On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Learning a thing or two from movies

It reminded us a lot of the TV series, Impian Illyana, which is also produced by a multi-racial group.

The series, shown as 10-minute episodes on NTV7 from Monday to Friday, is about how a 17-year-old girl copes with her studies and relationships. Like all real-life situations, she uses both Bahasa Malaysia and English, which officials frown upon as bahasa rojak.

I believe these two shows appeal to young Malaysians because they can relate to them. They see themselves in there, and the positive messages are subtle and not preachy.

The movie and TV series have another pleasant thing in common – non-Malays played the role of Malays. It's a slow start but the first step has been taken with the removal of the stereotyped physical face of a race.

Just a few months ago, we saw how Malaysians raved over Sepet, about a relationship between a romantic Chinese VCD peddler and a feisty Malay girl in Ipoh.

The brilliant movie, with its many multi-cultural nuances, went on to win many prizes although some mainstream local producers felt threatened by newcomer Yasmin Ahmad.

Yasmin, who is married to a Chinese, is well known for her commercials during Malaysian festivals, bringing us joy, laughter and even sadness sometimes, as we watched them.

Recently, I caught a soft drink commercial where a Chinese teenager tried to win the attention of a pretty Malay girl. It may not be an original concept, reminding us much of Sepet, but at the same time, it is surely uplifting.

These filmmakers have certainly done  more for us than many of our politicians. These young talents have boldly broken new ground, smashing taboos and racial prejudices.

Instead of making empty rhetorical speeches, which smack of communalism, to please their listeners, these young Malaysians have decided to talk about the commonalities of Malaysians, rather than their differences.

It is those politicians who have made young Malaysians sceptical and cynical of mainstream politics. Fresh approaches and ideas seem to be lacking with many falling back on the communal way of rising up the political hierarchy.

Young Malaysians who make up the majority in this country no longer want the same message pushed down their throats. Exposed to  information on the Internet and daily interactions, the old formula of doing things is no longer applicable.

The first time I actually paid to watch a Malay movie, Adik Manja, was in 1979. The plot was realistic, the dialogue clever and the cast  multi-racial. The movie, set in Universiti Sains Malaysia, proved the point that non-Malays would watch a Malay movie if they feel they are part of it. Think Sheila Majid, who has a huge following among non-Malays.

Last year, it was a delight to watch two non-Malay actresses in two Malay movies – Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam and Puteri Gunung Ledang. The first had Kavita Kaur playing a major role while the other starred Tiara Jacquelina.

National Day should be a time for reflection. It should not just be an exercise to merely fly the Jalur Gemilang, hold parades and fireworks displays, but a time to ask ourselves how far we have come and where we should go from here.

Some of these questions may seem out of place and a little uncomfortable, but we must be honest with ourselves. After 48 years of independence, we have to ask ourselves whether we still want to waste time debating the same political, economic and education issues.

Many young Malaysians who do not carry the baggage of history want to move on and not be stuck with the same political manuscript. Worse, sometimes we get the same political actors.

We have spent too much time debating issues, some dating back to the 1960s which, by right, ought to have been settled but which continue to rear their ugly heads occasionally through some politician or newspaper editor.

When I reflect a bit further, it was my 80-year-old father, who was born in Langkawi, who introduced me to the world of that very Malaysian icon P. Ramlee. Dad, who came to Penang to work as a shop assistant when he was only 15 years old, speaks fluent Malay with a strong Kedah dialect.

Now, it is my turn as a 44-year-old father, who minored in Malay literature in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, to bring Malay movies to my daughter.

Watching old P. Ramlee movies with my daughter on TV, she asked why it was so easy to understand the Bahasa Malaysia used by the movie legend. I told her that was the way real people talk.

Last week, as the two of us watched Gol & Gincu, we agreed that the dialogue was real because every Malaysian, irrespective of their race, speaks bahasa rojak – it's either Malay, Chinese or Indian rojak. That is how real people talk and we shouldn't frown on it.

Bahasa baku failed miserably because a certain politician wanted us to speak in a contrived way. Then, we were told that we should speak bahasa the so-called proper way, much like stage actors, but the only problem was it could not be enforced.

Malaysia is richly diverse in cultures, religions and languages and we should promote them instead of being apologetic about them. In ordinary cases, movies are fantasies but in our case, some movies are more real than what our politicians expect us to be.

***In my column last week, I inadvertently mentioned Tunku Abdul Rahman's secretary as the late Mrs Bernadette Lee. It has been brought to my knowledge, via e-mail, that she is still alive. My apologies for the error.