Jom Kita Jadi Geng

Saturday, April 7, 2007


»My dream is to appear convincing as Tunku« -KAMARULZAMAN TAIB

I sauntered into Finas Studios next to Zoo Negara just before midnight last Sunday and met director Shuhaimi Baba. Wrapped in a shawl, she looked fatigued but content as she had just shot the last scene for 1957 – Hati Malaya (Heart of Malaya).

“I can’t believe we have wrapped up all the scenes! It’s been 50 days and nights! So I can breathe easier after tonight as we begin post production,” says Shuhaimi.
Picking the main lead was no walk in the park.
“First, we had to decide whether to use a famous face or an unknown. Then the actor had to bear a faint resemblance to Tunku Abdul Rahman.
“Finally, as the Father of Malaysia was a real historical figure, the actor had to be able to project mannerisms and style of speech reminiscent of this great man.’’
Some directors choose a famous actor hoping his box office appeal will carry the film. But Shuhaimi wanted an actor with the X-factor. Needless to say, using a non-Malaysian was out of the question.
It was nearing December 2006 and Pesona Pictures (Shuhaimi’s film company) still did not have a “Tunku’’ .
“We went through photos of actors but none leaped out at me. On our computer, we even drew a mustache, added spectacles and songkok on each photo to see if he could resemble Tunku, but we just couldn’t pinpoint anyone outstanding!’’ says Shuhaimi.
“I was getting desperate so we started checking our archives and came across an old photo of Kamarulzaman Taib. I knew him back in 1996 when he appeared in my telemovie Mengejar Zuriah. We drew a mustache on him, put on the songkok and glasses and Tunku Abdul Rahman stared back at us! It was uncanny.
“The most important thing was his eyes. I also liked his smile which reaches his eyes and gives them a twinkle. Tunku had a charismatic smile and it was obvious we had to play on that in 1957. He was also the right age, not too young or old, and with make-up, we could quickly age him.”
Grins Kamarulzaman, “When I was asked to audition, I didn’t even know what role Shuhaimi had in mind for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I could look or act like our founding father. I was shocked when I auditioned for the role. But after I was made-up and in full costume with glasses and songkok, I became confident.”
Even Kamarulzaman was amazed at the transformation.
“Throughout the shoot, I watched old documentaries of Tunku Abdul Rahman at home each night. I not only wanted to mimic his hand gestures and body movements, but I wanted them to become second nature. I wanted to be in total character. I don’t know what he was like in real life, nor can I think like him, but at least I can try to imitate his movements.
(From left) Zaefrul Nordin (Datuk Onn Jaafar), Datuk Jins Shamsudin (Sultan of Johor), Jalalludin Hassan (Sultan of Kedah).
“There are people now who knew Tunku when he was alive. I realise I will be compared immediately. They will be the best judge to see if I can pull this off,” he says. So far, the few who have seen Kamarulzaman’s acting have given him the thumbs-up. Says one, “Very passable for a 36-year-old actor! Kamarulzaman has put up a commendable effort bearing in mind he has to act like Tunku. Kamarulzaman has to show the wide range of emotions too. Everyone is anxious to see how he manages Tunku’s famous shout of ‘Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!’”

There were other problems. Sighs the main lead, “My English is not that good and certain scenes meant I had to speak in English. I tried to sound natural but since Tunku was educated in Cambridge, it was tough. I had to speak like an articulate, educated 50-year-old with the correct tone and enunciation, so it wasn’t easy. My dream is to appear convincing on screen as the Tunku.” Even the Malay language had some posers. Kamarulzaman’s native loghat Kelate (Kelantanese patois) was a no-no. “I also had to speak Bahasa Utara (the northern dialect) as Tunku was a Kedah prince. There were certain nuances I had to be careful of.” Once the main role was decided, Shuhaimi had to get the rest of the crew in place. “Since Kamarulzaman was unknown, so too should be the actor playing Datuk Onn Jaafar (Zaefrul Nordin). I felt it was impossible to have an unknown playing Tunku and a famous face playing Onn,” says Shuhaimi.

(From right) Kee Thuan Chye (Tun Tan Cheng Lock) and James Lim (Tun Tan Siew Sin).

His first filmKamarulzaman was understandably a bundle of nerves when he was told he had won the coveted role. “This is my first movie! I have never appeared on the big screen before so this is daunting,” says the actor from Pasir Mas, Kelantan. He has been a stage actor for two decades so acting is not new to him. The graduate in Malay Literature from Universiti Malaya acted in TV dramas from 1993 to 1996 before he joined the Ministry of Art, Culture and Heritage.
Then he moved to Istana Budaya as artistic director for performing arts in charge of production and stage management before joining the National Arts Academy (NAA) as co-ordinator for the theatre department, a post he holds now. “At NAA, I am involved in traditional theatre like Makyong from Kelantan and Randai from Negeri Sembilan. “In Makyong, I play the roles of the comic character Peran and the monster called Gergasi,” Kamarulzaman laughs. “As a stage actor, I have been in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Some may have even seen him in the theatre production of Lantai T. Pinkie, but a household name he is not. “This is my big break-lah,” he admits. “I am lucky as I have nothing to lose but everything to gain!” A documovie, 1957 – Hati Malaya, tells the story of Malaysia’s Independence using a mélange of contemporary scenes and footage of actual events.
Even the presentation is unique as the film is told by five young urbanites living in present-day Malaysia. The five Malaysians – Salmi (played by Maya Karin), Hali (Rusdi Ramli), Rafik (Adlin Ramli), Ani (Sharifah Amani) and Ang Lee (Douglas Lim) – have been assigned by their client to produce a picture book 1957 to celebrate 50 years of the country’s independence from Britain.
Along the way, these five people start researching and finding themselves transported back to colonial days, becoming involved in momentous events leading to Merdeka. They inadvertently become both participant and narrator as the book and movie progress. The film focuses on Tunku, founder of the Alliance Party (now Barisan Nasional), who became our first Prime Minister in 1957, as well as his on-off rival Datuk Onn Jaafar who founded Umno (United Malays National Organisation). Onn fought against the formation of the reviled Malayan Union proposed by the British in 1946 which would allow the colonial masters to spirit away Malaya’s wealth and natural resources.
A touching moment is when Onn listens to the Merdeka declaration by Tunku on the radio without much emotion as observed by his wife Datin Halimah (Ida Nerina).
“This is the toughest project I have ever undertaken,” declares Shuhaimi.
“This movie is history-based so I can’t take too many liberties with the characters. Their dialogue also had to be carefully scripted for authenticity.
“This movie is a journey into the past with flashbacks and modern characters morphing into historical ones. I used this technique to appeal to the 20-somethings of today.
“We used popular young stars like Sharifah Amani and Maya Karin to appeal to the youngsters so they will learn about the sacrifices of their forebears.
“This is also a multiracial film as important roles include Tun H. S. Lee, Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun Omar Ong Yoke Lin and Tun V. T. Sambanthan.”

· Shuhaimi Baba is director, Kavita Sidhu is co-producer, Aida Fitri Buyong is executive producer and Nancy Yeoh is associate producer. The film’s royal patron is Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor.

Getting into character
Kavita Sidhu, 37She plays the Eurasian Khalilah, wife of Muzaffar (played by Bront Palarat). Khalilah also runs a coffee shop where the hoi polloi gather to talk politics.
“As Khalilah, I worry about my family and how to survive as we live a hand-to-mouth existence since Muzaffar is forced to give up his politicking.
“Now that we own a shop – Kedai Makan Muzaffar, famous for assam laksa – I refuse to jeopardise our income, but Muz still dreams of Merdeka.
“We represent so many people in the same situation at that time! Do we look after our own welfare first or risk everything for independence?”

Maya Karin, 27
She plays Normala, Muzaffar’s younger sister and modern-day Salmi, one of the five assigned to finish the book.
“As Salmi, I am quite blasé about Merdeka and consider the book project tedious, but as Normala, I am the female freedom fighter. I am so pro-Merdeka, I even put aside marriage and children although two men have fallen for me.”
Maya thinks her role in 1957 is easier compared to Pontianak and Waris Jadi Hantu (to be released this May). In the latter, she is typecast in a horror movie. This time she plays Tina who inherits supernatural powers from her grandmother (Azean Irdawaty) as Guardian of the Spiritual Tiger.
“This power can only be inherited by a girl. When I tell my boyfriend Ari, he becomes interested and wants to be the guardian, Tok Wan. I tell him only a girl can take over the mantle. He disappears and returns as . . . a girl. He had a sex change! I think this will be an interesting transgender, slightly controversial film!”
But, of course, that’s another story.
The RM3.5mil, 1hr 50 min 1957 will be released this September, after the nation celebrates its 50th birthday on Aug 31.
Explains Kavita, “We won’t have the première on Merdeka day as everyone will be busy with celebrations.”


benmaya said...

U memang sesuatu!

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Yang ni pun menarik juga

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