Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Come this Friday, I will be joining the massive traffic exodus heading South. I will for the first time since I left Singapore at the age of 10, be spending Hari Raya in the country of my birth. The funny thing is I do not remember Raya at all during the first ten years of my life. So I guess saying that it is my first Raya in Singapore in 50 years is quite accurate.
Why the sudden need to Raya in Singapore? Some close friends even look at me in a funny way, especially when they realise that my parents are not coming along. My parents will celebrate Hari Raya in Petaling Jaya with my brother's family. "How could you celebrate Raya away from your parents??" they ask. Why not? So many actually do....well at least one half. You know what I mean...c0uples who quarrel every year before Raya to decide which parents to spend Raya with. So the one who loses the argument, does not spend Raya with his or her parents.
Anyway, I thought why not now? The kids are all grown up. It would be great for them to meet their cousins and I get to meet and spend one Raya with my favourite uncle too. He's my mom's brother. In fact, he is my only uncle since my Dad doesn't have any brothers.
I will also be visiting my Dad's younger sister, my aunt Busu, in Singapore.
And on the way back to KL on Wednesday, I will be stopping by my Dad's hometown of Parit Sulong to visit his other younger sister. Mak Ning.
Anyway, for the past few years, my Raya has been very regulated.
The night before Raya, the family would go up to Janda Baik to our family homestead.
In the evening after berbuka, we'd start preparing food for Raya. Mom will be preparing her lontong and rendang, with the girls helping her out.
The guys will be in the living room making ketupat shells. Yes, making our own ketupat shells is a family tradition. So this will be one of the few times if not the only time I won't be making ketupat shells with the family the day before Raya.
Surprisingly, there's no takbir in my area in Janda Baik. Most probably because our home is too deep inside for our villager neighbours to walk all the way to takbir in the house.
At around ten, the kids will be in the lawn playing with fireworks. Yes, one of the best things about being home in Janda Baik on Raya night is that you get to play with fireworks. All kinds of fireworks collected the month before....worth about RM500.
The next morning, we get up early. This is tough because for the past 30 days, we do not have breakfasts only breaking of fasts. So the Raya morning breakfast is like a shock to the system. Oh mannn coffee tastes sooo goood in the morning.
By about 8am, everyone will be ready with their baju Raya and the guys will head for the Janda Baik mosque for Raya prayers.
Since we celebrated Raya there in Janda Baik, I have not heard a single Khutbah Raya worth listening to. Sorry, it's least to me. It's either boring or not informative at all. Anyway, after prayers we would stop by at the cemetery where my dear late grandmother's grave is. Sometimes, we visit her grave later in the day.
Back home, the first day's meal is being prepared. The breakfast before prayers was just a snack, this one, the one waiting for us upon our return from prayers, would be lavish. Lontong, rendang, ketupat pulut et al.
So when we reach home, we would all gather round the dining table. The adults sitting down around the table, and the kids in seats around us. Then Dad would recite the doa.
After the doa, we would dig in for our first Raya feast. This is of course one of the best parts about Raya.
That done, it would be resting time. Watching tv and such. And of course, just before noon, we would be salaming and bermaafing with each other and to our parents.
This would be a solemn moment for most of the it should be...asking for forgiveness from one another.
After that it would be waiting for guests from the village to start coming, especially the kids.
That my friend is Raya for me. We would stay on for another night, and after lunch the next day we would head for home.
We hardly go visiting...or rather me, because the rest of my family would actually go visit relatives - mostly relatives on my wife's side. Me, being the anti-scocial person I am, will always find excuses not to go.
So, this time around, I will go visiting. In Singapore. And to my relatives homes.
My cousins, about a dozen of them, will be expecting me. And to tell you the truth, I am looking forward to all this. It's been a long while since I went visiting relatives or friends homes during Raya.
All I've got to do is cringe when giving duit Raya in SingDollars. Argghhhh!!!!
But there, the Raya fare would be really excellent. Singapore beriani, ayam masak merah, ketupat and rendang, lontong, soto singapore, nasi lemak, ayam kurma, sop tulang, bistek, laksa...oh know, the 8 kilos I lost after my recent operation may be making a comeback soon.
So it will be an exciting Raya for me. A different Raya at least.
And yes, I will miss my parents. Who doesn't? I will call them Raya morning. But they will be in my brother's good hands.
Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and to those who know me through my blog and through facebook, a Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Maaf Zahir Batin.
To those, who, like me, will be on the road doing the balik kampung thing, do drive safe and be aware of the other drivers on the road to.
I wish you all a happy and safe Raya.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I have written this many times before. When I was a film critic with NST I also mentioned this before and was immediately slammed by many parties.
I really don't care what these P. Ramlee fanatics think lah. What worries is that our TV stations seem to be giving the wrong impression to the current generation. It is as if there were no other filmmakers of note in the 60s and 70s apart from P. Ramlee.
Everyday I tune in there's bound to be a P. Ramlee movie - either on RTM ker, Media Prima Channels ker and/or the Astro channels.
Only once in rare while, they screen a non-P. Ramlee movie.
I am not saying that P. Ramlee movies are not good..most of them are evergreen classics. Especially the comedies. But movies like 6 Jahanam, Damak and his last movie Laksamana Do Re Me are really tiresome fare done when he was not a happy filmmaker.
P. Ramlee acted and directed in some 66 movies during the glory days of Malay films. However, there are more than 500 movies available for screening on our TV from the vaults of Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris (Cathay).
Classics from the same era include movies directed by Hussein Haniff, Jamil Sulong, Omar Rojik, Salleh Ghani, . Roomai Noor and S. Sudarmaji. Movies not directed by Malays include those directed by Ramon Estella, M. Basker, B.N. Rao, Phani Majumdar and L. Krishnan.
So many of this film classics do not reach the masses. It was as if only P. Ramlee's movies are worth watching.
During this coming Hari Raya, I do hope the stations screen more golden classics...but not the P. Ramlee ones. Yes, I know that there are those who say 'kita tak jemu jemu tengok filem P. Ramlee'....they should instead start saying 'tak jemu jemu tengok filem Melayu klasik'.
When, for example, did you get to see classics like Istana Berdarah, Samseng, Laksmana Bentan, Raja Bersiong (both versions), Mahsuri (both versions), Pontianak (many titles), Mat Sentul and his whacky comedies, Lancang Kuning dan Masyarakat Pincang? Hardly ever.
I guess the obsession with P Ramlee has even overtaken the cyber space. If you check Wikipedia under List of Malaysian films (, it seems our Malay movie history before the 80s is dominated by P. Ramlee. No mention of Omar Rojik, Mat Sentul, Jamil Sulong, Hussein Haniff, Salleh Ghani and such. I am sure this oversight is related to the over-emphasis on P. Ramlee's contributions to our cinematic history on television.
It is also strange that this obsession with P. Ramlee is basically visual. P. Ramlee was also a prolific composer and song writer, but his songs does not overwhelm the airwaves like his movies do on TV.
Strange too that people keep thinking that P. Ramlee directed three of his most beloved movies - Sergeant Hassan, Anakku Sazali and Hang Tuah. Hassan was directed by Lamberto Avellana (a legendary Filipino filmmaker) whilst Tuah and Anakku Sazali was directed by Phani Majumdar.
Also sad too, that the media obsession is so Ramlee-centric, that his wife, Saloma, a legend in the history of our music industry, has since become more of a footnote to P. Ramlee's life.
Saloma deserves her own place in history. Even a book about her would suffice. Or even a mini-series or movie about our original Diva.
Whatever it is, it would really, really be nice if we can enjoy the creative contributions of other filmmakers of the 50s and 60s from Cathay Keris and Shaw Brothers. The TV stations should really stop relying on P. Ramlee's short list of about 60 movies to entertain us. Especially only a few are true cinematic classics.

Friday, September 11, 2009


After the lukewarm reception of Sumo and Los and Faun, and also the misadventure in Thailand with Brave, Adflin needed to prove, at least to his peers, that he still has it as a filmmaker. Or has he burnt out?
As an actor, he is still a crowd puller. He is still amongst the more bankable stars today having acted in box office hits like Cuci and Sepi, but as a director, there's always this nagging feeling that you need to make box office movies to be considered a good director. Not that this should be the case.
So you can imagine the trepidation he must have had with Papadom.
And you can imagine the joy and the vindication he must have felt when Papadom won five major awards at the recent Malaysian Film Festival in Kota Kinabalu - for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Score and Best Original Story.
However, for most critics and film activists, we cannot comment on the win as most of us haven't seen the movie. It will only be released next month.
S0 when the producer invited me to preview the movie and also to attend Tayangan Unggul's Berbuka Puasa do, I accepted. I usually don't attend press previews because I really believe that someone needs to pay RM10 to watch a movie in order to be free to criticise or praise it. That RM10 vindicates your opinion about the movie.
So I went to Kuala Lumpur Convention Center yesterday. Tayangan Unggul had rented the Plenary Theater to screen the movie. I didn't like the idea, because they projected the movie on a video projector. Secondly, the stage below the screen was shiny and reflected the images on the screen thus causing visual irritation.
Luckily, the sound was good.

The movie started off awkwardly. Afdlin's wig was a distraction but I forced myself to just sit back and enjoy the story. The story's premise was also a little off but I put that aside too. I mean the film begins with a Malay guy (Saadom) selling nasi kandar and makes his own papadom and then a Chinese friend likes the papadom so much he bankrolls Saadom (Afdlin) and creates a franchise of nasi kandar restaurants and a papadom factory. This is just the first act, setting up for the rest of the movie.
Saadom is so engrossed with his work and in creating his nasi kandar empire that he keeps missing his daughter's birthday thus getting an earful from his wife (Nurkhiriah) who can't seem to understand why the husband is working so hard.
So, during one of her fits telling her husband off whilst driving, she crashed and died.
Saadom felt that it was his fault, and from that day onwards, became a doting father to his now teenage daughter Miasara (Lianna Jasmey). This is where the fun starts in the movie.
Now a rich and wealthy man, Saadom spends most of his time looking after his daughter, so much so that it suffocates her.
When she got flying colours for her exams (20 As! okay), she saw it as her ticket out of her father's overly doting antics. To her, freedom is being in University, far far away from her father.
Or so she thought. (By the way, would a top scoring student enter Uitm?).
Saadom decides to watch over her even in college. He takes a job as a gardener in the college so that he can look over her and 'protect' her, without her knowledge.
That's basically the movie's premise.
Adflin's assured direction allowed this movie to flow smoothly. His dialogue is crisp, funny and refreshing. Each character stands out - even a cliche' prissy college diva - didn't screw up the collage of wonderful characters he created.
On the acting front, Adflin manages to capture a subtlety that I have yet to see in a local comedy film. Influences I see and there are many. Especially those of the Farelly Brothers'. Like the boria group popping up twice in the movie, much like the Mariachi singers in There's Something About Mary. On the other hand, the off-the-cuff dialogue is much akin to the 'nonsense' dialogue used by Chow Sing Chi in his comedies.
Whatever the influences are, what matters is that the comedy worked, and worked well.
Even the little roles that he created - like the college landscaping boss played by Harun Salim Bachik - and the bald short silat teacher played by magician-cum-actor Henzy - are wonderful and colorful but whacky characters.
I also like the subtle references that Afdlin made on the situation of the Malay film industry. By making Miasara a film student he had an excellent landscape to add his critique of the film industry.
Amongst the stars that shone in this little gem of a movie are Que Haidar, Vanida Imran and Nurkhiriah.
Those whom I thought over-acted, even in their cliched roles, are Farid Kamil. Scha and Lianna Jasmey.
Yes, Lianna Jasmey, the best actress winner at the film festival.
I guess she was just lucky that last year, there were no other outstanding actresses that gave her a run for her money. At most, she should have won Star of the Future award if there was one.
The role was one dimensional, but within the canvas that Afdlin created, Lianna's performance was nevertheless commendable, but really, it was not an award winning performance.
Papadom not only survived its shortcomings but actually relished in it. The comic timing was excellent and the pathos real. I would bet good money that many of you would shed a tear during certain scenes in the movie.
I have been waiting for a long time for a Malay feel-good movie. A really long time. Papadom is the first truly feel-good movie that we can be proud of.
Forget about Mamat Khalid's Estet for the time being. Papadom is far superior and needs your attendance at its screenings beginning October.
So if there is a Malay movie that you plan to see this year, Papadom fulfills all criteria for you to spend your hard earned ringgit on. Estet can wait.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

15Malaysia - Hits and Misses

Recently, Green Packet or P1, one of the country's top Wimax providers, sponsored a short film project entitled 15Malaysia. It was produced by Pete Teoh and involved 15 young indie filmmakers like Hua Yuhang and Linus Chung and main stream filmmakers like the late Yasmin Ahmad.
You may like some of the shorts, but maybe dislike a few. Here is my favourite. Go to for the rest of the shorts.


This controversy was not highlighted much in our media, but across the Straits, our Indonesian friends, fueled by media reports in the printed press and also on TV, the issue has been blown out of proportion.
In short, what happened was that a documentary series produced by KRU for Discovery Channel entitled Enigmatic Malaysia, was being promoted on the cable channel. In the short, maybe 20-second promo, the montage had a fleeting image of a female dancer, presumably influenced by the Balinese Pendet dancer, which in truth doesn't exist on our shores.
In fact, the nearest Malay dance form that maybe considered similar would be the the tarian asyik, which again may also have had Siamese influence. Nevertheless, the dancer image used does look very much like a pendet dancer.

Anyway, this promo was screened a few weeks back, and a few people in Indonesia saw it and immediately accused the Malaysian government of stealing their dance form and henceforth their culture, and promoting it as if it exists in Malaysia.
It spiraled out of control with the Indonesian media immediately taking potshots at our government and Malaysia as a whole. We were accused of being 'malings' meaning thieves.
The Tourism Minister from Indonesia also demanded that we apologise for the abuse of their cultural icon.
During this brouhaha, the apologies presented by Discovery Channel for the 'mistake' of using the Balinese image was ignored by the media. The Malaysian government also apologised eventhough it was with a proviso saying that it was not an official or government promo and that it was also produced by a private agency outside Malaysia. The producers of the series, KRU, also stressed that point.
However, the Indonesian media went even further and said that the promo was actually this year's Malaysia Truly Asia promo, produced by the Malaysian Tourism Authorities.
After this, the media went totally amok scrapping the barrel's bottom and started to accuse Malaysia of being serial cultural thieves. It seems, according the the mainstream Indonesian media, we stole and claim as our own such cultural rights to the batik, the keris and even the song Rasa Sayang Eh (which was evidently used in an earlier Tourism Malaysia promo some years back).
One station even went on to analyse the similarities of our national anthem, Negara Ku, with an Indonesian recording of a song entitled Terang Bulan, and said the Malaysians can't seem to create anything original and keep stealing from Indonesians.

We can actually refute each and every one of this accusations - but no one seems to be doing it 'scientifically' and officially over here. No Malaysian anthropologists took up arms to defend our country against this accusations. Or at least none publicly.
No one tried to explain to the Indonesians what cultural diaspora means, and even point out that most of their own traditions and culture had actually originated from the middle East and from India centuries ago.
Furthermore, we Malays cannot be deemed to have stolen something that is intrinsically something that is already part of our own diverse heritage. It is already established that most of the Malays in Peninsula Malaysia are descended from the Bugis, the Minangs, the Javanese, the Boyans, the Acehnese and who knows where else. And this wasn't a recent event. This diaspora began hundreds of years ago when there were no United Nation sanctioned borders, well before Indonesia actually existed as a republic.
Indonesians seem to want to forget that they were or are part of the Malay archipelago which was once ruled by the great Majapahit Kingdom and before that the Srivijayan Kingdom (which gave Bali most of its Hindu traditions).
Even our kings came from the Palembang, the Minangkabau and the Acehnese lineage.
Through these historical osmosis, Javanese, Riau, Minang and Bugis culture became part and parcel of the various Malay communities in the Peninsula.
Batik, musical traditions like the gamelan and wayang kulit, fighting styles like the silat and their weapons which include the keris, our culinary heritage, and even religion grew to evolve in parallel to our Indonesian counterparts'. Bali, however, being geographically distant and being uniquely Hindu hardly had any cultural impact on the now Islamic Peninsula society.
Meanwhile, the Indians and the Chinese also came to the Malay Peninsula and til today their cultures and traditions have become totally intertwined with the Malaysian experience. Malaysia is today globally known as a melting pot of many Asian cultures.
What the Indonesians fail to understand is that through time, these cultural icons like batik and keris has evolved into a uniquely Malaysian art and culture. Malaysian batik is totally different and distinctive form from the Indonesian batik. As for the keris, connoisseurs of the Malay weapon, can easily identify the differences between a Malay keris and that from Java or from Sumatra.

Why too the sudden interest in suddenly trying to prove that Negara Ku is 'stolen' from Terang Bulan? If historians have got their facts right, the song is not even of Indonesian is actually French in origin, came to Malaysia by way of Seychelles and offered to Perak as their state anthem, and instead was offered to Tunku to accept it as our national anthem but with new lyrics. Meanwhile, someone in Indonesia adapted the song to become Terang Bulan, just as someone else in Hawaii turned the song into an evergreen hit entitled Mamula Moon. Even the song Rasa Sayang Eh's Indonesian origin is debatable. Is it a song written by a Moluccan just after the Second World War or a foreigner who brought the song to Moluccas. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. It is a folk song. I have sung it since my childhood days and during scout Jamborees and not really caring where it originated from. Even songs like Burung Kakak Tua can be considered a Malay song eventhough it is a Dutch folk song landing here by way of Indonesia.
If this debate rages on, there's actually no stopping the Indonesians, especially their media from creating more confusion and may even accuse us of stealing more of their national heritage including the Malay language - saying that the man who perfected the Malay language that we use today, was a Riau royalty.
Someone in Malaysia has to step up and tell the Indonesian media and their government not too get too carried away by such trivial matters. Let clearer heads rule and lead.
If they want to start their witch hunt again, they may even start accusing Singapore of stealing their national flag design. They might even renew their claims over Sabah and Sarawak.
There's no end to this if not checked.
More efforts should be made to instead have more inter-cultural dialogues and activities between Indonesia and Malaysia - we have so much in common.
What would happen if Malaysians get so fed up with the constant attack on our cultural sovereignty that we might just say.."Fuck it..enough is enough" and just ban everything Indonesian - these includes keretek, caddies, maids, unskilled labor, movies, television programmes and nasi padang. Also stop all monies transferred back to Indonesia monthly from various sources and this includes investments - both private and governmental. Let's also boycott all the Indonesian owned businesses here like Ayam Penyet and Sari Ratu restaurants while we are at it.
For example, not going back to Indonesia anymore for leisure or business is not a big deal to me. I can always relocate my focus to Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and even China. Golf courses in these countries are as good if not better than those found in Bogor.
If this is what the Indonesians want or are contemplating, maybe we should also consider it.
As it is, we have not even taken them to task for the many deaths caused by them on our shores during the Confrontation decades ago.
But I hope it doesn't come down to this even when stupid calls to "Ganyang Malaysia" again has resurfaced in the past weeks in light of this controversy.
Nevertheless, what we as Malaysians should do is to make sure that our elected representatives speak out rationally and intelligently against these unfounded accusations and attacks, and defend us instead of hoping that this matter finds its way under the carpet sometime soon.
Come on Malaysians! Defend our cultural rights. Malaysian batik is Malaysian. Malaysian keris is Malaysian. Malaysian satay is Malaysian. Malaysian wayang kulit is Malaysian. Malaysian gamelan is Malaysian. Take back and protect our heritage. Don't let them hijack it claiming that everything Malay is theirs by right. If we allow them to do that, who are we as Malaysians? Without our own culture and traditions, we are nothing.
Unless of course, this is a battle only for the Malaysian Malays. Will Malaysian Chinese and Indians stand by the Malaysian Malays in times like this? Shouldn't they too be supporting and voicing their disgust against the Indonesians? Shouldn't they show such solidarity in view of the 1Malaysia policy?