Wednesday, November 29, 2017


I have interviewed the Queen of Rock Ella and the interview was published today ... 

By Bissme S

I LOVE to see Nor Zila Aminuddin, better known as Ella, laugh. The Malaysian queen of rock has one of those child-like laughs that instantly brightens up a room. And Ella’s laughter rings out often throughout our recent interview. The singer has every
reason to be happy. This has been a great year for the 51-year old rocker.
Ella was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian in May, as well as
the most recognised brand in leading performance artiste of the year at the Asean Outstanding Business Award in October.
And this weekend, she will be the star of her solo concerts with the 90-member Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO)
led by conductor Ahmad Muriz Che Rose at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP).
While this is Ella’s second time performing on the DFP stage – her first was in 2013 where she was one of the featured artistes for the MPO Rocks concert – this time, things will be quite different. The two two-hour-long concerts will focus solely on Ella
and highlight her 30-year journey in the music industry, hence, the concerts’ theme, A Rock Queen’s Journey.
“Be prepared to hear some noise in DFP, and it is going to get loud,” says Ahmad Muriz, who is obviously a great admirer of Ella.
The conductor adds that the most challenging part for Ella’s concert was selecting the songs,
“because she has so many hits”.
Ella picked the final 16 songs that she will be performing. They include a medley of her hits and tracks like Pengemis
Cinta, Pedih, Nuri, Rindu, Layar Impian, Dua Insan Bercinta, Sembilu, Gemilang, as well as her latest hit, Ku Sedia.
“I am surprised I had so many hits,” she says, adding that she has to be selective with the list
because “not all songs will sound better with an orchestra”.
The songs were given new arrangements by well-known composers such as Jenny Chin, Luqman Aziz, Leonard Yeap, and Ahmad Muriz himself. Ella has heard the new arrangements and she loves them. She says MPO has earlier suggested a
Japanese conductor for her concerts but she asked for a local conductor instead.
“I believe in local talents and I am happy that I have stuck to my decision.”
When asked if she feels any pressure doing this  concert, Ella laughingly replies: “I do not have any pressure,
because I’ve passed all that pressure to my musicians and my composer.”
On a more serious note, she says: “Pressure is a normal thing for people like us. Fans always have high expectations
whenever you put on a concert. I believe in giving my best and hope my best is enough for my fans.”
Ella’s concerts have always been fun affairs, and there is concern that a formal venue like DFP can put a damper on that
fun as her fans are expected to be on their best behaviour.
“There are no restrictions on my concert,” she insists. 
“If fans want to clap their hands and sing along with me, they can. I want them to have fun.”
It’s a dream of every local singer to be able to perform at this prestigious venue, which can seat a crowd of 920.
And Ella is indeed living that dream, a far cry from that young girl who initially wanted to grow up to be a secretary. Ella started her singing career performing at nightclubs and lounges. In 1981, she was approached to be the lead singer of a rock band, The Boys, and they then became known as Ella and The Boys. They achieved stardom when they took part in the Battle of Bands in 1985. After four albums, Ella left to strike out a solo career in 1989.
To date, she has cut 12  studio albums and performed in countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, China, Russia and the United States. One of the highlights in her career has to be when she sang the Bahasa Malaysia version of the official song for the 16th Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur – Standing in the Eyes of the World – in 1998.
In 2001, Malaysian Book of Records listed her as the first Malaysian singer to record a full album in the US. The album, Ella
USA, sold more than 300,000 copies.
In 2012, Ella married pilot Azhar Ghazali. Theirs is a marriage made in heaven.
“He understands my busy schedule, so if I do not have time to cook, he does not get angry.”
And Ella says she really loves cooking for her husband.
“In the morning, I serve him scrambled eggs; in the afternoon, I serve him omelette; and at night, I serve him telur rebus
(boiled eggs).”
I laugh. So does Ella, and the room seems the brighter for it. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Joko Anwar

I interviewed the award winning director from Indonesia Joko Anwar. He talks about his hit film, a horror flick Pengabdi Setan and his dream project  called Coming Home To Punish Mother . The interview was published today in theSun

Headline: A Master of Horror 
By Bissme S

HIS FILMS can be creepy, dark and bleak but award-winning Indonesian film director Joko Anwar  is far from that. He is cheerful, playful, witty, funny and love watching frivolous comedies such as Legally Blonde and Clueless.
“If I ever remake Legally Blonde, I will not change a single frame,” said Joko during a recent interview.
The director was in Kuala Lumpur, together with his two main leads, Tara Basro and Dimas Aditya, and producer Sunil G. Samtani, to promote his latest film, Pengabdi Setan  which opened in cinemas here yesterday.
Though this is another of Joko’s trademark horror films, Pengabdi Setan is actually a remake of director Sisworo Gautama Putra’s iconic 1980 Indonesian horror film of the same name. The story
centres on four siblings who begin to experience eerie incidents in their home after the death of their mother.
Joko has been an ardent fan of that classic film from young and had wanted to remake the film way back
in 2005. He spent the next 10 years chasing production house Rapi Films for permission to do the remake.
When he heard the production house wanted a different director for the remake, Joko said: “When I first heard the news, I was heart broken. I cried.”
But fate has the last say and Joko’s dream was realised. He said when he gotthe green light, he wrote the screenplay in four days.
Pengabdi Setan became a huge hit when it was first released in Indonesia, selling over four million tickets and getting rave reviews. It went on to win seven awards at the 2017 Indonesian Film Festival Awards.
The rights to the film have been sold to over 30 countries including New Zealand, Australia and the US. Malaysia is the first country to screen Pengabdi Setan after Indonesia.
Dissecting the success of the film, Joko said: “It tells a story of how a family should stick together through rough times, and that storyline is something that the audience can relate to.”
Another factor is the fantastic performance of lead actress Tara as Rini, the protective older sister.
“Tara is smart, talented and fragile, said Joko. 
“Fragility is a great quality in an actor. When you are fragile, you will be able to [portray] your
emotions better.”
Joko’s previous films such as Pintu Terlarang and A Copy of My Mind were screened at many international film festivals and received critical acclaim from international media such as Time Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter but they were never commercially successful. In some ways, Pengabdi Setan has made him more appealing to the mainstream audience.
“To tell you honestly, whenever I direct a film, I always go for the money,” he said with a laugh. 
“I wanted my films to be commercially successful and accessible to my audience. But people
kept saying my films are arthouse films.”
He added that he never puts labels on his films and he refuses to let others put a label on him. Besides Tara and Dimas, the film also stars Endy Arfian, Nasar Annuz, M. Adhiyat, Ayu Laksmi and Malaysian award-winning actor Bront Palarae.
Despite some of the big names in the cast, Joko said all of them went through an intensive audition, with about 40 actors auditioning for each character.
“Auditions are good for me and my actors because they let us know if we are a right [fit] to make a film together,” he explained.
 “I do not want them to feel that they are not right for the character half way through my shoot ...”
There had been occasions when the actors he wanted for his films refused to undergo his audition process, and he had to make a different choice. But Joko said he is perfectly fine with that. 
“I always believe if something happened and you have to make a change, it is always a blessing.”
As to whether he believes in the world of supernatural which he so often portrays in his film, Joko laughingly said: “I believe in UFOs more. I believe I have been abducted at least once and I have the
scars to prove it!”
But he turned serious when asked about the hardest thing being a filmmaker in Indonesia: “To stay on track and make the films you are passionate about [even though] you need money to survive and
there are tempting offers to sway you from making the films you are passionate about.” 
So far he has found courage to resist the temptation. His secret? 
“My happiness comes from small things,” he said.
There are reports that he is working on a sequel to Pengabdi Setan.But Joko refused to comment on that. Instead, he spoke about his new dream project – a semi-autobiographical film to be called Coming Home to Punish Mother.
He revealed that the story starts with a mother telling her son that he should be grateful to her because she has been keeping secrets from him. If he ever knew the secrets, he will not be a happy man.This angers the son because he is not a happy man, and he, too, has been hidingsecrets from his mother. To punish her, hedecides to unload all his secrets on her.
That sounded like Joko might be playing out some hidden resentment towards his late mother.To that, the director laughingly replied:“You have to watch the film – and I love my mother very much!”

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tommy & Shaun Tam

theSun publishes my interview with Tommy Tam better known as Ti Lung and his son Shaun who have appeared in the Malaysian made movie The Kid from Big Apple 2: Before We Forget.  

Headline : The Apple of His Eyes 
By Bissme S

Opening  in cinemas today, The Kid from Big Apple 2: Before We Forget will definitely make the audience shed a tear or two.
Hong Kong actor Tommy Tam, better known as Ti Lung, returns as the grandfather in this sequel to the award-winning film, to give another moving performance as a man who is slowly losing his memories of everyone he loves, including his favourite
The film, by award-winning director Jess Teong, also sees Malaysian rising stars Sarah Tan and Jason Tan reprising their
roles as the granddaughter and her friend, as well as two new faces – Malaysian actress Debbie Goh and Hong Kong rising star
Shaun Tam.
Shaun, 37, who plays a man who regrets abandoning his pregnant girlfriend, is in fact Ti Lung’s son. Ti Lung, 71, was in Kuala Lumpur recently together with his wife of 42 years, former beauty queen and actress Ta  Man Ming, as well as Shaun for
the gala premiere of the film.
At an earlier press conference, the veteran actor states: “It is a challenge to play someone [suffering from dementia that]
you have never played before.I have to learn to walk slowly. I have to learn to talk slowly, too.”
The moment the actor received the script for the sequel, he asked his doctor for the symptoms for dementia. Then he used what his doctor told him to get under the skin of his character.
When asked what motivated a well-known Hong Kong actor like him to accept a role in a Malaysian-made production, Ti
Lung explains: “In my career, most of the time, I have always played strong, driven characters – either as an emperor, a gangster or a soldier.
“In this movie, my character is just the opposite. He’s suffering from dementia and his condition is deteriorating.”
While the film deals with issues of ageing, Ti Lung, despite his age, looks fit and his mind is still sharp. “Only my joints are
painful,” he says, pointing to his legs. Nobody can escape ageing,”
he adds. “But to maintain your health, you must not smoke or drink and you must be less aggressive. You need to
[appreciate] what you have in your life.” 
Ti Lung started his acting career in 1969 at the age of 22, playing a minor role in the Hong Kong film, Return of the OneArmed
Swordsman. Recognising his talent, the film’s director Chang Cheh did not waste any time in giving Ti Lung the lead role in his next production, Dead End. That film eventually led to more roles in such well-known films as The Blood Brothers, The
Duel, The Sentimental Swordsman and A Better Tomorrow.
However, Ti Lung attributes the biggest achievement in his life as being able to give a proper
education to his only son.
“I came from a poor family,” says Ti Lung. “I had to work [from the age of] 12. I started working as a delivery boy. I would deliver newspapers, milk and groceries. I could only attend night school.
“I know knowledge is important in life. That’s why I was determined my son will not suffer the same fate as me.”
Shaun went on to obtain a degree in advertising from a Canadian university. But in the end, he decided to
follow in his father’s footsteps and became an actor.
Ti Lung says: “Initially, I was not happy with my son’s decision to be an actor. You have to work long hours and you cannot see
your wife and your children very much. You will miss them.I did not want my son to go through what I had gone through.
I wanted a better life for him. But now, I have accepted his decision.”
Ti Lung admits that in the early years, he and his son went through some conflicts where they rarely spoke to each other.
Over time, they have reconciled and their relationship has since improved.
“I understand now that I cannot force him to live the life I want him to live,” says Ti Lung.
“I have to let him do what makes him happy.”
To Shaun, his father is the perfect role model who always puts his family first. He recalls how when he was in
his teens, he used to get beaten up in school because his classmates thought beating up a ‘gangster’s son’ would be cool.
“Immediately, my father stopped taking on gangster roles,” Shaun says. 
“He did not want me to be traumatised any more.”
But when it comes to his craft, Shaun says his father puts his whole heart into it. 
“He will memorise his dialogue and never come to the set late.”
Since becoming a father himself to a two-year-old daughter and a two-month-old son, Shaun says it makes him
appreciate his father even more.
“My father is a warm-hearted man,” he says.
 “He is not good at communicating his feelings. But his grandchildren always bring out the best smiles from him.”
As for The Kid from Big Apple 2: Before We Forget, Shaun says he loves the film because it emphasises on “traditional family
values and people connecting with people”.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ramli Sarip

Today theSun published my interview with  the iconic singer and song writer Ramli Sarip. 

By Bissme S

Legendary rocker and songwriter Ramli Sarip (right) is making a special appearance at the Konsert Tanah Airku, taking place at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) this Friday and Saturday at 8.30pm.
The concert is a collaboration between the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and Orkestra Tradisional Malaysia, with Ramli invited to showcase his hits such as Kamelia, Teratai, Kau Yang Satu, and Syair Laila Majnun.
“It is always nice when you are invited to perform with [younger] musicians,” says the rock icon.
“You can share your knowledge with them, and they can share their knowledge with you. I am also eager to see how these youngsters will interpret my songs.”
Even at 65, Ramli still has fans who are eager to see him perform,while his songs continue to entice a whole new generation.
Surprisingly, Ramli says that growing up, he never had any strong ambitions to be a musician.
“I remember loving sports, and was a good athlete in school,”says Ramli. 
“I loved to rear fish and collect butterflies.You should always have a hobby, especially when you retire.If you do not have a hobby, you
will die fast.These days, my hobby is reading books.”
In 1969, the then-17-year-old Ramli started the rock band Sweet Charity, with him as lead singer. After releasing seven albums, he left the band to pursue a solo career in 1986.
To date, he has released 12 solo albums, and counts among his many hits such songs as Nyanyian Serambi, Panah Beracun, Bahasa Terindah, Perjalanan Hidup, Doa Buat Kekasih and Sejuta Wajah.
“Sometimes, you need to write 50 songs just to get one hit,” he says. 
“As a singer, you need a collection of songs under your belt ... If you only have one or two hit songs in your career, how are you going to have a two-hour concert?”
When asked the secret behind this success, he says: “I never dreamt of becoming famous when I started my music career 48 years ago.
“I did not have the‘ commercial’ voice or commercial’ face that the mainstream music scene was looking for.
“But God has been kind to me. He wanted me to be famous, and nothing can stop God from making this a reality.All my success comes from God and I am grateful to Him.”
He also attributes his success to getting his late parents’ blessing in pursuing his music career.His father was a foreman who taught religious classes part-time, and his mother was a housewife.
“I always tell young people to respect their mother and father, and to always get their blessing in whatever they do,” he says.
“If you do not get your parents’ blessing, then you [will] not get blessings from God.”
His career was not without challenges, however. When Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) imposed a ban on male artistes with long hair in 1993, Ramli was one of the few singers who refused to cut their hair.As a result, he was slapped with a television appearance that lasted several years.
“I was not being a rebel,” he explains. 
“I was 40 years old, and I should not be forced to cut my hair.Even in my teenage years, I did not like cutting my hair short.”
His late mother was worried that he would not earn enough to survive, and subtly tried to persuade him to cut his hair.
“I told my mother not to worry about my bread and butter, and to just pray for me. If she prayed for me, then God would listen.”
It appears her prayers worked. The ban could have easily ended his career. But it did not. Ramli went on to become the legendary singer and songwriter that he is today. Despite his huge success, he remains humble.
“In Islam, it is said that you won’t smell heaven if you are arrogant,” he says.
“No matter how rich and popular you are, you must remain humble.I pray every day that I will never be arrogant. If you want to do bad things, God will permit you, and if you want to do goodthings, God will help you. “
Next year, he plans to produce his 13th solo album to mark his 50th year in the music industry. He also reveals that he plans to release his autobiography soon after that.
“Now, I am busy jotting down [details of] my journey in the music industry, and the inspirations behind some of the songs I have written,” he says.
“I hope I can complete my [book] in time.” 
For a colourful personality, with such a long and prolific career, his life story should make for an interesting read.