Monday, November 11, 2013

Ellie Suriaty & Penanggal

Today I am highlighting an interview with actress Ellie Suriaty who talks about her first experience as a film director. This interview appears in theSun on Friday Nov 8. Here is the full article   

Headline: Monster In The Making 
By Bissme S 

AWARD-WINNING actress Ellie Suriaty (below) has just directed her first  film, a horror flick entitled Penanggal (which means ‘detached’) that  will open in cinemas on Nov 28.According to Malay folklore, a penanggal is a woman who makes a pact with the devil to gain supernatural powers. And as in most black magic situations, there is a price to be paid. Some nights, she loses her head which will go wandering in search of  blood. The folklore goes on to describe the head flying with the long, thin bundle of nervous tissue and veins dangling below it twinkling like fireflies in the night. The film centres on Murni (UmmiNazeera) who is forced to inherit the curse of the penanggal when her adopted  mother, Mak Ajeng (Normah Damanhuri) who is a Penanggal, dies.
When many people begin to turn up dead, the angry villagers want Murni destroyed, at any cost. But a religious man, Syed Yusof (Azri  Iskandar), takes pity on her and advises her to turn to God to control the devil inside her. But will the devil leave her alone?
Ellie, 42, was first introduced to the subject of a penanggal in 2006 
when she acted as one in Jo Kukathas’ Antara, a theatre production exploring ghosts of Asian origins. Since then, she has been toying with  the idea of directing a film about it.
She began collecting materials on this folklore and talking to 
villagers, especially the older folk, on this myth. Now, six years 
later, her dream project is finally seeing the light of day.
“I chose this folklore because it is less explored in the Malaysian 
cinema,” says the new director. 
“Unlike the pontianak, a penanggal is not really dead. She is half
human and half monster. It’s interesting to explore this emotionally.”
When asked what she would have done if she were in Murni’s shoes, Ellie says: “If I was turning into a monster, I would wish that I was dead. But I believe there is a solution to every problem we face in our lives. You can always seek God’s mercy.”
She explains the movie is about power and how you should control the power you have so that it does not  overwhelm you.
“As human beings, we must learn to balance the good and the bad,” she adds.
The mystical and horror element is more effective set in a bygone era.Ellie explains: “Since it’sridiculous to see a head detached from
the body flying around the Twin Towers in KLCC, I chose a traditional  setting.”
Ellie made her mark in her first acting role in Teck Tan’s Spinning 
Gasing, a film that dealt with a love story between a Malay girl and a Chinese boy. It was her first foray into films and Tan cast her in
the female lead, Yati. She was only 27.
Many film critics were impressed with her performance. She even won the best actress award at the Cinemaya Festival of Asian Cinema that took place in New Delhi, India, in 2001.
One would have expected Ellie’s career to take off but sadly, she got sidelined and ended up playing supporting roles.
“I remember the film editor of Spinning Gasing, an Australian, telling me to get an agent and try my luck outside Malaysia. He said I would  get offers abroad but I did not want to leave my country.
“And, unfortunately, I did not get offers … I was frustrated. But I did  not allow my frustration to make me a bitter woman. I have no regrets with the way my career had shaped up.
“Today, I am standing in front of you as a director because the journey I had gone through has made me a better person.”
She is happy to see her dream project realised but that has come at a cost. In the second week of the shoot in December 2011, Ellie, who was pregnant with her fourth child, suffered a miscarriage and lost her son, who was stillborn. After burying the child, she came straight back  to work.
“My producers were concerned about me and wanted me to take time off from the shoot,” she recalls. “But I was the captain of the ship and people were depending on me. I had a responsibility towards the production. I couldn’t disappoint them. I did not want to prolong the shooting period.”
Ellie dismisses the notion that the stress of directing her first film had caused the miscarrage. “I could have lost the baby even if I was not doing anything. He was just not fated to be mine ... to keep.”
In a previous pregnancy in 2009, she carried her third child for eight months and her daughter only lived for 15 minutes.
She says: “I’m not angry with God. I think God has been fair to me. He has given me two children. But I have not forgotten about the other two I’ve lost. I know, one day, I’ll meet them in heaven.”

Ellie during the interview with theSun newspaper 

A scene from the  Penanggal ... The village folks are living in fear of ghost that is haunting them. 

The poster of the first film that Eille as film director 

A scene from Penanggal ... UmmiNazeera plays the lead role as Murni 

A scene from Penanggal ... Syed Yusof ( played byAzri  Iskandar )  tries to convince Murni to walk the right road. 

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