If I were a foreigner wanting to see classic Malay movies, I would surely think that since 1950s, our industry revolves only around one man - P. Ramlee. This is because of TV stations that keep screening his movies - and hardly anyone elses'.
Even if there are other filmmakers during his era, none of the movies are good enough to be screened.
Though I always get flak for trying to 'downgrade' the contribution of P.Ramlee in the overall Malay film history, I cannot stop doing it, because I believe others too contributed to the growth of the Malay films and that they too should be treated fairly and be given their rightful places.
In this month of Ramadhan, I do not want to be accused of belittling P. Ramlee - but to be sure, I knew the man. He was a family friend. He was an icon. But he was not infallible nor perfect. At the recent Congress in Johor Baru, there was even a call for a Pusat Pemikiran P. Ramlee to be set up. Huh? Since when was P. Ramlee suddenly considered an important school of thought?
And then, there was this letter in the press saying that we should emulate P. Ramlee as he was the epitome of a true Malaysian - as his movies were Malaysian. Errr..which film was that? I think there was only one movie in which he fell in love with a Indian woman (played by one Indian actress named Chandra Shanmugam) - Gerimis. In his other films, the non-Malay characters were all broad cliched characters - the apek and the mamak. Is this what the writer meant?
For your information, P. Ramlee made movies before Malaysia existed. He was a Penangite who made movies in Singapura. Even the word Malaya wasn't bandied about yet - it was too new a concept at that time. He and his friends in Malay Film Production Studios were just doing their work to the best of their abilities. In fact, I don't think P. Ramlee ever made a patriotic-themed movie or a Merdeka themed movie. (You canot consider Sergeant Hassan as Ramlee's as it was directed by Bert Avellena from the Philippines)
I asked my father how they celebrated Merdeka in Singapore - and according to him, there was no big events or celebrations. They were after all in Singapura. Hmmmm.
Anyway, I really would like for the TV stations including Astro to consider telecasting works of other filmmakers and not just P. Ramlee. In fact, whilst some people say they can watch P. Ramlee movies over and over again, I suggest that they should watch movies made by Hussin Haniff, Salleh Ghani, Jamil Sulong, Omar Rojik, Sudarmaji and many others. We could even watch the movies directed by the Indians and the Filipinos like Phani Majumdar, L. Krishnan, Bashker, Bert Avellana and Ramon Estella.
I agree that P. Ramlee was special - eventhough everyone had forgotten about him during his last few years on Earth. He was lauded by all and sundry long after he passed on - maybe we felt guilty that we allowed him to die a dejected and sad man. Maybe we are screening his films endlessly because we want to forget that we allowed this young man who at 44 ended up making bad movies like Laksamana Do Re Mi because he was conned left and right by his 'fellow filmmakers' and not given assistance by his government to make movies that he wanted to. Imagine if he had lived longer - he may even have ended up living in abject poverty.
But nevertheless, let us also not only put P. Ramlee on the pedestal. There are many others who should be praised and whom the newer generations should know off. It would be sad for the future generation not to know who Nordin Ahmad was. Talents abound and one should realise this - S. Kadarisman, Salleh Kamil, Kasmah Booty, Sarimah, M. Amin, Normadiah, Ahmad Mahmud, Saadiah, Yusoff Latiff. They were stars. They were headliners. They existed. Remember their contribution.
Not all P.Ramlee's movies were classics nor good. When he did a bad movie, it was really bad. You know of Enam Jahanam, Sesudah Suboh and Putus Sudah Kasih Sayang. But have you seen Istana Berdarah. Samseng, Raja Bersiong, Seri Mersing, Si Tanggang, Cucu Datuk Merah, Jebat, Bidasari, Sultan Mahmud Mangkat DiJulang, Singapura Di Langgar Todak, Cinta, Ribut? These are but a few titles that should be telecast again for the new generations to enjoy.
And why haven't we seen recent classics like Matinya Seorang Patriot, Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan, Sufeh-Tsofia or Yassin? Are they not good enough to be bought and screened?
Sometimes, we just wonder who is it that buys programmes in these TV stations and if they really know how to promote the love for old Malay movies.
Are we going to wait for Rahim Razali and Ahmad Yatim to pass away before we can once again enjoy and applaud their contributions to Malay films? This was what happened to P. Ramlee. When alive, Ramlee was sidelined in his 40s by others who were jealous of his talent. When dead, these very same people call him their mentors, their major influence, their friends.
History seems to be repeating itself.