in times of fear, [we] become close to one other. 
“All I want to say is that people can live together even though we are different.” 
One wonders what sparked his fascination with religious themes? “We live in an absurd world, where we are [always] looking for answers,” he says. 
“We are always curious to know if there is a higher power up there, watching [us]. “I find most of us worship religion, and not God. Personally, I believe nothing should come between you and God, not even religion.” 
Some critics have accused Fahmi of exploiting religion in his novels. He says: “If I wanted to capitalise on religion, I will just 
produce religious books, and say things people want to hear. But I did not do that. Instead I am saying things that people do not want to hear.” 
Does Fahmi himself have a conflict with God? 
“I am not angry with God,” he says. 
“All my talent comes from God. “My characters are full of questions. Some of [their questions] evoke anger. Personally, I think anger is a part of communication and interaction. If you angry with God, it means you are still communicating with Him.” Currently, Fahmi is in the midst of writing a new novel, which will be set in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. He visited that city for 10 days in May to do research for this novel. 
Fahmi strongly believes a good book should evoke emotions. He says: “When you put a painting in a gallery, the painting is not art. The gallery is not art. Art is what people feel for the painting. “Art is not meant to be understood. Art is meant to be felt. Art should be disturbing and discomforting. I live in distorted world and If I do not write what I see, I will go insane."

Below is  Fahmi with his books covers

Sunday, August 7, 2016


theSun talks to the director and the main actors of  the movie Pekak which will hit the cinemas on Sept 1. Here is the movie 

Headline: Hearing A Different Beat 

By Bissme S

Most directors have the tendency to oversell their films. But not Khairul Azri Md Noor. He recently showed his first feature film, Pekak, to test audience reaction to it. And he was honest enough to say that some were impressed with what he had presented, but not everyone left the hall liking his film. 
“You cannot please everyone,” says the 35-year-old director. “Pekak is not everyone’s cup of tea.” 
Opening in cinemas on Sept 1, Pekak centres on deaf boy Uda, who sells drugs in order to pay for a surgery that will restore his hearing. His path crosses with Dara, a troubled schoolgirl who longs to escape from her overbearing father. Romance soon blossoms between the two. Playing the lovers are Zahiril Adzim and Sharifah Amani. Others in the cast include Sharifah Sakinah, Amerul Affendi, Iedil Putra, Zaidi Omar and Joe Flizzow. Khairul says: 
“If you analyse my film carefully, you will realise that my hero is not the only one who is ‘deaf’. Other characters have perfect hearing, but they refuse to listen.” 
In the film, Uda who is not allowed to listen to music is frequently seen wearing T-shirts featuring famous music bands. 
“I wanted to add a touch of irony in my film,” says Khairul, who also wrote the screenplay for Pekak.
The director is not afraid to break away from typical romantic drama tropes with his two leads. 
“I do not want to present a stereotypical hero.” 
Those familiar with literature might notice that the names of the lead characters are taken from the classic, tragic love story written by the late Usman Awang, Uda & Dara. But the similarities end there. 
“I wanted to take familiar names and use those names in a modern setting and a totally different situation,” he explains. 
For Khairul, his favourite scene in Pekak is when Uda’s boss, a drug pusher, gives Uda tips on how to win Dara’s heart. The scene adds some humour to the film. 
Speaking about the challenges of portraying Uda, the 32-year-old Zahiril describes the internal conflicts his character faces as the result of his refusal to accept the fact that he is deaf. 
"Uda is always seeking a ‘cure’ for his deafness,” he says. 
“He will read lips and will try not to use sign language.” 
Uda being deaf does not have much dialogue, so Zahiril has to rely on his facial expressions and body language to express the character’s emotions. 
“I love that challenge,” he says. 
“There are so few good scripts in our industry that challenge your boundaries as an actor, and test your acting skills. When a role like this comes your way, you do not think twice. You just grab it. After a long gap, I finally got a role that I am really excited about. ” Zahiril loves the fact that the director bravely shows the dark gritty reality of the illegal drug trade. 
“Pekak is not a sweet romance movie. It walks on the dark side.” Award-winning actress Amani desperately wanted to be in Pekak after she learned who else were signed to the project. 
“I am a huge fan [of most of them],” says Amani, 30. 
“They are really good actors.” She believes one way an actress can improve her acting skill is if she acts alongside talented co-stars. 
“I begged the director to let me audition,” she said. 
“I literally chased after the role.” 
Speaking about her character, she says: “Dara hates her life. She desperately wants to escape. Unfortunately, no one really listen her. Not her father and not even her best friend. The irony is the only person who really listens to her is a deaf boy.” 
She believes Pekak is a teen angst movie that will touch hearts and minds. 
“He exists for her, and she exists for him,” she adds. 

the director