Sunday, October 31, 2010


There is a documentary being hawked on TV as the definitive version on the great late Tan Sri P. Ramlee. I have seen it. However, I feel that this version, eventhough the filmmakers said it is well researched and took years in the making, is not definitive.
I have the privilege of knowing Uncle Ramlee during my younger years and had the wonderful good luck to know Mama (Saloma). So I guess I have a right to make a little bit of noise about it.
My parents were very close to the late P. Ramlee.
How close? Very close. There are stories about P. Ramlee that they have told me that I would not even share with the public. Why? Because P.Ramlee the man has become P.Ramlee the perfect icon. The man whose memory must not be tarnished.
The sad thing is that the man died in tragic and sad circumstances. And it is still incomprehensible that he died young - at 44 years of age. Compare that to Micheal Jackson who died at 50.
Looking at his last few films, you would have not believed that Ramlee was 44 years old. He looked older. That's how depressed and sad he was during his final years.
I think I have mentioned in one of my earlier postings how he struggled to make ends meet during his final years. He was unwanted, he was criticised, he was condemned and he was discarded by the public. The same public that hold him in high esteem today.
His last few films were not really good because he was a depressed person . He was unhappy with his lot in life. He wasn't rich. Heck, he was broke. He even borrowed from his closest friends when he needed money and gave them some of his personal items as collateral.
There were even people in RTM who didn't like him. Some even hated him. A few who were jealous of his talent, thought that they were better than him and did their best to make life difficult for him to get gigs on TV.
He tried to become a film producer and met a few investors who were interested in helping him out. But unfortunately he passed away before his dream to be a film producer was realised.
The foundation that he had laid for himself was conveniently taken over by someone he had not trusted in his life and someone who had gone on to become rich and powerful. I will not mention who this person is.
The funny thing is that since he died, many people are trying to make money off him.
Making re-recordings of his songs, making documentaries and books about him, and making movies about him, holding singing contests and many other events.
Imagine what he could have done with this money. He could have been happier and still be alive.
And those whom I personally know hated him are suddenly calling him guru lah, mentor lah, lover lah, friend lah and many other labels. If he was still alive, he would have told them off.
The truth it, Ramlee was a very private man. He had few friends. So too his wife Saloma. They had friends - close friends. Amongst them were my father, my mother and Dato Aziz Sattar. People that he was really close to. People that he trusted.
Even Saloma's relatives who claim to be close to him were really not. Heck, they weren't even close to her.
One person I believe has made a lot of money claiming to be an authority on P.Ramlee and Jalan Ampas when he was just a former tutor to one of his sons.
Memories and events get mutilated and changed to fit somebody's personal agenda.
Imagine the sadness I felt when I recently heard of a screenplay for a bio-pic of Saloma that was proposed to a TV station here, that created a fictional scene regarding her final hours.
If the writer had done his or her research, he would have known who was by Saloma's side when Saloma breathed her last.
In actual fact, there was only two persons there. My mother and I. No one else was there.
You want to know how I felt when I saw her during those last minutes of her life? Truly sad. She was unrecognisable in her death bed. Her body was frail and skeletal and her skin yellowish. Her hair gone. It was a sad sight, sadder still that only her best friend was by her side when she breathed her last.
I was standing in the doorway to her room allowing my mother final privacy with her best friend.
It's facts like this that get distorted that irks me.
So when I heard that Datuk Paduka Shuhaimi Baba had completed a so-called definitive movie about Ramlee I asked my parents if she had interviewed both of them. They said no.
Strange especially when my father was Ramlee's closest friend and colleague since the first day he stepped onto the Jalan Ampas studio lot. Strange especially when my mother acted with Ramlee in the movie Ibu and many more after that and became best friends with his wife Saloma.
Imagine my father, who co-wrote many of Ramlee's songs, was not interviewed for the documentary. Don't you want to know how Ramlee wrote his songs? Don't you want to know the mystery of the song Azizah? Strange isn't it?
Maybe, Shuhaimi felt her documentary was already strong enough without having to interview my parents.
Which is fine, but why then interview people who weren't really close to him?
To even read about someone who was in the documentary who claimed to have won a beauty contest and caught the eye of Ramlee and became lovers with him and then sacrificed her love to allow Saloma to love Ramlee nearly made me puke.
Beauty contest? Big deal. In the 50s and 60s, there were beauty contests galore in every nightclub on every weekend. In fact, the one I believe this person took part was one that was held in Johor Bahru and was won by another actress by the name of Salmah Ahmad. So much for being a beauty queen.
The only person who caught Ramlee's eyes and who he wanted to make his leading lady in life and on the screen was Saloma. No one else.
In fact it was Saloma that was not interested in acting. She was a singer not an actress and she knew that. But because Ramlee wanted her to act, she did. If you watch the movies Saloma was in, you can see that she was uncomfortable in her roles.
This story sounds familiar doesn't it? It was as if someone stole this story to fit hers.
How many realise that Ramlee actually only received one Federal Award - the Ahli Mangku Negara when he was alive?
This award, which is now conferred to hundreds of Malaysians over the years, was a big thing in the industry when Ramlee received it. It was as if he had been accorded a Datukship. That was how big the AMN was in those days.
When he came back, his close friends organised a big welcome home party for him. Many who claimed to be his friends today were not there to congratulate him including this fictional lover of his.
Ramlee's life was truly colorful, especially in the sense that he had many people who can't wait to see his downfall. That's why he trusted only a few.
I do hope Dato Aziz Sattar completes his biography soon and writes truthfully about who P.Ramlee was and who stabbed Ramlee in the back and who were his true friends.
In my father's autobiography, Wawasan and Warisan, he actually pulled his punches when writing about his friends, but if you read between the lines, you know what my father wanted to say about Jalan Ampas and the politics of working in Malay Film Studios.
My mother has also started writing her own biography and I hope she too would give the world a glimpse of who P. Ramlee was via her close friendship with the late Saloma.
So imagine if a documentary about P. Ramlee is not done right, what injustice would be done to the man when a movie about him be produced.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

FFM...Anyone really care about the results?

So last weekend, when I was in Yogya, playing golf with a bum leg, the country made its selection for the best of our local film industry. The decision was that Majika was the Best Film and that Shamsul Yusof is our country's best director for his subtle and elegant work on Evolusi Drift 2.
I won't delve into the results nor the decisions - but if that is what the jury think we should tell the world - that these are our best, I feel truly sad and at a loss for words.
Personally, the best movie that played on our screens last year - the best Malaysia movie on all scores - be it direction, music, cinematography, screenplay, acting lay in one movie. That movie? Ah Niu's Ice Kacang Puppy Love.
That Ah Niu was even not considered for Best Young Director was a travesty in itself.
So what if the movie is in Chinese? It's a Malaysian movie - albeit a Chinese Language Malaysian movie.
If I am not mistaken, the last time I checked, FFM stood for Film Festival Malaysia - not Festival Filem Melayu.
Come on guys, give credit where credit is due. Ice Kacang Puppy Love is Malaysia's Best Film of 2009-2010.
But screw it lah. It looks as if we are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
If you need to test the standard of a local film, send Majika, Evolusi Drift 2 and Ice Kacang Puppy Love to a known film festival - see which film the festival organisers choose as an entry from Malaysia. Try it. See which film they accept.
Feeling sad about the state of the country's film industry, I decided to go on an Indonesian film watching binge...yeah yeah...I know..they burnt our flags...they stomped pictures of our leaders...but whatheheck, they make good movies.
So, it's been awhile since I watched their best and I decided to take some time and view them.
Over the weekend, during my trip to Yogya, I managed to pick up a few DVDs including Deddy Mizwar's critically acclaimed Alangkah Lucunya (negeri ini), Joko Anwar's much talked about Pintu Terlarang, Riri Riza's Sang Pemimpi which is the sequel to his megahit Laskar Pelangi, Ratna Sarumpaet's Jamila dan Sang Presiden and Aidtya Gumay's Emak Ingin Naik Haji and Ayu Utami's Ruma Maida.

All these films, without a shadow of doubt, are miles ahead of any of our movies in FFM 23. Including Ice Kacang. Sorry Ah Niu.

These are quality cinema. With real subjects and real soul. With real intent.

I've always loved Deddy Mizwar's sense of humour through his previous films including Nagabonor 1 and 2 and Kiamat Sudah Tiba. In his latest directorial effort, Alangkah Lucunya (negeri ini), he has decided not to put on his comic-genius hat. He instead brings to the screen a Dickensian tale of an unemployed graduate trying to help a bunch of young street pickpockets to earn a 'halal' living much to the chagrin of his pious father.

Jamila dan Sang Presiden, is a surprising production from Raam Punjabi's MVP Pictures, the company more famous for producing thrashy horror flicks like the Kuntilanak series. Starring the beautiful Atiqah Hasiholan as a prostitute sentence to death for killing a VVIP client, the movie keeps a tight rein on prosidings keeping up the suspense and drama til the final fade out. The ever amazing Christine Hakim plays a support role in this movie as a female prison warden.

Riri Riza's sequel to Laskar Pelangi, Indonesian record breaking movie, isn't as good as the first instalment of the so-called Laskar Pelangi tetralogy. Nevertheless, we follow the main characters again as they go through adulthood with the main character of Ikal still chasing his dreams of being a writer.

One of my favourite Indonesian film directors, Joko Anwar, again keeps up his momentum as one of the most original of Asian auteurs, with his numbing Pintu Terlarang. Maintaining his filmnoir canvas signature to paint his psychological thriller, the movie is unlike any Indonesian film you have ever seen over the past few years.

Acclaimed writer Ayu Utami's screenplay entitled Ruma Maida, and directed by Teddy Soeriaatmadja, created a film that lays waste to corporate leaders who are eager to destroy the country's checkered past and history in their chase for the almighty bigbucks. A complex story that defines the need for the new generation to embrace education and history.

The above are just one liners of the movies. For the love of me, I can't bring myself to create one liners for our local movies that means anything.

Our films lack depth, history and soul. Our films lack cinema. Our films lack maturity.
Unfortunately, our films make money. So any criticism about the quality of these films fall on deaf ears, as the gauge of a film's quality in our country depends not on the film itself but on the box office numbers. That is the measure of a film's quality. Nothing else matters.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Things are getting weird and critical in the TV production industry. It seems no one, or rather very few producers, is looking at RTM as a revenue source for the time being. This is because it seems that RTM has not enough funds to commission new programmes. The most recent call for tender was an eight-programme tender for the Chinese New Year programming. And that's it.
Furthermore, only Chinese producers or Chinese-owned production companies took part in this tender process as there is an unwritten law that Bumiputra producers are not allowed to pitch for Chinese programmes. The same goes for Indian-language programming too which are meant for Indian producers.
However, for normal programming in Bahasa Malaysia, everyone is allowed to tender. So much for affirmative action right?
Anyway, luckily for some Malay producers, the new TV station Al Hijrah has started to commission some programmes.
So far so good. In terms of quantum, Al Hijrah is offering much the same as Astro - averaging less than RM40k per commissioned hour (unless it's a special project and screened on Citra which currently offers the best budgets for any TV stations in the country). But Al Hijrah's payment terms is the best in the industry (if they keep to it).
For other producers, ASTRO who carried out a full blown pitching process in August, their fate will be made known this week. The results of the pitching process will be out. Those who sent in proposals will know if they would have any projects to role before the end of the year.
Media Prima? Well, not many producers have access to Media Prima projects. It's like a very close knit community with only a few producers given a look-see, and with producers that they are already comfortable with. My proposal for a secret agent series ala my father's Jefri Zain character made it to the Carcosa list (the final presentation). But alas, TV3 did not bite.
I know a couple of friends who got commissioned by Media Prima for some of the proposals they submitted at the same pitching session. Good for them.
So, for nearly 300 producers, the emails from Astro therefore becomes more and more important for their survival.
I have received my emails, and if all goes well, I can breathe easier next year. Thank you Astro.
I got ziltch from TV3 and RTM.
But I will be going into production immediately for Al Hijrah. Terima kasih Al Hijrah. Another life saver.
I only wish that RTM would get their act together and actually be the main source of revenue for top producers in the country like they once used to. If RTM doesn't invite and commission programmes by the end of this year, I believe many producers who depend solely on RTM will go bust.
It would be a sad state of affairs, especially when the Minister of Information recently said the industry is a multi-billion ringgit industry. Where the billions go to I don't know.
I know desperate producers are sending in proposals to FINAS to survive.
FINAS is paying good money for documentaries and has an ongoing request for proposals with the deadline closing on the 14th of October.
These documentaries have handsome budgets and most producers are already lobbying whoever they think can pull strings in the Ministry to approve their proposals. Worse thing is, most of these producers have never ever done documentaries before. Magazine programmes yes but documentaries - I doubt it.
I got no strings to pull but still I am submitting two proposals.
Having survived the past two years by producing documentaries for Awani Astro, I believe I have the ability to produce quality documentaries. So I hope my cv and resume will be attractive and impressive enough for FINAS.
What did I propose? Two documentaries - one on Wan Mat Saman, the Menteri Besar of Kedah in the 19th Century who built the longest canal in Malaya, and another documentary on the concept of Kapitan China in our history - with a focus on Yap Ah Loy. Who are the Kapitans? Who appointed them? What are their powers and responsibilities? Who is Yap Ah Loy? Who was the last Kapitan? Why did the post end?
That would be interesting isn't it? Even something that could be screened on History Channel.
Anyway, I do hope FINAS remains objective and study proposals on merit. (Okayyyy I'm trying to keep a straight face here and not fall off my chair laughing).
Anyway, after this week, many producers will either sigh with relief or break down and cry.
It is sad.
After ASTRO's decision to release titles they want to commission this week, they will be no other commissioning process in sight from any of the four channels anymore this year.
To my friends and fellow producers, directors, writers and filmmakers, I wish you all the best of luck. Be brave. Be positive. Kalau satu pun tak dapat, there's quite a lot of gerai stall space available at the food courts in Kota Damansara.
We Malay producers kalau tak dapat project, usually think about selling nasi lemak or tomyam.
Sad isn't it?