In the recent National Congress on the Entertainment Industry held in Johor Baru, I had the opportunity to sit in on award winning filmmaker, Adman Salleh’s, presentation.
He began by talking about P. Ramlee’s first movie Penarik Beca made in 1956.
In his paper, he mentioned that the movie was based on and influenced by Lao She’s epic novel Rickshaw Boy and that P. Ramlee was asked to do a Malay version of the novel because MFP’s Chinese management had an underlying agenda of promoting the socialist ideas inherent in the novel.
When I heard this I am a little bewildered because I heard a different version of the story. So, to clear my dusty memory, I asked my father again, what had inspired P. Ramlee to do Penarik Beca as his first movie – was it the management’s desire to translate Lao She’s epic into a Malay movie or was there something else.
I have never read Lao She’s full novel – just excerpts, reviews and criticism. And as far as I know, the story portrayed in that novel is quite different from Penarik Beca the movie. That is why I had a hard time to believe that P. Ramlee was inspired or even read the novel by Lao She.
I am not sure, but somehow I also heard Adman saying that P. Ramlee watched a movie based Lao She’s novel. That again didn’t ring true.
Lao She’s novel was never made into a movie except in 1982 which was subsequently banned by China’s censors until recently. The movie was immediately considered a classic and a masterpiece – but it was made in 1982. Penarik Beca was made in 1956. So that was out of the question.
Now, there was a movie called The Rickshaw Man made in 1943. But this was a Japanese movie directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and was remade by the same director in 1958 starring Toshiro Mifune. As far as I know, this movie was not inspired by Lao She’s novel as the storyline and conflicts within the story is vastly different.
The movie (original title Muhomatsu No Issho) had a more familiar storyline to P. Ramlee’s Penarik Beca.
So, I asked my father, what influenced P. Ramlee – the Chinese novel or the Japanese movie. According to my father, during the Japanese occupation, P. Ramlee was amongst the thousands of Malay youths in Penang to be educated (can’t use the word indoctrinated) in Japanese culture. During this period, Ramlee viewed many Japanese movies that actually instilled his love for quality movies.
One of the movies that he watched was the 1943 movie The Rickshaw Man by Inagaki.
So, according to my father, when P. Ramlee was asked to direct his first movie, Ramlee went back to his past to find out which story was ideal as he had no original idea yet.
He chose The Rickshaw Man as his template.
No one forced him to do anything. It was his choice and his decision to make a movie based on Inagaki’s The Rickshaw Man.
So, Adman’s paper began on a factually inaccurate note. The truth is, Penarik Beca did not have a socialist agenda and was not based on Lao She’s novel.
Below is a clip from Ramlee's Penarik Beca - with the song Azizah which he wrote and my father did the lyrics.
Below is a clip from Inagaki's 1958 remake of his 1943 movie The Rickshaw Man.