Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hassan Muthalib & Merdeka

Aug 31, tomorrow, Malaysia will be 60. theSun got a  film scholar and best selling author Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle  to select 10 films and documentary that showcase  the history of our country.   

Headline: Capturing The Malaysian Spirit  
By Bissme S

Tomorrow we will be  celebrating our 60th  Independence Day.  In honour of this  momentous event, we asked  Hassan Muthalib, the renowned film scholar and author of  Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle to  pick 10 local films and  documentaries that showcase our  Malaysian spirit. Below are his selections and  why they are a reflection of our  independence:

Year:  1956 
Director:  Unknown

Hassan says this 26-minute  documentary, produced by Malayan Film (the precursor of  Filem Negara), looks at how Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman negotiated  our independence from the British. 
“There are so many meanings  behind the images in this  documentary. The editor did a  great job putting them together. There were many closeup shots of Tunku and these gave the  impression that he was well received by the British. 
“There’s also an image of Tunku sitting at the same table with [the  British] having dinner. That shot is enough to tell us that we are now equal to the colonials.  
“When Tunku returned home  from his London meeting, he  received a garland from his  supporters. The garland tells you  that the non-Malays [also  supported] him. 
“He was driven around in an  open-hood car with thousands  (lining] both sides of the road to  welcome him. [He received] a 
hero’s welcome for getting our  Merdeka.”

Year: 1959 
Director: P. Ramlee 

Made two years after our  Independence, Hassan says this Ramlee classic asked the pivotal question: Are we really 
“At that time, a lot of Malays could not read and write. Subtlely,  with a touch of humour, Ramlee  shows that our colonial mentality has not disappeared, and that  education is going to liberate us.” 

Year: 1961 
Director:  P. Ramlee 

Hassan says Ramlee, who had never gone to film school, cleverly  used film subtext to tell his stories.
“In this movie, Ramlee shows  how the mentality of successful Malays has not changed even even  after Independence. They are so  status conscious that they look  down on the working class Malays. 
“Also, women are bold in his  films. You see Saloma’s character in  this film giving her lover money,  and you have Normadiah’s 
character daringly expressing her  love for a man." 

Year: 1987 
Director:  Mansor Puteh 

Hassan says this is a modernist feature that tells the story of a young man who wants to write  better scripts and create better 
movies. But his films are not accepted,  so he gives up. This, to me, is an  expression of how director Mansor feels that trying to be a better filmmaker in Malaysia is an uphill  task that gets you nowhere.

Year: 2006 
Director: Amir Muhammad 

This documentary was earlier  cleared for screening but eventually was banned after questions were raised why the communists should be highlighted in a film. Hassan explains that the communists were the first to fight for independence as they wanted  the British out of the country and to stop exploiting our economy. 
“Amir focuses on Chin Peng, the  leader of the Malayan Communist Party. He traced the place where Chin Peng was born to the last place he [went] into hiding.  Hassan says Amir told the story through interviews he had with the people at these places who knew about Chin Peng, the communists, and their daily life. 
“Indirectly, one gets the impression that the people, especially the youngsters, have forgotten about the communists.”

Year: 2007 
Director: Shuhaimi Baba 

This film, says Hassan, is told from the perspective of a group of young people who want to produce a book 
on the country’s independence.    
“Today, some people say that we were never colonised in the first place but if we were never colonised, where does the word Merdeka’ come from?”

Year: 2008 
Director: Wan Azli Wan Yusof 

Hassan says in this film, the director questions how Malay youths have lost their way. It looks at two youths from Kelantan who come to Kuala Lumpur and end up involved in gangsterism. They kidnap women  and sell them into prostitution. 
“The film was shot with a hand-held camera. The shaky scenes  show the world is full of tension.”

Year: 2012 
Director:  Edry Abdul Halim 

Hassan says this fantasy story, about a man who only grows old every four years, allows us to see 
the history of our country through the character’s eyes.  
“The visual effects are fantastic. Archive images from the past are well used in the film.”

Year: 2016
Director: Ahmad Yazid 

This documentary film traces Malaysia’s formation, using archive footage that has never been broadcast on television, says 
“It uses cutting-edge visual effects to highlight events leading up to Merdeka and eventually, to the birth of Malaysia.”

Year: 2016 
Director:  Chiu Keng Guan

Based loosely on the true efforts of the Malaysian national football team which successfully qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics, this movie highlights the rekindling of the Malaysian spirit. 
Hassan says: “The director shows a TV journalist who wants to leave the country, but in the end, she did not go. The film also shows how a sporting event can make us forget our differences and come together as Malaysians." 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

M. Indira Gandhi & Norhayati Kaprawi

I interviewed Norhayat Kaprawi who is doing a documentary on M Indira Ghandhi, a mother who has been cruelly separated from her daughter. Read the full story below 

Headline: An Inconsolable Loss 
By Bissme S

THE DOCUMENTARY, Dairi Untuk Prasana, captures the suffering of a mother who has been cruelly separated from her daughter. The mother in the 45-minute documentary is M. Indira Gandhi.
When her former husband converted to Islam in 2009, he took away their daughter Prasana, who was then only 11 months old. He later applied to unilaterally convert all three of his children with Indira to Islam, setting off a custody battle that has seen Indira travelling from High Court to Federal Court in order to get her youngest child back. Sadly, Indira’s efforts have been in vain. While she successfully regained custody of her two oldest children – Tevi Darsiny, now 20, and Karan Dinish, 19 – she has not set eyes on Prasana, now aged nine, in seven years.
 “Her story is tragic,” says Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim, a prominent lawyer-turnedpolitician who is also the producer of the documentary, who adds that our legal system has not given her justice.
Zaid feels that everyone is passing the buck around, and that the politicians are afraid to make firm decisions.
 “Our country has failed her, and this is very depressing.”
Some parties feel that giving Prasana back to Indira would meant a setback for Islam. “How can Islam be compromised if you give justice to a mother?” Zaid asked.
“Some Muslims feel [that] if they side with the mother, then they are siding with a nonMuslim. But just imagine if this were to happen to you ... what would you do?
“Some [only care] that the daughter has become a Muslim. But she cannot see her mother. It is never easy to grow up without a mother. Kindness has always been the central principle of Islam, and that’s the reason Islam spread fast in the early days. “Unfortunately, Islam (in our country) has become dogmatic.”
Last year, Zaid hired documentary maker Norhayati Kaprawi to tell Indira’s story. Norhayati is an activist who is fond of promoting female equality in her documentaries. Some of her works included Mencari Kartika which is about a Muslim woman sentenced to six lashes of the rotan for consuming alcohol; Aku Siapa?, which deals with the issue of wearing a veil in Malaysia; and Ulama Perempuan which highlights female Islamic scholars in Indonesia.
For Dairi Untuk Prasana, Norhayati takes a more intimate approach, showing how a family has been torn apart, and how lives are jeopardised by what has transpired.
“My documentary is about the human [aspect of this] story,” she says.
“No religion [should] separate a mother from her child.”
She has tremendous respect for Indira, adding that “she has never taught her two [older] children to hate their father”.
Norhayati points out that Indira has said that should she finally meet Prasana, she will not force Prasana to convert to Hinduism.

“She understands Prasana’s circumstance, and she believes religion is not something you can force on another person, even if she is your child.
“All Indira wants is to see her daughter. I am humbled by her big heart.”
Norhayati also interviewed Prasana’s two older siblings, as well as Prasana’s grandmother. She says: “Indira has done a good job in raising mature children.”
Norhayati recalls how Tevi described the moment her father grabbed Prasana from her arms and disappeared.
“Tevi felt responsible for what had happened, and could not stop feeling guilty,” Norhayati says.
Meanwhile, Karan believes everything can be resolved amicably if both parties sit down and discuss things calmly.
Norhayati adds: “[Prasana’s] grandmother is a humorous person, and the audience will love her. Her [biggest] wish is to see Prasana before she dies.”

Footnote : Dairi Untuk Prasana will be shown at the Freedom FilmFest (FFF) on Sept 9 at 6pm at PJ Live Arts in Petaling Jaya.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Amanda Nell Eu & Venice International Film Festival

Malaysian Amanda Nell Eu is happy that her  short film Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu  competing at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival. She spoke to theSun about her feelings and read the full interview below   

Headline: Making A First  
By Bissme S

Amanda Nell Eu  has  created history by  becoming the first Malaysian female   director to have her work shown  at the Venice International Film  Festival. 
Her 18-minute Bahasa Malaysia short, Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu has  been selected for the Orizzonti  Short Films Competition at the  oldest prestigious film festival  that was founded in 1932.  Eu plans to leave for the  Italian city on Aug 30 and will  return home after the festival  ends on Sept 9. Her short will be shown on Sept 7.
“I have no idea what to expect from the festival,” says the 31-year-old Kuala Lumpur- born lass. 
“I have never been to  anything as big as this.” 
What is definite is that she  will take the opportunity to  watch a lot of films that will be  screened at the festival. 
“I believe that watching  other people’s works will help me grow as a filmmaker,” says 
Eu who is also a film lecturer and a freelance scriptwriter.  Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu is the third short that  she has directed. The story,  which deals with friendship and mysticism, takes place in a  remote village. Outcast teenager Rahmah 
(played by Sharifah Aryana  Syed Zainal Rashid) becomes  friendly with a girl sporting  long hair (Sofia Sabri). Rahmah later discovers that the girl is a pontianak (vampire). Will Rahmah  abandon her new best friend? 
Eu describes her Rahmah  character as a shy, quiet and  reserved person while the girl  with long hair (the pontianak)  has a wild side and loves climbing trees.  When asked which character  best represents her, Eu says: “I  can be both. There are times 
when I can be quiet, and other times, I can be wild.  There is a lot of me in this short film. I have  bared my soul here.” 
Eu enjoys listening to local mystical  stories, and of  all the mystical  characters she  loves, the best is  the pontianak. 
“She is beautiful and gentle yet she  can rip you apart,”  says the director. 
“Personally, I believe there is a pontianak in  every woman.” 
Her story bears some  similarities to the famous  Swedish horror film,  Let the  Right One In (later remade  into the Hollywood movie, Let  Me In, starring ChloĆ« Grace Moretz). Let the Right One In deals  with an awkward teenager who becomes friendly with his new neighbour. Later, the boy  discovers the girl is a vampire  and their friendship is tested.Eu is not insulted by the  comparison, saying that she  loves the Swedish version of the  film but not the Hollywood version.  She insists, however, that her short  is entirely different compared to  Let the Right One In. 
Eu says she has her own style of directing. One of the  ways she gets her actors into  character is to give them a  series of music that they should  listen to before the camera  begins rolling, as she finds  that music indirectly helps the  actors get under the skin of their characters.
She loves working with  her actors, and states that her  audition process is also unique. 
“I will show the actors my script but I will never ask them  to recite the lines,” she says. 
“Instead, I will end up asking  the actors a series of questions  about themselves and how they  would relate to the characters 
that they had read.” 
Eu admits to  having a major flaw  as a filmmaker:  she cannot decide  which scenes to  retain and which 
scenes to cut. 
“I am terrible in  editing my films,”  she says. 
“I cannot be ruthless with my work. I know I  need to master  the art of  editing.” 
Eu never  thought of making  films as  her career. Instead,  she took  up a  degree course in  graphics and  design in 
London where she had been living and studying since she  was sent to a boarding school there at age 10.  But she remembered 
stepping into a video store  in London when she was a  teenager and being fascinated by a series of black-and- white 1920s films the owner  introduced to her. 
Those films attracted her to watch more films, especially  those of the horror genre.   Her fascination with videos  and films was evident in all her assignments she did for her  graphics and design course, so much so that her lecturer told her she should be pursuing films instead. 
She took up her lecturer’s advice and graduated with a  master’s degree in filmmaking  from the London  Film School before 
returning home for good six years ago.Eu loves to explore the female psyche within the context of Southeast Asia in her short 
films. Currently, she is working on her first feature film. 
“It is a big jump from making  shorts to a feature film and I do not want to rush into it,” she says. 
“I know many people  who started their film directing  career late in their life. But age should not matter in this 
She admits the stories she  loves to tell are not commercial  types and getting finance for her projects is going to be difficult. 
But she is not ready to change her style yet. 
“I know the journey is going to be difficult but it will be worthwhile,” she adds.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Shweta Chari from India has set up an organization that donates toys,  board games and have play sessions with under privilege children . She talks about her organization to theSun. Read the full interview here

Headline: Strictly All About Child's Play
By Bissme S

Playing with toys is one of the joys of childhood. Unfortunately, not every child will be able to have a toy of his or her own, especially those living in poverty. One woman, Shweta Chari, is slowly changing this situation in her native India, through her non-profit organisation Toybank. 
Besides donating toys and educational board games to underprivileged children, Toybank has also set up ‘toy libraries’ where Shweta and her volunteers conduct play sessions with the children. 
“[The sessions are] with children [who live] below the poverty line,” says Shweta, 35, when met recently in Kuala Lumpur. 
“Most of these children do not know where their next meal is coming from.” 
It all began in 2004 in Mumbai, when Shweta, an engineering graduate, volunteered to teach mathematics to underprivileged children.
“They were not happy to see me,” Shweta recalls. 
“They were not that friendly. And they were not paying attention to what I was teaching. I felt so frustrated that I could not connect with the children.”  
Shweta decided to change her strategy, and attempted to build up some trust with the children. She picked up some toys and board games, and brought along some of her posters and music CDs to the class. “I used these objects to organise play activities with the children.”
Slowly, the children began to laugh and to have fun. Eventually, they let their guard down and began telling her their life stories.  
“I thought the children were orphans,” she says. 
“But I was wrong. I learned they were runaways. They ran away from their small villages and came to  Mumbai to escape from poverty. Once they arrived in Mumbai, they learned that city life can be harsh too.” 
Seeing how toys and board games brought joy to these children, she decided to donate more of these items to other non-profit organisations. Some of her friends decided to help out, and began donating money for her mission. Eventually, with the help of volunteers, Shweta began organising toy library play sessions for children in disadvantaged communities. Sessions would take place twice a month at each centre.So far, Toybank has over 300 centres all over India, and has worked with some 35,000 children so far. 
“Some of the children clung to their toys as if they were Oscar awards,” she says. 
“They did not want to play with their toys because they did not want [them] to be damaged.”
She learned that the language of play is an important factor in a child’s development. 
“Play is a character-building process,” she says. 
“It teaches children to make better life choices and handle conflicts effectively.” 
She points out that some of the children had been abused, and had lost their self-confidence. But Toybank’s play sessions managed to bring them out of their shell. She recalls one of Toybank’s 
projects  working with a group of children who lived around a rubbish dump. 
“These children were sniffing glue and once they got high, they became delirious and violent,” she says.     
"We engaged these kids in our play sessions. We told [them] that they would not be allowed to participate in the play session if they sniffed glue.  Six months later, we noticed the children were less violent, and none of them went back to sniffing glue again.”
Shweta believes that children are like clay, and they need to be guided and moulded. She feels that Toybank’s play sessions are one way to do this.  
She hopes to reach out to 500,000 children through her non-profit organisation in the next five years. But, she adds, as the toys and board games get worn out, they constantly need new ones to replace them. However, she laments the fact that it is hard to get donations from corporate companies to buy toys. 
“These companies will tell me that they can’t give me money ‘so that you can play with children’,”she says, adding that many of them prefer to help non-profit organisations whose aim is to end 
hunger and provide education to underprivilege children.   
But she says: “With hunger, most of us can see a child being malnourished physically. But what many cannot see is a child being malnourished mentally. 
“Our play sessions create strong children. It is easier to [build] strong children than to repair a broken ones.”

For more, visit the Toybank website.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

BOU & Child Brides

I have interviewed Mahi Ramakrishnan who just completed a documentary on child brides among the Rohingya refugees. Get theSun today ( Wednesday Aug 9)  Here is the full story 

Headline: Innoncence Lost
By Bissme S

Malaysian journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan has, in the past two years, highlighted the plight of the Rohingyas from Myanmar who were forced to flee their homeland due to intense civil unrest and ethnic
oppression, and ended up as refugees on foreign shores.
Her two documentaries, Seeds of Hatred (2015) and Bodies for Sale (2016), explored the issues faced by these refugees both in Myanmar and in their new ‘homes’. 

This year, Mahi – who had worked for Time magazine and AlJazeera – has come out with BOU a documentary that tackles the heart-rending subject of child brides among the Rohingya refugees.  
“Bou means bride in the Rohingya language,” says Mahi, who took two years to complete the documentary.
“Some Rohingya men will hire traffickers to find child brides for them, and these traffickers will go back to Myanmar and convince parents to give up their daughters, [promising them] a better life in a foreign land.”
Unfortunately, a better life is the last thing these young brides will find. The traffickers torture them sexually and physically, before selling them to Rohingya men for RM7,000 each. The traffickers always target girls from the ages of 11 to 16. 

For BOU, Mahi interviewed three child brides, two men who had taken child brides as their wives, and also a trafficker, to get different sides to the story.  The stories the child brides told her were of unimaginable horrors.The first girl she interviewed
became a child bride at the age 11.
“Some 60 traffickers had raped her before she was sold to a Rohingya man to be his wife,” says Mahi. “Her nightmare did not end there. Her husband kept abusing her. She had no choicebut to run away from [him].” 
The second child bride was abused by her husband each time she asked for money to buy milk for their only child, while the third was abandoned by her husband soon after giving birth to their first child.  
“These women are illiterate,” says Mahi.
“They can’t speak any other language except for their mother tongue. So they are in a vulnerable position, and have a tough time surviving.”
She added that she also interviewed two men with child brides to hear their side of the story and to know what motivated them to get child brides. 
“These men believe they are doing a favour to these girls because they are rescuing them from the misery in their home country and giving them a better life.”
She also talked to a trafficker to gain an insight on the trade. Mahi says while the authorities have taken strict measures to control the refugee problem, traffickers are getting more creative. She claims they are using flights from Bangladesh to bring child brides into the country. And they are charging more for each bride, as much as RM16,000 per bride.
While some quarters argue that child marriages should be legalised to reduce unwanted pregnancies among the youth, Mahi disagrees.
“If you want young people to behave responsibly towards sex, marriage is not the answer. Society, parents, and schools should take the trouble to teach youngsters about sex, and about the responsibilities involved.”
BOU will be shown this Sunday at The Refugee Fest:Inclusion for a Better Worldevent, which takes place at Black Box, Publika, in Kuala Lumpur, from tomorrow till Sunday. 

The Refugee Fest, which premiered last year, is Mahi’s brainchild. During this four-day event, there will be activities geared to
help members of the public better understand the plight of refugees.
Among the activities are a theatre performance by a group of Syrian children, and a poetry recital by refugees in their own language.
“These poems will be translated in English,” says Mahi, adding that the festival will give refugees “a platform to channel their grievances, their disappointments, and their dreams.”
“This festival is a place where their voice will be heard.”
As to calls for nations to close their borders to refugees, including from US President Donald Trump, Mahi says:  

“Trump has no authority to turn his back on refugees. What irks me is when a person who has power, wealth and fame migrates to our country,it is perfectly fine and nobody has issue with that. But these refugees have no choice. They have to abandon their homeland. If they continue living in their homeland, they would end up dead.   Frankly speaking, we need to remove the labels we have attached to [people], and look at these refugees as human beings who are fleeing prosecution. And they need our help."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Jason Chong & Kau Takdirku

Bring  a box of tissues with you when you watch Jason Chong’s first attempt at directing a romantic drama.  Kau Takdirku is a love triangle that promises to make you weep.
Opening in cinemas on Sept 7, the film centres on Kamar (played by Remy Ishak), who is secretly in love with Alya (Ezzaty Abdullah). Unfortunately, she regards Kamar only as her good friend. In fact, she is in love with Remy’s best friend Harris (Bront Palarae), who is a diving instructor.
Eventually, Harris and Alya get married, leaving Kamar heartbroken. But as fate would have it, Harris is lost at sea, and is presumed dead.
Alya has a hard time accepting his death. To bring some stability into her life, Kamar marries her.  The new couple raise a child together, until one day, they learn that Harris is still alive. Now, Alya has to choose between the two men who love her.
“It is a beautiful love story that is engaging, and will make the audience question what choice they will make if they are in Alya’s situation,” says Chong.
“I certainly [would] not want to be in her situation.”
This is the first time the 43-year-old director is helming a love story. His first effort was the thriller Belukar while his subsequent projects were of different genres: a monster movie, and a horror film.

Chong has high praises for the cast of his latest film, adding that they were a joy to work with.
“This is Ezzaty’s first feature film,” says Chong.
“She has to play a wife who has lost her husband, and also [play] a mother. But she is young and has not gone through those experiences. I had to ease her into the role. She worked very hard, and I am glad to say that she delivered the goods in the end.”
He adds that Ezzaty managed to hold herself up well against the two veteran lead actors. When asked about the message behind his film, Chong says: “When you put money in a bank, you will
get the interest. Unfortunately, love does not work like an investment. Sometimes, when you love someone, you may not get the same emotion in return. Your love will go unrequited. But love is supposed to be unconditional.”
Chong never dreamt of a life in showbiz.
“I was so poor that I did not have a television in my house,” he says. 

His father was a lorry driver, and his mother was a housewife.  
“My two sisters and I had to peek through our neighbour’s window just to watch television shows [on their TV set].”
Interestingly, his childhood dream was to be an astronaut.
“I thought it would be cool to travel to outer space,” he says.
Later, he wanted to join the army and serve his country. But being the only son in the family, his mother forbade him from enlisting.
“My mother kept telling me that good boys never become soldiers,” he says, laughing out loud.
Eventually, Chong became a model at the age of 18. After several years in the entertainment industry, Chong realised he preferred working behind the scenes, and became a casting director.
When one of his talents did not show up for a TV series shoot, he decided to fill in himself.
“I’m an accidental actor,” he says, starring in several television and film productions, and eventually making the move to work behind the camera.
He learned the art of scriptwriting and directing through observing other directors, and by researching online.
“There is a wealth of information on the internet,” he says.
Kau Takdirku has several memorable underwater scenes, which were not easy to shoot.  Interestingly, his next film will also have a lot of underwater scenes. That film will focus on the lives of our Malaysian coastguards, and the dangers of dealing with hijackers at sea. Shooting will start at the end of the year.
Chong’s next dream project is to direct a war film, harking back to his youthful army ambitions. He is currently writing a script for the film.
“I [have] always had a high respect for people who put their lives at risk to defend their country,” he says. 
“This film will be the closest I will get to my childhood ambition of being a soldier.”
When asked what is the biggest change he would love to see in the Malaysian film industry, Chong says: “In the 80s, we were making less than 10 movies a year. But now we are making about 60 to 80 movies. There are far too many Malaysian movies in the market. As a result, some good movies have gone unnoticed. We need to produce fewer movies, but more quality ones.”