Friday, February 29, 2008

Prof. Dr. LLoyd Fernando - 1926-2008. Novelist, playwright and humanitarian.

I received a text from a former colleague Kee Thuan Chye who informed me of the passing of Prof Dr Lloyd Fernando today. Those in the literary circles would know of Lloyd and those who studied literature would also be familiar with his works. I may be mistaken but I think Lloyd's The Scorpion Orchid (1976) was, once upon a time, made a required reading.
According to Kee, Dr Fernando passed away in UH around 6 in the evening (28th February). The funeral services will be held on Tuesday (4th March) (will reconfirm this bit).
I don't claim to be close friends with him but I do consider him to be one of my teachers. When Kee and I were selected to attend a Young Asian Writer's Workshop in Quezon City, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, in 1990, we had the great opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts, and get acquainted with many other young and established writers from the region. Lloyd Fernando was one of the moderators and it was there that I first met him. His mild mannered and very cultured personality endeared him to me to this day.
AJ and Lloyd Fernando at the Young Asian Writers Workshop in Quezon City
Born in 1926 in Sri Lanka, he followed his family to Singapore in 1936. He was an academician in his early career having got his doctorate from the University of Leeds in 1963. He returned to University of Malaya in the late 60s where he was elevated to Professor and headed the English Department until 1979.
Surprisingly, he started writing late in life - his first novel was Scorpion's Orchid written in 1976 and the literary world had to wait another 17 years for his next novel Green Is The Color. He also turned his first novel into a play in 1998 (only ten years ago).
Rest In Peace, Lloyd Fernando. His funeral will be held on Monday at St Francis Xavier's Church in Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya at 11 am.

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die." - Clyde Campbell

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is Film Part of Our Cultural Heritage?

Wahhh the title sounds so serious doesn't it? Well maybe it should be. It is a serious subject. Even the Americans consider film very much a part of their culture and heritage.
What do you think? Can something that is only just over a hundred years old be considered part of our culture?
Then there is also the on going debate about film as an art form (that's another story). Yeah a legitimate art form? Well shoot I don't know. I can't give you an expert analysis of why film should or should not be considered art. Maybe Mansor Puteh can ( I mean he did go to Columbia University didn't he?).
I can't also say (with complete confidence) that film is also part of our cultural heritage - that is if compared to our architecture, our cuisine and other things like batik or music. It would be difficult for me. Or anyone else.
Yet, the film industry is under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. So, if that is the case - which is it? Culture? Arts? Or heritage?
It's definitely not heritage or Warisan because the department under the ministry do not include film as part of their mission.
It cannot be Arts or Seni (this includes performing arts) because film isn't spoken in the same breath as theatre, dance or music. For example, the Istana Budaya showcases theatrical extravaganzas, cultural performances and musicals - but no screenings of movies.
So shouldn't it be under Culture (Budaya)? I don't know.
It is however definitely under the 'management' of FINAS or the National Film Development Corporation which reports to the Ministry. So where exactly is it categorised under?
Nevertheless, if film is part of our culture, arts or heritage - shouldn't its history be considered something important? Something sacred?
Maybe. FINAS did build and financed the Galeri Perfileman. (In London - a similar and much more better gallery would be MOMI - Museum of Moving Images).
The film gallery is a mish-mash collection of fact and fiction (or rather wrong facts) from the history of Malaysian film. You can go through the whole gallery within 15 minutes and not be awed by it (like I was when I visited MOMI).
It is like a gallery that was done on a whim. Something you just throw into the oven and wallah and hey presto - a gallery. Guess not many of you knew it existed and if you did, you don't even know where it is right?
Now, if I was a film historian and researcher, and if film is a cultural heritage where would I go to see prints of classic Malay movies? Finas Galeri? Kekkwa? The national archives? Don't ask me...I don't know. I have my own collection but most are just pirated VCD's of P. Ramlee movies, and some of my father's too.
Shouldn't the national archives or FINAS locate this local gems? Find out if there is a print still available somewhere? If BFI (British Film Institute) and the American Film Academy can search the whole world for missing prints of classic films, why can't we? Who knows that somewhere in the Hongkong Shaw Brothers' laboratory lies the negatives of old Malay Film Production studio movies. Movies like Si Tora or Miskin or Cinta.
If these are cultural items, or pieces of art, or even little segments of our social memories, shouldn't we be trying to salvage, restore and save them? At least, if this was done, the future generations will have access to such classical movies (and not just access to movies with titles like Anak Mami or Jangan Pandang Belakang).
There's so many things that should be searched, salvaged and restored.
What about the equipment used by the old studios from Jalan Ampas? (I know some still exist because I went to the studio last year and saw it with my own eyes).
What about original cinemas posters? All the single sheeters and 16 sheeters make great viewing in a real museum dedicated to film. Then there's the promotional materials - black and white pictures, press releases, magazine articles and reports.
What about the props? In MOMI, the curators even managed to find and collect the slate boards of classic movies. There's also the costumes, original scripts and other film paraphernalia used in the production of the films.
In Galeri Finas, we see some of this. Some are the property of one Jins Shamsudin - and this include his collection of antique still cameras (which got nothing to do with our national film history). In Filem Negara's lobby in Petaling Jaya, there's a better collection of antique movie cameras on show - including the massive Mitchell cameras used during the 50s and 60s.
Okay, even if we manage to get all this stuff, at least when you display it in museums or the gallery, please get someone with enough intelligence to caption the items.
When you go to museums, the captions are important. You don't just write: "Antique Mitchell camera used in Jalan Ampas studios".
It should tell a story. Who used it? Which films used it? What are its characteristics as a cinematographic tool? Instead, what we have are just uninspired labels slapped on without much thought. For Pete's sake, labels are not captions.
You know, I feel angry when it is easier for me to find information on Indonesian film history than of our own. They have already published an encyclopedia on the Indonesian film history. We haven't.
I also believe the Indonesians have created an institution called Sinematek Indonesia (SI) whose mission among other things is to collate and archive their own cinematic history (including the search, salvaging and restoration of classic films) - something they are proud of.
Excerpt from website about SI :
"Sinematek Indonesia was first set up on October 20, 1975 and founded by the governor of Jakarta as part of the Umar Ismail Film Center. Sinematek Indonesia was established not just to support the national film industry and as a safe keeping for old films, but also to preserve national culture. Besides serving as a depository for film, Sinematek Indonesia also serves the community by providing services such as documentation, library, publication, and information for students and researchers. "
"As an institution that plays a great role in developing society’s appreciation for culture and history, one of Sinematek Indonesia’s challenges is to reach a wider audience and raise public awareness."
"Because a film archive preserves our past for us, its existence is a significant part of a country’s national heritage."
Aren't we proud of our own cinematic heritage? I guess not because it's helluva difficult to find any information on it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson, To all the girls I've loved

[via FoxyTunes / Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias]

Not sure my wife would mind this post...hehehe Happy Valentine's Day Wifey!
Through my nearly 50 years of my life - there have been many women (well they were still girls during my school days lah).
First crush? Hairan or was it Zarina Kushi. Maybe Norashikin. Hmmmm. Primary school can be tough when there's so many cute gals.
In secondary school, the girls in my life were basically from two places - Assunta Secondary school and from Kampung Tunku area. As I walk from my school (LSPJ) every afternoon, I have to walk past Assunta in Jalan Chantek. That's when my friends and I try to give our very best smiles to the girls of our dreams.
There was one particular girl I fancied when I was in Form 4 - her name was Umi Kalsom. She had a Farah Fawcett kinda hairstyle. Went out with her once or twice, along with her friends - Tengku Intan, Doriah and some others I can't remember. But I guess they were more interested in older men (Form 6 lah).
Anyway, me and my gang (yes you know who you all are) hooked up with this group of gals from Assunta during Form 5. We called ourselves the MAFIA (Malaysian Association For Intelligent Adults). The girls were our Molls. I'll give you their first name initials (just in case their husbands don't like their names exposed) - S, N, N, H.
There was the other girls around that time too - Shida, Oda, Emma, Ombak, Junai, Atun and a few others. I dated some Chinese girls too (non Assuntarians) - and the one I remember was Ruth. When we broke up I was Ruth-less (Heheheh). Wonder where Ruth is now?
Hahaha...but my so called serious relationship began when I was in form 6 - this girl with the intials A.S. I met her at a friend's party. She was standing quietly in the corner with this red and white skirt (best described as huge red and white ties sewn together to form a skirt), white blouse and a curly head of hair. She had this one of a kind nose that I would never forget. Anyway, we danced and actually hit it off. She happened to be Elita's best friend. The unfortunate thing is that she comes from a well-to-do family (soon to be anak Dato) - who inevitably didn't approve of me. We went out together until she entered University and I started working at NST. She was in Penang USM and I in KL. Long distance romances don't really work those days - especially without internet access.
In NST, I didn't date anyone. Seriously! I had such wonderful female friends that going that extra mile might actually screw up friendships. But I did have a crush with one lady - don't think she knew I existed. This sweet young thing's name was Sue Ann (English version of her Chinese name that is actually pronounced the same way). And I wasn't the only one. I think half of the male staff in NST had the hots for her.
It was when I took a sabbatical to pursue my Degree at ITM Mass Comm that I started dating more. Hehehe...who were they? There's Za, there's Zuleika (a Brooke Shields look alike), Linda (from Jalan Othman branch), Hayati, Marina, Rozita, Umi and jeez so many lah. There was also a girl named Elin. We didn't hit it off because according to her, I made such a big fuss that the date (the only one we had) was my mom's idea...and that I was forced into it. Hahaha...yeah right. Intekma was a cauldron of young hormones about to burst at the seams.
In fact, I first met my wife, Puteh, there. She was my super senior in college. She was a top student studying Public Relations. I was in Journalism class. I remember her quite well, but she doesn't remember me much. We actually only began dating after we both graduated and were pursuing our own careers.
After graduation, I went back to continue working as an entertainment journalist and film critic with NST. She had then joined Cathay Organisation as their PR manager. Fate had us meeting each other again during one of the previews of a movie in Cathay - which at the end of it I was hoping to preview her instead.
We dated off and on for about a year. One night we had a nice candle lit dinner at this nice restaurant in Bukit Bintang called the Kancil (in her version we were had dinner at Castell's in PJ. I sent her home, and at her front gate in the car, I proposed to her (I know I's not a very romantic place to propose to someone ok) but lucky for me she said yes. We were married soon after. That was in 1983 (Gee, I hope I got the year right!!!).
Anyway, a special valentine day's wish to my lovely wife Puteh (both of us pictured above when we were in Tehran early last year). Thanks for the 25 years together and for the four lovely kids.
To all the other girls I knew before? A Valentine's Days wish to you gals wherever you are.
Oh yes a Happy Birthday wish to a dear friend too - Sofia Jane, my favourite Pinocchio.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Drawing A Salary At NST

After I crashed and burned with my HSC exams in 1976, I decided to pursue my A levels and read law (hahahah). This was of course after my wish to become an artist was turned down by my parents. So I signed up for a course at Stamford College in PJ. I was there hardly two months when I applied for and got a job as a cadet reporter with The New Straits Times.
It was here that I met journalism greats - Pak Dahari and Pak Samad. I also worked under Philip Matthews, P.C. Shivadas, Rejal Arbee and many others including Rudy Beltran and Patrick Teoh.
My colleagues include Sheila Natarajan, Lam Seng Fatt, William D' Cruz, K. Vijayan, Tony Francis, John Fernandez, Fifi Lim, Saw Teck Meng, Wan A. Hulaimie, Kee Thuan Chye and Lee Boon Siew. I'm sure most of you would find the above names familiar, at the least.
Other acquaintances during my stint as a journalist there include Marina Mahathir, Rehman Rashid, Zainon Ahmad, K. Nadeswaran, Leeps (Lee Pan Seng), Unny Krishnan and Mohamed Nor Khaled (more popularly known as Lat and now a Dato').
As most cadet reporters are required to do, I began life covering the courts - usually under the eye of one Hanim Melan (who is also Mrs John Fernandez). Covering courts has its ups and downs - depending on the cases you covered. Unfortunately for me I was not allowed to cover the big cases.
I remember attending shorthand classes in NST Training center - taught by a lady named Putri. She taught us this unique shorthand called Teeline used by journalists world over. I still use it today when taking notes. (see sample of teeline below). The spelling system of teeline is basically similar to the ones used by sms texters all over the world.
After the stint in courts, the next stop was at the Crime Desk - under the legendary Rudy Beltran. John F was his assistant and K. Vijayan the senior crime reporter. Even Lat, during his days as a reporter had to 'suffer' under the Beltran's tutelage. Rudy was as tough as a boss can be - sometimes more like the typical newsroom character much like those you see in B Grade American movies where the Boss is always seen shouting and screaming most times at his underlings.
But under that tough exterior lies a musician - an accomplished pianist actually. In fact, after he retired, I heard he taught piano.
Now, my salary was miserable (what can I expect with an MCE qualification). It was in the region of six hundred or so a month. I made some more through overtime and working extra shifts. At that time, however, I haven't honed my writing skills to the extent where I could make loads of money writing for supplements like the others.
So I waited and waited. (Within a few years, I succeeded and would actually have my own weekly columns). Luck was also on my side - I befriended Lat - already a famous cartoonist. I admired his work and told him I was a cartoonist too - having published some works in my mom's women's magazine 'JUWITA' (a magazine which ran for about a year). I also appeared live on TV as a cartoonist on one RTM Panorama episode. Lat immediately put in a good word for me and without much hassle, I soon had a cartoon strip appearing in The Sunday Times - a strip named Some People ( a name coined by the editor - Nadarajah). I used a pen name - Didi.
Below are some more of the cartoons that appeared (including a couple - under the name Dood - that appeared in Juwita) in The New Sunday Times in 76=77, (You can click on the cartoons to get a sharper image).
Below is a cartoon I did at that time, as a nod to Lat, who gave me the opportunity to draw for NST. I will post some more of my old cartoons here from time to time.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Little Movie Horror Does No Harm

Yes yes i know - it's a sweeping statement. But I believe that. Scary and horror movies do not harm society at large. Yes I agree that movies (what ever kind) sometime leave an indelible mark in some, but it's far and few.
It's a debate that has been going on over two decades - in terms of producing content for local TV and cinema. Remember the VHS policy on RTM announced by the former Information Minister Tok Mat over a decade ago? It completely wiped out a single genre for more than 10 years. No violence, no horror, no sex. No Fun.
It's a little weird since that was the generation that grew up watching Mariam Menado's Pontianak, P. Ramlee's Orang Minyak and SiTora and other title's like Hantu Jerangkung and Hantu Kubor. None from that generation went gaga or violent right? This is your father's generation ok? It was the time when going to a horror movie is just another night's outing. What was okay for them is now not okay for us.
Check out the ad below - it's the Straits Times - the date? September 1, 1957 - it's the first day of Independance - it's Merdeka day. Check out what premiered at the Odeon and Cathay Cinemas - right it's Dendam Pontianak starring the great Maria Menado. So, if this horror movie is good enough for the now free Malayans, why not now? Was tahyul and superstition okay in 1957 and taboo in 2008?
Now maybe you're wondering why I'm jerking around when the cinemas are full of horror movies since about sux years ago. Yes yes I know. Since Shuhaimi Baba's Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam, there's been a non-stop screening of Malay horror films - Mistik, Waris Jari Hantu, Puaka Tebing Biru, Zombie Kampung Pisang (to name just a few) and the big one - Ahmad Idham's Jangan Pandang Belakang. So what am I bitching about?
Well, unknown to many (because there has been an 'overkill' in production of such movies) there is an underground swell to once again start banning such films.

Maybe it's also the fault of local film and TV producers who have been churning out bad horror rip-offs. Imagine on TV, there's Anak Pontianak, there's Saka, there's Ghosts and there's Susuk amongst others. Including my own Bilik No. 13.
There's a claim that the violence in our society - the horrible murders, kidnappings and histeria break outs in schools - are the direct result of these TV series and movies. There is a movement out to ban such series - good ones and bad ones.
So I hope fans of local horror movies come out in numbers to write in and tell the powers that be that the horror genre is welcomed.
Whilst I hope that such freedom still exists for film directors and producers - I hope the quality and the creativity of filmmakers improve in time - so that artistic merit overwhelms content quality. Which is why I am looking forward to James Lee's Histeria.
Anyway, for those who enjoy such fare - write in to the mainstream press - tell them you like and enjoy such series or films - because the press are prone to printing only letters from self-proclaimed moral guardians, that condemn such fare.
If we lose this battle, our cinema will never win the fight against other taboos - taboos like sex and political content - genres that have not yet been touched by filmmakers.
For horror fans, enjoy the little VCD movie I did about 7 years ago entitled Histeria (sorry James). It's a cheap horror anthology based on a theater play I did entitled Hantu-Hantu Yang Saya Kenali which was staged at the national Museum about 8 years ago. It's not one of my better works, but it did star an old dear friend - the late Hani Mohsin. Someone posted it on Youtube. The lipsynching on some of the chapters is off, so bear with it. Maybe, sometime soon, I will post the best of Bilik no.13. Enjoy.
Histeria Part 1

HIsteria Part 2

Histeria Part 3

Histeria Part 4

Histeria Part 5

Histeria Part 6

Histeria Part 7

Histeria Part 8

Histeria Part 9

Histeria Part 10

Histeria Part 11

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Adylla - Home Again

Adylla's home now - after a short adventure at the Assunta Hospital. She was soooo glad to come home. She overdosed on Korean soap operas whilst she was bedridden - hmmm wonder why Assunta had a Korean TV channel on the cable TV? Are there so many Koreans in PJ and they get admitted often to Assunta til they had to subscribe to a Korean TV channel? Not that I mind - Dylla enjoyed the soaps. But I guess not many Malays get admitted in Assunta because there's no Malay channel.
Adylla is feeling much better - coughs a little but now having a tablet buffer daily. Puteh is also down and out - coughing and hacking and sneezing. But being an adult means never having to go to the clinic right? Well after much coaxing she did - now she's on anti-biotics too.
Medical bills shooting up y'all! Haha...good health is priceless!
Anyway, Adylla came home smiling and happy - that was until she dropped by her school to get her homework journal - its a lot! So I guess her Chinese New Year holidays has become her homework catch-up time.
To all those who dropped by the hospital - thanks a bunch and so too to those who called and texted asking about her condition after reading it on this blog. My 5'5" princess is back home....back to seeing Bones DVD three seasons in a row.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Adventures of Adylla in Assunta - Day Two

Today is Dylla's second day in Assunta hospital. She looks bored. She also has to take ventolin inhalation regularly. Her fever comes and goes, and I think she does look a little better. Doctor confirms she has a viral infection and hopefully the treatment she is undergoing will help her fight off the bug. Meanwhile she has her books, her DVDs, her magazines and her food to keep her occupied. She doesn't mind being alone without her parents for most times of the day as she can also sleep off her boredom.
Meanwhile, Puteh and I went to a wedding in the afternoon - that of Amir and Murni. Amir is the son of Puan Hamidah Karim - who was my Head of School when I did studied at ITM in the late 70s. My wife, Puteh, who happened to be my senior in college, also studied under her - as did some of her other friends like Shameen and Zaidah who were also there at the wedding.
I also met an old friend (don't think she likes to be called old) at the wedding. Her name is Sofia Jane. You all know her. It seems she was a classmate of Hamidah's daughter Hayati. They were both in Assunta in the late 80s. Better not divulge the exact date - you know how women are when exposing their ages.
Anyway, tonight, I'll be going back to the Assunta hospital to spend some more time with Dylla. And maybe catch another latte at Starbucks on the ground floor of the hospital.

Friday, February 1, 2008

In Memoriam

On a sad note, a couple of friends passed away this week - dear friend Felix Abisheganaden - passed away after a short illness - he was 85. I first met him during my journalism days in the New Straits Times (he was not there when I worked in NST but he was one of NST's earliest Managing Editors). Felix was already a top PR consultant then when I was just starting my career as a writer and reporter. His daughter Hannah was a colleague as was Hannah's husband K.C.Boey. He started Prestige Communications with Puan Hamidah Karim - who was my Head of School in ITM late seventies. Goodbye Felix - Rest In Peace. You will be remembered.
Another friend is singer, musician, songwriter, actor Loloq - who passed away suddenly of a stroke. He was only 50. The entertainment industry will miss him much.
Oh yes - Pak Soeharto also kicked the bucket.

Dylla In Assunta Hospital

It's been a roller coaster week for me - personally and also professionally. I won't delve into the professional part because I'm trying to sort those things first. Need to have clarity, with clarity, solutions are possible. Personally, well my daughter, 16-year-old Dylla who has been suffering from coughs and fever last few days got worse and my wife decided to take her to Assunta - wondering why the nagging cough still persists. I was at a meeting with a friend when I received a call from her saying that the doctor wants to admit her - worried that the viral infection may lead to pneumonia.
So, Dylla, my little trouper, is now in Wad Mawar, room 10. She hasn't been admitted since she was Primary 5 - so it's quite an experience for her to be injected a few times - for blood tests and for a drip.
When I dropped by to see her I asked if she wanted Dr House to come a-calling, but no, she prefers Dr. McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy. Anyway, she didn't look too upset at having to stay in hospital for the next few days - she did however ordered a few Chic Lit book (bought for her two books 'You Had Me At Halo' and 'Second Time Lucky'), a few teen mags, a word search puzzle book and the latest season of Las Vegas on DVD - she'd already gone through the whole season of Bones, Grey's Anatomy, Boston Legal and House a few weeks back.
Hopefully, she'll recover soon. The only minus point for her was that she was going to her first house party tonight - one of her friend's birthday party - so that's out of the question now.
On the high side of the week, my younger brother Asnadi and his wife, Aina, returned for a two week holiday from New Jersey - after three years. My mom was in tears to see him again, and my Dad is as happy as can be. It's nice to have the whole family back together again. Asnadi is looking forward to eating and eating and eating - but is really taken aback at the traffic mess we have created - well which developing country isn't without its setbacks. Better the traffic jam in KL than in Bangkok, Quezon City and Jakarta!