Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Today theSun highlights my interview with Zikri Rahman, Nurul Aizam and Ridhwan Saidi on their interesting project LiteraCity: Kuala Lumpur  Literary Fragments

Headline: Turning the Pages On KL City 
By Bissme S

OUR NATION’S capital, Kuala Lumpur, takes centrestage in a unique new publication that is the brainchild of local writers Zikri Rahman, Nurul Aizam and Ridhwan Saidi. 
LiteraCity: Kuala Lumpur  Literary Fragments is their attempt to depict the city through the lens of Malaysian literature, focusing on novels, short stories, poems and plays. 
“We hope that the book will excite readers to hold open discussions about [the nature of] our city,” Zikri says. 
“We are trying to explore the connection between space and 
literature. We are looking at how imagination helps to [create] a place. We wanted to do re search [that we could] share with the masses, not just with  academics.” 
Zikri was the one who came up with the idea, and Ridhwan and Nurul joined him on the project, which took about a year to complete.  
Both Ridhwan and Zikri contributed their own essays to the book. They also interviewed about 30 local artists, writers and activists to discuss these luminaries’ favourite literary works that featured Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, they were only able to include 10 interviews in LiteraCity. 
Despite this, the book managed to reference or discuss 150 works of literature spanning 45 years, from 1970 to 2015. It is the team’s hope that LiteraCity will help shine a light on some of the more obscure titles mentioned, and perhaps even encourage readers to search these works out. 
Zikri added that the team was unable to include works in languages other than Bahasa Malaysia or English, because the team “lacked the mastery” of other languages. 
I found the interviews in the book very intriguing and eyeopening. To me, the best is the interview with national laureate A. Samad Said, in which he gives an insight into his early years as an author. 
A. Samad says: “During my time, the writer is first a journalist. Becoming a journalist makes it easier to reflect on events and meet people. From there, we shape it into drama, short stories, poems and we insert our thoughts, opinions and messages.” 
He also shares his own memories of the city, including why a certain location in Kampung Baru is known  colloquially as Jambatan Gesel, and even recalled when his own “mischievous nature” drove him to explore the notorious ‘belakang mati’ (dead-end) areas in Kuala Lumpur, where he would talk to prostitutes. 
In another interview, writer and literary critic Chuah Guat Eng points out the tendency for writers of novels set in contemporary Kuala Lumpur to touch on crime and co rruption. She adds that in her own stories, she uses the city as a metaphor. In her early writing, the city is used to illustrate the impact development has had on the environment. 
Meanwhile, award-winning author Wan Nor Azriq in his interview describes a short story that caught my attention – Dari Luar Kurungan by Razak Mamat. The plot centres on the main character who visits Zoo Negara and feels pity for the caged animals. He then opens all the cage doors to allow the animals to escape. Azriq also mentions Roslan Jomel, whose short stories focus on characters in the city who feel isolated and alienated. 
Publisher Amir Muhammad, in his interview, points out two plays by Jit Murad – Gold Rain and Hailstones, which focuses on the lives of the rich, young urban folk, as well as A Flight Delayed, which takes place at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport).   Amir adds that A Flight Delayed could very well be the first play to take place in KLIA. 
Controversial author Faisal Tehrani also appears in LiteraCity, where he discusses his short story, Perempuan Anggerik, which touches on the racial riots that took place in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. He recalls: “I relied on my mother’s stories when she [was] working at Kuala Lumpur Hospital. She would tell me about staying back to handle the emergency cases.” 
LiteraCity is an unflinching look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Kuala Lumpur. Nurul, who edited the book, points out that readers can see the changes in the landscape of Kuala Lumpur over the four decades, through the works mentioned in the interviews. 
“I cannot see the KL the same way any more after getting involved in this project,” she says. 
“I can [now] feel the richness of KL. I can feel [the city] is more vibrant.”

Footnote : LiteraCity is now available at most bookstores at RM30.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Film director Eric Ong talks to theSun about his first feature film Adiwiraku that tells a true story of a teacher making difference in the live of her students .... Read the full story here

 Headline: To Gigku With  Love 
By Bissme S

CHERYL ANN FERNANDO left the comfort of her home in Kuala Lumpur to teach English in a rural school in Sungei Petani, Kedah, from 2013 to 2015. She faced countless problems such as poverty, absenteeism, and family conflicts among her students. Despite all that, she was determined to help her students overcome their fear of speaking in English. To give them more
confidence, she set up an English Choral Speaking team to take part in a competition.
“She was teaching high school students who could not even spell properly,” says 52year-old Eric Ong, who was so inspired by her determination that he turned her struggles into a film, Adiwiraku.  The two-hour biopic opens in cinemas on March 9.
Ong adds: “Instead of just complaining and [trying to shift responsibility], she took matters into her own hands and found ways to change the situation for the better. Her story is very inspirational. 

"Today, our society is filled with critics and complainers. They are eager to point out the flaws in our system, in our laws, and in our society.  Criticism and complaints do not lead anywhere. We should be more like Cheryl Ann.
“Whenever we see a flaw, instead of just  complaining and  criticising, perhaps we should find  solutions to make the  situation better.”
Playing Cheryl Ann in Adiwiraku is local model and actress Sangeeta Krishnasamy. Others in the cast include Xavier Fong, Wan Azlyn, Farra Safwan, Ahmad Adnin Zidane, Irdina Tasmin, Balqis Sani, and Rizal Fahmi. Ong has also cast some of Cheryl Ann’s real-life students in the film.
“I [gave] them some acting workshops before they faced the camera,” he says.
“They were excited to be in the film. They were telling their own story. I was really satisfied with their performances.
“It’s a unique  experience for me to have people playing themselves in a biopic that I am directing. It is an experience that I will  treasure for the rest of my life.”
What about the real Cheryl Ann?
“She visited the set during filming,” Ong said.
“She was making sure my production team and I did not abuse her students (laughs).
“She cried after  watching the film. I am sure the  audience will cry, too.”
Ong recalls his favourite scene in Adiwiraku where a student, who has been missing Cheryl Ann’s classes for the last three months, suddenly reappears. The hardworking and brilliant student  easily catches up on what she has  missed in her absence.
“Then, the student goes missing again,” Ong says.
“This time, Cheryl Ann manages to track her  working at a gas station. She keeps reminding the girl about the importance of education in order for her to have a better future.
“Then, the student shocks Cheryl Ann with one question: ‘Have you ever gone without food for three days?’
“The student adds: ‘If I die from starvation, what future will I have?’ “Her answer leaves Cheryl Ann speechless. We cannot understand someone’s misery till we live in their shoes.”
Adiwiraku is Ong’s first feature film. He has more than 15 years of experience working in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia producing television programmes ranging across various genres. Ong studied films at Universiti Malaya. He has always wanted to be a filmmaker.
But it was his grandfather who first instilled the love for films in him. “During my school  holidays, I would stay with my grandfather,” says the Malaysian-born Ong, who has been living in Singapore for the last 10 years.  
“There was a cinema behind my grandfather’s house, so my grandfather and I would go watch films almost every day.”
The young Ong even befriended Ali, the cinema’s ticket collector, who secretly allowed him into the cinema for free several times.
“Ali even brought me to see what was going on behind the big screen,” he says.
“I even got to watch some movies ‘backwards’.”
Ong is now planning to direct his second feature film, another biopic that takes place in Sarawak. He refuses to reveal too much about the film, especially on its subject. 
“All I can say is that my film will highlight an inspiring story that touches on racial harmony,” he says with a smile.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Arifin Putra & Reza Rahadian

Today theSun published my interview with two award winning actors from Indonesia, Arifin Putra and Reza Rahadian. Read the full story below

Headline: Actors without Boundaries
By Bissme S

AWARD-WINNING Indonesian actors Arifin Putra and Reza Rahadian were in Bangkok recently to promote the second season of the HBO Asia series, Halfworlds. They were the only actors from the first season to return to the show, reprising their roles as demons who regard the human race as their number one enemy.
Asked what made him take up the role again, Arifin, 29, joked: “The producers forced me at gunpoint to reprise my role.”
But he admitted to having grown fond of the story, and loving the whole universe that the cast and crew built up last year.
“So when they asked me to return for season two, I did not have to think long to say yes.”   
When asked what is the difference between the two seasons, he said: “In season one, the characters are driven by fear, whereas in season two, [they] are driven by hope.”
His character, Barata, is also less grim and more optimistic in the new season.
For Reza, 29, what he loves most about Halfworlds is that he got the chance to work with actors from other Asian countries. In season one, he worked alongside actors from Malaysia and Singapore while in this season, he shared the screen with actors from Thailand and the Philippines.    
“There is a lot of ‘cross culture’ taking place on the set, and I love that,” Reza said.
“I want to be an actor without boundaries.” 
He added that his character, Tony, has far more intense action scenes this time around. Interestingly, both actors had initially never wanted to make acting their career. Arifin had followed his older sister to a television commercial shoot in 2000, and was asked to become an extra.
“I loved the fact that I could earn pocket money while having fun,” he said. 

That experience sparked his interest in pursuing a career in the
entertainment scene. After seven years in television, Arifin made his film debut in the Indonesian romantic comedy, Lost in Love, in 2008.
But the roles that really shot him to stardom were that of a psychopathic cannibal in Macabre(2009), and his turn as the overly-ambitious son of a mob boss in The Raid 2: Berandal (2014).
As for Reza, he had wanted to be a national swimmer. When this dream failed to materialise, he took up acting seriously.
Like Arifin, Reza started his acting career on television before
taking on film roles.  The role that put him on the map was that of former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie in Habibie & Ainun(2012), and its prequel,Rudy Habibie(2016).
To get into the skin of his character, Reza spent more than seven hours interviewing the former president. The actor is also rumoured to be taking on the role again a third time in a future film.
Aside from their nationality and acting backgrounds, both actors
also share a mixed parentage. Reza’s dad is Iranian and his mum, Indonesian.  
“I never had any kind of conflict [about] whether I’m Iranian or
Indonesian,” he said.
“Since I was born and [raised] in Indonesia, I’m Indonesian.”
But it was different for Arifin who was born in Mainz, Germany,
before moving to Jakarta at the tender age of three.
“For the Germans, I was not German enough, and for the Indonesians, I am not Indonesian enough,” he lamented.
Initially, Arifin was confused about his identity. But with time, he
learned to appreciate the diversity of his heritage. 
The two said that the competition between actors in Indonesia is intense but healthy.
“It gives you a reason not to stay in your comfort zone, and you will always be learning and improving,” said Reza.  
But they lamented the fact that the same old faces are dominating
the film awards, and said the Indonesian film industry is in dire
need of new blood to inject excitement and prolong its longevity.     
Reza pointed out that many young actors prefer to act in television series because they get paid more compared to films.
However, he said: “In television, when one role makes you famous,
you will be [typecast]. You will keep doing the same old stuff on
television. You do not push yourself out of your comfort zone.
“In films, you have a chance to play a variety [of roles].” 
Reza stressed that one needs to be a little patient to enjoy the
rewards that films can give, and sadly, patience is one thing missing
from the younger generation of actors.
Arifin added that some producers are only keen to hire actors who have many followers on social media.
“It is sad if an actor get chosen for a role [just] because he has high
number of [followers], and not because of his talent,” he said.
“You must understand you may have thousands of followers in your social media, but it does not necessarily translate into money. They may not necessarily buy tickets to your films.”  
As for their future plans, Reza expressed a desire to sit in the
director’s chair – he has already helmed three short films – while
Arifin wants to be a film producer.