Friday, April 6, 2018


After more than 10 years gap, Astro Shaw has decided to show Dain Said's Dukun to the Malaysians 

Headline: Spellbound by Woman In Red  
By Bissme S 

Film production house Astro Shaw is trying extremely hard to rewrite the history of its film, Dukun.
When the film was shot in 2006, it was said to be loosely based on the real-life crime of Maznah Ismail, better known as Mona Fandey, a pop singer-turned-witch doctor (dukun), who was arrested in 1993 for butchering a high-profile client.
After a sensational trial that rocked the nation, the 45-year-old Mona was found guilty and executed on Nov 2, 2001.
Dukun, which miraculously survived the censorship board's
vetting with only five audio edits, was supposed to hit cinema screens in 2007.
But for some strange reason, Astro Shaw decided not to release the film to the public.
Now, after nearly 11 years, Astro Shaw is finally showing Dukun in cinemas nationwide. It premiered yesterday.
The film now comes with a different tagline to reflect the lengthy wait: 'Akhirnya Kita Bertemu' (At last we meet).
Its original tagline was 'Saya Takkan Mati' (I will not die), allegedly based on Mona's final words before she was executed.
But the tagline is not the only thing that has been changed about the film.
"Dukun is not about Mona Fandey," insists Astro Shaw head Najwa Abu Bakar, when met at the press screening for the film.
"Dukun is a story about a father who goes all out to find his missing teenage daughter, including dabbling in black magic, and suffers terrible consequences for choosing the wrong path."
It appears Astro Shaw is hoping people will forget about the initial buzz surrounding the film. But some history cannot be easily erased. It will be hard for the public to stop relating Dukun to the story of Mona.
Umie Aida, who portrays the film's titular character, must certainly be happy that audiences can finally see her performance, said at the time to be her best ever.
However, she was careful not to make any reference to Mona when talking to the press.
Umie insists that she did not base her portrayal of her character on any female witch doctor, either living or dead.
To get into the skin of her character, Umie says she kept a python as a pet for two months. She observed the snake intensely and adopted its personality as part of her character.
"The python even slept in the same bed with me, and I am scared of snakes," she says with a laugh.
Once the shoot was over, she didn't keep the python any more.
When told audiences may say that she is, in fact, playing a character based on Mona, Umie replies with a smile: "People are free to make any kind of speculations. But I have based my character solely upon a snake's characteristic."
This staunch denial of a Mona Fandey link is echoed by everyone associated with the production.
"We are not back-pedalling," Astro Shaw's Najwa says. "The audience is entitled to have their opinion, and I respect their opinion. But If you watch this film, you will know we are not telling Mona Fandey's story."
Coming to Najwa's rescue is the film's director, Dain Said, who explains that memories of the case are still strong among Malaysians even today, and naturally, "any film that has a murder linked with black magic will be always be associated with the Mona Fandey case".
He pointed out that before her case, there were many other murders with elements of black magic.
Dain adds, jokingly: "If you want to say Dukun is Mona Fandey's story, it is your choice. But at night, she might come to visit you."
When asked why Astro Shaw decided to release the film after more than decade, the reasons given are vague.
"When I first saw the film, I felt it is a film that we will be proud to show the Malaysian audience," Najwa says. "In Astro Shaw, we are committed to telling good stories. We want to be an Asian hub of feature filmmaking."
Najwa says that films from neighbouring countries like Thailand and Indonesia have their own unique voices, but Malaysian films are lacking in this, which makes it a challenge to sell local films to the international market.
She feels Dukun stands a good chance to attract foreign buyers.
When asked what was the biggest challenge to bring the film to cinemas, she says: "Dukun was shot in film print in 2006, and we had to go through digital mastering to make sure the sound and the colouring match today's standard. Digital mastering is not something you can do overnight."
But then again, digital mastering does not take 11 years.
Reflecting on this, Dain said: "There is a woman in this film [who] wants a child badly, and she cannot have one. I am like her. I [could not] have my baby."
But unlike the woman who never stops her obsession about having a child, Dain has learned to move on, and worked on other film projects.
"I have heard all kinds of stories about why my film never got released in 2007," he says.
"I could write a thick book about it. Some even told me that they have seen my film gathering dust in some vault.
"Of course, I have my own theory as to why my film was not shown. If I reveal my theory, it will be like tuduhan (accusation). It will be fake news."
Right now, he is happy the film has finally reached audiences, because back then, his actors worked hard to portray their characters. At least now, their performances will get the appreciation they deserve.

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