Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Amanda Nell Eu & Venice International Film Festival


Malaysian Amanda Nell Eu is happy that her  short film Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu  competing at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival. She spoke to theSun about her feelings and read the full interview below   

Headline: Making A First  
By Bissme S

Amanda Nell Eu  has  created history by  becoming the first Malaysian female   director to have her work shown  at the Venice International Film  Festival. 
Her 18-minute Bahasa Malaysia short, Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu has  been selected for the Orizzonti  Short Films Competition at the  oldest prestigious film festival  that was founded in 1932.  Eu plans to leave for the  Italian city on Aug 30 and will  return home after the festival  ends on Sept 9. Her short will be shown on Sept 7.
“I have no idea what to expect from the festival,” says the 31-year-old Kuala Lumpur- born lass. 
“I have never been to  anything as big as this.” 
What is definite is that she  will take the opportunity to  watch a lot of films that will be  screened at the festival. 
“I believe that watching  other people’s works will help me grow as a filmmaker,” says 
Eu who is also a film lecturer and a freelance scriptwriter.  Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu is the third short that  she has directed. The story,  which deals with friendship and mysticism, takes place in a  remote village. Outcast teenager Rahmah 
(played by Sharifah Aryana  Syed Zainal Rashid) becomes  friendly with a girl sporting  long hair (Sofia Sabri). Rahmah later discovers that the girl is a pontianak (vampire). Will Rahmah  abandon her new best friend? 
Eu describes her Rahmah  character as a shy, quiet and  reserved person while the girl  with long hair (the pontianak)  has a wild side and loves climbing trees.  When asked which character  best represents her, Eu says: “I  can be both. There are times 
when I can be quiet, and other times, I can be wild.  There is a lot of me in this short film. I have  bared my soul here.” 
Eu enjoys listening to local mystical  stories, and of  all the mystical  characters she  loves, the best is  the pontianak. 
“She is beautiful and gentle yet she  can rip you apart,”  says the director. 
“Personally, I believe there is a pontianak in  every woman.” 
Her story bears some  similarities to the famous  Swedish horror film,  Let the  Right One In (later remade  into the Hollywood movie, Let  Me In, starring Chloë Grace Moretz). Let the Right One In deals  with an awkward teenager who becomes friendly with his new neighbour. Later, the boy  discovers the girl is a vampire  and their friendship is tested.Eu is not insulted by the  comparison, saying that she  loves the Swedish version of the  film but not the Hollywood version.  She insists, however, that her short  is entirely different compared to  Let the Right One In. 
Eu says she has her own style of directing. One of the  ways she gets her actors into  character is to give them a  series of music that they should  listen to before the camera  begins rolling, as she finds  that music indirectly helps the  actors get under the skin of their characters.
She loves working with  her actors, and states that her  audition process is also unique. 
“I will show the actors my script but I will never ask them  to recite the lines,” she says. 
“Instead, I will end up asking  the actors a series of questions  about themselves and how they  would relate to the characters 
that they had read.” 
Eu admits to  having a major flaw  as a filmmaker:  she cannot decide  which scenes to  retain and which 
scenes to cut. 
“I am terrible in  editing my films,”  she says. 
“I cannot be ruthless with my work. I know I  need to master  the art of  editing.” 
Eu never  thought of making  films as  her career. Instead,  she took  up a  degree course in  graphics and  design in 
London where she had been living and studying since she  was sent to a boarding school there at age 10.  But she remembered 
stepping into a video store  in London when she was a  teenager and being fascinated by a series of black-and- white 1920s films the owner  introduced to her. 
Those films attracted her to watch more films, especially  those of the horror genre.   Her fascination with videos  and films was evident in all her assignments she did for her  graphics and design course, so much so that her lecturer told her she should be pursuing films instead. 
She took up her lecturer’s advice and graduated with a  master’s degree in filmmaking  from the London  Film School before 
returning home for good six years ago.Eu loves to explore the female psyche within the context of Southeast Asia in her short 
films. Currently, she is working on her first feature film. 
“It is a big jump from making  shorts to a feature film and I do not want to rush into it,” she says. 
“I know many people  who started their film directing  career late in their life. But age should not matter in this 
profession.” 
She admits the stories she  loves to tell are not commercial  types and getting finance for her projects is going to be difficult. 
But she is not ready to change her style yet. 
“I know the journey is going to be difficult but it will be worthwhile,” she adds.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

TOYBANK


Shweta Chari from India has set up an organization that donates toys,  board games and have play sessions with under privilege children . She talks about her organization to theSun. Read the full interview here

Headline: Strictly All About Child's Play
By Bissme S

Playing with toys is one of the joys of childhood. Unfortunately, not every child will be able to have a toy of his or her own, especially those living in poverty. One woman, Shweta Chari, is slowly changing this situation in her native India, through her non-profit organisation Toybank. 
Besides donating toys and educational board games to underprivileged children, Toybank has also set up ‘toy libraries’ where Shweta and her volunteers conduct play sessions with the children. 
“[The sessions are] with children [who live] below the poverty line,” says Shweta, 35, when met recently in Kuala Lumpur. 
“Most of these children do not know where their next meal is coming from.” 
It all began in 2004 in Mumbai, when Shweta, an engineering graduate, volunteered to teach mathematics to underprivileged children.
“They were not happy to see me,” Shweta recalls. 
“They were not that friendly. And they were not paying attention to what I was teaching. I felt so frustrated that I could not connect with the children.”  
Shweta decided to change her strategy, and attempted to build up some trust with the children. She picked up some toys and board games, and brought along some of her posters and music CDs to the class. “I used these objects to organise play activities with the children.”
Slowly, the children began to laugh and to have fun. Eventually, they let their guard down and began telling her their life stories.  
“I thought the children were orphans,” she says. 
“But I was wrong. I learned they were runaways. They ran away from their small villages and came to  Mumbai to escape from poverty. Once they arrived in Mumbai, they learned that city life can be harsh too.” 
Seeing how toys and board games brought joy to these children, she decided to donate more of these items to other non-profit organisations. Some of her friends decided to help out, and began donating money for her mission. Eventually, with the help of volunteers, Shweta began organising toy library play sessions for children in disadvantaged communities. Sessions would take place twice a month at each centre.So far, Toybank has over 300 centres all over India, and has worked with some 35,000 children so far. 
“Some of the children clung to their toys as if they were Oscar awards,” she says. 
“They did not want to play with their toys because they did not want [them] to be damaged.”
She learned that the language of play is an important factor in a child’s development. 
“Play is a character-building process,” she says. 
“It teaches children to make better life choices and handle conflicts effectively.” 
She points out that some of the children had been abused, and had lost their self-confidence. But Toybank’s play sessions managed to bring them out of their shell. She recalls one of Toybank’s 
projects  working with a group of children who lived around a rubbish dump. 
“These children were sniffing glue and once they got high, they became delirious and violent,” she says.     
"We engaged these kids in our play sessions. We told [them] that they would not be allowed to participate in the play session if they sniffed glue.  Six months later, we noticed the children were less violent, and none of them went back to sniffing glue again.”
Shweta believes that children are like clay, and they need to be guided and moulded. She feels that Toybank’s play sessions are one way to do this.  
She hopes to reach out to 500,000 children through her non-profit organisation in the next five years. But, she adds, as the toys and board games get worn out, they constantly need new ones to replace them. However, she laments the fact that it is hard to get donations from corporate companies to buy toys. 
“These companies will tell me that they can’t give me money ‘so that you can play with children’,”she says, adding that many of them prefer to help non-profit organisations whose aim is to end 
hunger and provide education to underprivilege children.   
But she says: “With hunger, most of us can see a child being malnourished physically. But what many cannot see is a child being malnourished mentally. 
“Our play sessions create strong children. It is easier to [build] strong children than to repair a broken ones.”

For more, visit the Toybank website.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

BOU & Child Brides




I have interviewed Mahi Ramakrishnan who just completed a documentary on child brides among the Rohingya refugees. Get theSun today ( Wednesday Aug 9)  Here is the full story 

Headline: Innoncence Lost
By Bissme S

Malaysian journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan has, in the past two years, highlighted the plight of the Rohingyas from Myanmar who were forced to flee their homeland due to intense civil unrest and ethnic
oppression, and ended up as refugees on foreign shores.
Her two documentaries, Seeds of Hatred (2015) and Bodies for Sale (2016), explored the issues faced by these refugees both in Myanmar and in their new ‘homes’. 

This year, Mahi – who had worked for Time magazine and AlJazeera – has come out with BOU a documentary that tackles the heart-rending subject of child brides among the Rohingya refugees.  
“Bou means bride in the Rohingya language,” says Mahi, who took two years to complete the documentary.
“Some Rohingya men will hire traffickers to find child brides for them, and these traffickers will go back to Myanmar and convince parents to give up their daughters, [promising them] a better life in a foreign land.”
Unfortunately, a better life is the last thing these young brides will find. The traffickers torture them sexually and physically, before selling them to Rohingya men for RM7,000 each. The traffickers always target girls from the ages of 11 to 16. 

For BOU, Mahi interviewed three child brides, two men who had taken child brides as their wives, and also a trafficker, to get different sides to the story.  The stories the child brides told her were of unimaginable horrors.The first girl she interviewed
became a child bride at the age 11.
“Some 60 traffickers had raped her before she was sold to a Rohingya man to be his wife,” says Mahi. “Her nightmare did not end there. Her husband kept abusing her. She had no choicebut to run away from [him].” 
The second child bride was abused by her husband each time she asked for money to buy milk for their only child, while the third was abandoned by her husband soon after giving birth to their first child.  
“These women are illiterate,” says Mahi.
“They can’t speak any other language except for their mother tongue. So they are in a vulnerable position, and have a tough time surviving.”
She added that she also interviewed two men with child brides to hear their side of the story and to know what motivated them to get child brides. 
“These men believe they are doing a favour to these girls because they are rescuing them from the misery in their home country and giving them a better life.”
She also talked to a trafficker to gain an insight on the trade. Mahi says while the authorities have taken strict measures to control the refugee problem, traffickers are getting more creative. She claims they are using flights from Bangladesh to bring child brides into the country. And they are charging more for each bride, as much as RM16,000 per bride.
While some quarters argue that child marriages should be legalised to reduce unwanted pregnancies among the youth, Mahi disagrees.
“If you want young people to behave responsibly towards sex, marriage is not the answer. Society, parents, and schools should take the trouble to teach youngsters about sex, and about the responsibilities involved.”
BOU will be shown this Sunday at The Refugee Fest:Inclusion for a Better Worldevent, which takes place at Black Box, Publika, in Kuala Lumpur, from tomorrow till Sunday. 

The Refugee Fest, which premiered last year, is Mahi’s brainchild. During this four-day event, there will be activities geared to
help members of the public better understand the plight of refugees.
Among the activities are a theatre performance by a group of Syrian children, and a poetry recital by refugees in their own language.
“These poems will be translated in English,” says Mahi, adding that the festival will give refugees “a platform to channel their grievances, their disappointments, and their dreams.”
“This festival is a place where their voice will be heard.”
As to calls for nations to close their borders to refugees, including from US President Donald Trump, Mahi says:  

“Trump has no authority to turn his back on refugees. What irks me is when a person who has power, wealth and fame migrates to our country,it is perfectly fine and nobody has issue with that. But these refugees have no choice. They have to abandon their homeland. If they continue living in their homeland, they would end up dead.   Frankly speaking, we need to remove the labels we have attached to [people], and look at these refugees as human beings who are fleeing prosecution. And they need our help."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Jason Chong & Kau Takdirku





Bring  a box of tissues with you when you watch Jason Chong’s first attempt at directing a romantic drama.  Kau Takdirku is a love triangle that promises to make you weep.
Opening in cinemas on Sept 7, the film centres on Kamar (played by Remy Ishak), who is secretly in love with Alya (Ezzaty Abdullah). Unfortunately, she regards Kamar only as her good friend. In fact, she is in love with Remy’s best friend Harris (Bront Palarae), who is a diving instructor.
Eventually, Harris and Alya get married, leaving Kamar heartbroken. But as fate would have it, Harris is lost at sea, and is presumed dead.
Alya has a hard time accepting his death. To bring some stability into her life, Kamar marries her.  The new couple raise a child together, until one day, they learn that Harris is still alive. Now, Alya has to choose between the two men who love her.
“It is a beautiful love story that is engaging, and will make the audience question what choice they will make if they are in Alya’s situation,” says Chong.
“I certainly [would] not want to be in her situation.”
This is the first time the 43-year-old director is helming a love story. His first effort was the thriller Belukar while his subsequent projects were of different genres: a monster movie, and a horror film.

Chong has high praises for the cast of his latest film, adding that they were a joy to work with.
“This is Ezzaty’s first feature film,” says Chong.
“She has to play a wife who has lost her husband, and also [play] a mother. But she is young and has not gone through those experiences. I had to ease her into the role. She worked very hard, and I am glad to say that she delivered the goods in the end.”
He adds that Ezzaty managed to hold herself up well against the two veteran lead actors. When asked about the message behind his film, Chong says: “When you put money in a bank, you will
get the interest. Unfortunately, love does not work like an investment. Sometimes, when you love someone, you may not get the same emotion in return. Your love will go unrequited. But love is supposed to be unconditional.”
Chong never dreamt of a life in showbiz.
“I was so poor that I did not have a television in my house,” he says. 

His father was a lorry driver, and his mother was a housewife.  
“My two sisters and I had to peek through our neighbour’s window just to watch television shows [on their TV set].”
Interestingly, his childhood dream was to be an astronaut.
“I thought it would be cool to travel to outer space,” he says.
Later, he wanted to join the army and serve his country. But being the only son in the family, his mother forbade him from enlisting.
“My mother kept telling me that good boys never become soldiers,” he says, laughing out loud.
Eventually, Chong became a model at the age of 18. After several years in the entertainment industry, Chong realised he preferred working behind the scenes, and became a casting director.
When one of his talents did not show up for a TV series shoot, he decided to fill in himself.
“I’m an accidental actor,” he says, starring in several television and film productions, and eventually making the move to work behind the camera.
He learned the art of scriptwriting and directing through observing other directors, and by researching online.
“There is a wealth of information on the internet,” he says.
Kau Takdirku has several memorable underwater scenes, which were not easy to shoot.  Interestingly, his next film will also have a lot of underwater scenes. That film will focus on the lives of our Malaysian coastguards, and the dangers of dealing with hijackers at sea. Shooting will start at the end of the year.
Chong’s next dream project is to direct a war film, harking back to his youthful army ambitions. He is currently writing a script for the film.
“I [have] always had a high respect for people who put their lives at risk to defend their country,” he says. 
“This film will be the closest I will get to my childhood ambition of being a soldier.”
When asked what is the biggest change he would love to see in the Malaysian film industry, Chong says: “In the 80s, we were making less than 10 movies a year. But now we are making about 60 to 80 movies. There are far too many Malaysian movies in the market. As a result, some good movies have gone unnoticed. We need to produce fewer movies, but more quality ones.”  

Monday, July 31, 2017

Kandang & Omar Ali



George Orwell famous novel Animal Farm will be presented in a Bahasa Malaysia stage play called Kandang. Here is an interview with the director Omar Ali in theSun today. 


Headline : A Play On  Power
By Bissme S

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s the premise of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, first published in 1945.
Director Omar Ali will be presenting this wonderful piece of literature in Bahasa Malaysia, in a stage production entitled Kandang. Both he and his father, author Tan Sri  Muhammad Ali Hashim, painstakingly translated the work into the national language.
This political satire will take place at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts (klpac) from Aug 10 to 13, featuring a cast that includes Ashraf Zain, Farah Rani, Joe Chin, Clarence Kuna, and Faez Malek, among others.
The story centres on Old Major, a prize-winning boar, who gathers the animals of the Manor Farm for a meeting in the big barn. He tells them of a dream he has, in which all  animals live  together in a land with no humans to oppress them. He believes all animals should be treated equally.
Old Major later dies, the animals decide to come together and make his dream a reality. They manage to drive out the owner of Manor Farm, Mr Jones, and rename the property Animal Farm.Initially, the animals  are able to create a paradise on Animal Farm.But slowly, the animals start to oppress one another, and equality becomes a forgotten vision.
“I love the fact that the author used animals as allegory [for] humans,” says 34-year-old Omar.
“The ideals they spoke about were supposed to free them. But in the end, the same ideals caged them instead. Sometimes, your solution becomes your problem.”
This inspired the title of his play – Kandangliterally means ‘cage’.
“My goal is to examine and analyse what this word means and represents,” said Omar. 
He admitted that to a certain degree, Kandang is a politically-charged play, but it also has a lot of humour.
“It is not a play about  bashing any [person] or any politican,” he says. 
“With power comes the issues of accountability, responsibility and public trust. But when one gets a taste of power, one becomes  intoxicated by it, and try to grab more power.
“Everyone wants glory but no one really wants to do the work.”
Prior to this  production, Omar Ali directed Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Bahasa Malaysia in 2016, and the play was a huge success. More recently, his Bahasa Malaysia translation of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal was directed by Joe Hasham, of The Actor’s Studio.Omar strongly feels there is a resistance towards  adapting Western literature into the Malay language.
“These critics keep saying [these are] their (foreigners) stories and not ours,” he says. 
“They keep saying that is how the Westerners will behave, and not us. That is quite a shame. The West has a wealth of stories that we can learn from. The message in their stories is relevant to us. Ultimately, their stories tell us that we all are humans and make mistakes.”
A trained graphic designer and copywriter, Omar stumbled into theatre by accident. His ex-wife was in theatre, and he used to send her to her rehearsals. One of the theatre productions wanted an extra for the role of a zombie, and Omar was invited to join in. It was the “best  experience of his life”.
“I wanted to do that for the rest of my life,” he adds.
When asked if he likes to dabble in television and film, Omar says: “I am very open to explore different mediums. But at the moment, I am happy with theatre. It allows us to put a slice of our life on stage. Ultimately, theatre explores humanity.”  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Osman Ali & Kau Yang Satu


Film maker Osman Ali talks to theSun about his latest film Kau Yang Satu and the changes he love to see taking place in the Malaysian film industry. Here is the full story 

Headline : The One Great Love 
By Bissme S

When asked what is the biggest change he would love to see taking place in the Malaysian film industry, director Osman Ali states: a bigger marketing budget for local films.He says: “Other countries are using aggressive marketing tools to inform the world about their films. Some are willing to invest big money in promoting their movies. Sometimes, their marketing budget [is] as big as their movie budget. But we are not doing this here. We are totally neglecting this aspect. Our movies have gone unnoticed. When the audiences are not aware of the existence of our movies, they will not take the trouble to catch our films. That could be one of the reasons why our films have been doing badly at the box office. We simply believe marketing a movie 
is not important. We need to change this mindset if we want to see our film industry progress.”
Osman’s latest film will premiere in cinemas tomorrow.The story, based on a bestselling novel by Nia Azalea, centres on Datuk Mustaza (played by Zaidi Omar) who is rescued from drowning by a fisherman named Sulaiman (Wan Hanafi Su). Mustaza is naturally grateful to Sulaiman for saving his life, and when he meets the fisherman’s beautiful and kind-hearted 
daughter Salina (Izara Aishah), he decides to marry her to his son Taufiq (Aaron Aziz).
However, Taufiq already has a girlfriend Isabella (Soo Wincci) and refuses to marry someone he does not know. But Mustaza, who disapproves of Isabella, forces Taufiq to marry Salina. Taufiq refuses to stop seeing Isabella even after his marriage to 
Salina, and an angry Salina packs her bags and leaves him.
Slowly, the couple decide to find some common ground and try to make their marriage work.Osman says: “Kau Yang Satu
 is about two complicated people who are trying to make sense of their relationship. Adjustments are necessary for 
any relationship to work. The audience will get to see a roller-coaster of emotions. Love, and marriage, are things not to be 
taken lightly.”  
This is the third time Osman has adapted a novel into a film. His first two adaptations were Ombak Rindu by Fauziah Ashari, and 
Pilot Cafe by Ahadiat Akashah. While some people have pointed out that Kau Yang Satubears a lot of similarities with his  
Ombak Rindu , which coincidentally also starred Aaron in the lead male role, Osman dismisses the criticism.  
“Kau Yang Satu is nothing likeOmbak Rindu,” he insists, adding that the film’s female lead, Salina,  is completely different from Ombak Rindu’s Izzah, played by Maya Karin.
“Salina is rebellious, headstrong and feisty,” he says. 
“She does not take her husband’s trangressions lying down.”
But Aaron, who plays the leading man in both films, portrays a similar character of a hostile husband who treats his wife shabbily.
Osman still insists there are differences in both characters. 
He says: “Aaron has [given a] different [portrayal] to his character in Kau Yang Satu[His character] was more 
arrogant in Ombak Rindu while in this film, he is more annoying and ‘naughty’ [rather than arrogant].”   
Osman’s next project will be the romantic drama Pinjamkan Hati, about two people with a terminal disease who meet and 
fall in love. The film, which will star Shaheizy Sam, Ayda Jebat and Farid Kamil, will open in cinemas at the end of the year.
Osman has already lined up two future film projects. The first is a romantic horror titled Langsuirand the second is a 
horror film titled Timah Putin.
Langsuir is about a group of youths who go fishing and get stranded on a haunted island. One of the boys falls for a 
langsuir (a female ghost), bringing the audience into a world of mysticism.
Timah Putin is about a traditional Malay dancer who is murdered by her father. Her restless spirit begins to haunt both 
him and the people in her village.
“I have written the script [for Timah Putin] a long time ago,” he says. 

“I am glad to see [that] the script will finally become a film.” 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hijabsta Ballet.


Today, theSun publishes my interview with the film maker Syed Zul Tojo who is making a film about a woman who loves her art and her religion, and how her two world clashes. Read the full  interview here. 

Headline : Breaking Barriers 
By Bissme S

At the  ripe young age of  55, Syed Zul Tojo has  finally achieved his  childhood dream  of  becoming a filmmaker. His first  feature film, Hijabsta Ballet, will be opening in cinemas on Aug 3. 
“You are never too old to make  your dream a reality,” says Syed who is the director, producer and co-writer for Hijabsta Ballet.
The film centers on a girl named Adele, who is studying  ballet, and has dreams of becoming a world-renowned ballerina. But when she starts to wear a hijab to her dance classes, her new dress sense does not go down well with her dance mates and tutors. 
Adele also has to contend with her ambitious mother Diana who feels Adele is making the biggest mistake of her life and destroying any future she has as a ballerina. This causes friction between mother and daughter. 
Newcomer Puteh Maimum Zarra plays Adele, while singer-actress Betty Banafe plays her mother, Diana. The film also stars Aida Khalid, Aman Graseka, Sally Bruce, and Azeman Aliff. 
Shot in Perth, Australia, as well as Kuala Lumpur, Hijabsta Ballet was later shown to some 2,000 test viewers from diverse backgrounds to gauge their  reaction. 
Syed revealed that 80% of this test audience said they enjoyed the film, while 16% said it was average, and 4% hated it. 
The film also touches on the issue of Islamaphobia, drawing interest from several foreign markets.
“I try not to plant messages in my film,” said this father-of-four. 
“I prefer to let viewers have their own interpretation of the movie.  [The issue of wearing a] hijab is a popular topic being discussed around the world today, and I am just highlighting that in this film. 
“I am just telling the story of a woman who loves her art as well as her religion, and how her two worlds [clash].”  
Syed also points out that one test member, an American, did not notice any Islamphobia elements in his film. Instead, the 
man told Syed that he saw his film as being about a mother-and-daughter relationship.  
When asked to express how he feels now that his longtime dream has become a reality, Syed says: “It is like you are running a marathon. When you are running, you do not feel tired. But when you reach the finish line, the [fatigue] hits you, and trust me, you’ll feel totally exhausted.” 
But Syed’s energy seems to have been renewed as he is already working on his second feature film. The new film will be about a historical figure, Panglima Awang Hitam, also known as Henry the Black or Enrique of Malacca. This 15th century Malay warrior was said to have sailed all over the world on a trading ship, before finally returning to his village. Currently, Syed is looking for funding for the film, which he hopes to begin shooting next year. 
Syed’s fascination with film making is partly due to his mother’s influence. When he was a child, she used to take him to  watch Bollywood movies. He was fascinated by what he saw on screen. 
He recalls: “I lived in their world and I understood their situations. I could feel their emotions.”  
This fascination created a need in him to explore the medium. He studied advertising and joined the industry making commercials. But that was not enough for him. 
“I wanted to make feature films,” he says. 
So he left the lucrative advertising world and started dabbling in various art forms, from photography to short films. Fulfilling his  film making dream has not been an easy task. 
“I had to face a lot of struggles and rejection,” he says. 
“Every artiste goes through that. But you have to develop a thick skin to face rejection, and have perseverance to continue believing in your dream.”
Syed has no regrets that he achieved his dream this late in life. 
“You have to understand life before directing a film,” he says. 
“[It] is not something you can rush into. You really have to take[the] time. When you are younger, you  have energy on your side. When you are older, your energy will dwindle. But you [will now] have knowledge on your side.”







Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Joko Anwar & Pengabdi Setan


Today theSun published my interview with the Indonesian film maker Joko Anwar who is making a horror film, Pengabdi Setan, with the Malaysian actor Bront Palarae in the lead role.  Read the full story below
 

Headline: For Love of a Classic Horror 
By Bissme S
 

As a young boy, award-winning Indonesian  filmmaker Joko Anwar loved to watch movies. He often visited a dilapidated cinema called Remaja Theatre in his  hometown of Medan, Indonesia. The cinema was well known for screening horror and martial arts films.
“Sometimes, I purchased a ticket, and other times, I just peeked through the vents,” says Joko, 41, in an interview with theSun.
One film that left a lasting impression on Joko was director Sisworo Gautama Putra’s Pengabdi Setan, an iconic Indonesian horror film released in 1980.The film tells the tale of a recently widowed man and his two  teenaged  children who  notice eerie  incidents happening in their home.
Pengabdi Setan terrified audiences in  Indonesia when it first came out, and was even shown in the United States and Japan. It remains a cult hit internationally even today.
Joko says: “I first watched Pengabdi Setan when I was six. I held on to my seat so tightly. When I came out of the cinema, it was still bright, and I was hoping the night would never come.”
Now, 27 years later, Joko is remaking this iconic horror film. His version of Pengabdi Setan was shot over the course of 18 days in April, and will play in Indonesian cinemas at the end of the year.
The remake is the  culmination of a dream for Joko, as the original film remains one of the strongest memories he has of going to the cinema.
“The [original] film still gives me the chills,” he says.
“I  always wanted to make films that have a similar impact on the audience.”
For the past 10 years, Joko has been negotiating with Rapi Films – the company that owns the rights to the original Pengabdi Setan – to give him permission for the remake. When he finally got the green light earlier this year, it was a moment of pure joy for the filmmaker. Joko is  retaining the original film’s  basic plot, its eerie atmosphere, and the religious undertone.
“I’m trying to keeping as many elements of the original film as possible,” he adds. 
However, Joko is also bringing in a few surprises to the remake. But for now, he does not want to reveal too much.  
“When you’ve  finished watching it, you will understand the connection between the original and the remake,” he says.
Joko has picked award-winning Malaysian actor Bront  Palarae to play the lead  character of the grieving widower. One wonders if the casting choice is a marketing strategy to get Malaysian audiences to watch his remake.
“I never choose my actors for marketing purposes,” he says.
“That is not the way I make my films. I choose my actors because they fit my characters.” 
The rest of the cast comprises Indonesian actors Tara Basro Dimas Aditya, Endy Arfian, Nasar Anuz, Egy Fedly, Ayu Laksmi, Elly D. Luthan, Arswendi Bening Swara, M. Adhiyat, Fachri Albar, and Asmara Abigail.
Most of the shoot took place around a house in  Pengalengan, West Java.
“We scouted for months looking for the right location,” Joko says.
“Initially, we wanted to find one in Jakarta because the  production cost would be cheaper, as we had a limited budget.”
But when the crew saw the house in  Pengalengan, they immediately fell in love with it.   
“The place was already atmospheric, and the roomsstrangely fit my imagination,” he says.
In addition, the weather during the shoot was chilly, which added to the haunting mood.The film is a  career milestone for Joko, who originally studied  aerospace engineering at the prestigious Institut Teknologi Bandung because his family could not afford to send him to a film school.
After graduating, he became a journalist at The Jakarta Post, and later became a film critic. In 2005, he directed his first feature film, the romantic comedy Janji Joni which became a box-office hit.
Since then, many of his films have achieved critical acclaim at international film festivals. Joko has also gone in front of the camera, to try his hand at acting.
“I decided to act so that I can understand how it feels to be directed,” he says. 
“It really helped me [to] direct my actors. How to make them comfortable in a scene, to know what’s the best environment for an actor to be able to slip into character, and so on.”
When asked what is his biggest challenge as an Indonesian film director, Joko says: “To be able to stay on track [making] films that I want. It’s very easy to be hired [for] films that you are not passionate about."




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Shanjhey Kumar Perumal


 
 Sunday will be Father's Day. theSun got the award winning film maker Shanjhey Kumar Perumal, to describe his relationship with his father and his new born son.

Headline: A Son's Lasting Gratitude
By Bissme S

Filmmaker Shanjhey  Kumar Perumal’s debut film, Jagat, was somewhat inspired by his own relationship with his father, Perumal Annamalai, 68. The film, written by the 37-year-old centres on a boy who tries to find a suitable role model among the three men in his life – his labourer father and his two uncles. His father has very little time for him, while one uncle is a gangster, and the other, aformer drug addict.
Jagat created history when it became the first non-Bahasa Malaysia film to grab the best film award at the 28th Malaysian Film Festival in 2016. Shanjhey also walked away with the best new director award. Jagat went on to take five more awards at the 2016 Kuala Lumpur Film Critics Awards.
On March 31 this year, Shanjhey became a first-time father with the birth of his son. That life-changing experience allowed him to understand his own dad better.
It also affords him new insights into the bittersweet relationship he has had with his father from young.But he admits with a laugh: “I find my father to be a more loving grandfather than a father.” 
Shanjhey is the eldest among three children. “When I was a kid, my relationship with my father was warm and sweet.”
He remembers playfully wrestling with his father on many occasions, and his dad reading bedtime stories to him.
“My father was the first person who told me about the Malaccan warrior Hang Tuah,” he says.
He believes his father’s storytelling inspired him to tell his own stories through films. But their relationship changed when Shanjhey entered his teenage years.
“There was bitterness in our relationship,” recalls Shanjhey of that period of time growing up in Parit Buntar, Perak. 
“At one point, I even stopped talking to him.”
His father was a general worker and gardener at Shanjhey’s high school.Perumal also sold ice kacang and newspapers to earn extra money. Shanjhey would often help his father at the stall and to deliver newspapers.
“My father woke up at 5am every day, and only stopped working after 7pm,” he says.
“When he got home, he was too tired to spend time with me. I felt neglected. I was angry at him for putting his work first. I did not understand his predicament then.
“Looking back now, I realised he was working hard to put a roof over our heads, and food on our table. I should have been more grateful.”  
Instead, the teenaged Shanjhey turned rebellious. He remembers an incident where one of his classmates made fun of his father. He got so angry that he attacked his classmate. Fortunately, his father
intervened and stopped the fight.
“I was protecting my father’s honour and he was not grateful,” recalls Shanjhey.
“Instead, he slapped me in front of my classmates, and I felt embarrassed. I was so furious at him after that.”
Things got worse when Shanjhey entered Form Six. His father forced him to stay with his uncle, who lived miles away from their hometown. 
“I was angry at my father for separating me from my friends,” he says.
Only much later did Shanjhey realise that whatever his father did, it was done with the best intentions in mind.
From then on, he concentrated on his studies and eventually, graduated with a Communication degree in Film and Broadcasting from Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.
“My father shaped me to be the person I am today,” he says.
“If he was not strict with me, I would have ended up as a bad hat.”
One thing Shanjhey really admires about his father is that Perumal never stopped him from pursuing his dream of becoming a filmmaker.
“He understood my passion for the arts and he wanted me to be happy,” he says. 
Speaking on his own experience with fatherhood, Shanjhey says he was extremely nervous on the day his son, Arrievan, was born. 
“There were some complications, and I was worried for the safety of my wife and my son. My son had to spend a day in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit).”
Fortunately, both mother and baby turned out fine afterwards.  As a father, Shanjhey hopes to teach his son to respect others, to never be afraid to say sorry, and to never forget to say thank you. 
He is also aware that his son might be a rebel during his teenage years, just as he was.
“Sometimes, [being a] rebel is a good thing,” he says.
Shanjhey is also aware that whatever path he takes, it will influence his son.
“So I must be careful with my choices,” he says.
But at the end of the day, he adds: “The important thing is, I want to give him the freedom to be who he is and who he wants to be.”

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Namron




 Namron speaks to theSun about his role in Mencari Rahmat which is adaptation of Oscar Wilde's famous play The Importance of Being Earnest as well as directing a movie One Two Jaga that deals with corruption.

Headline: Unmasking The  Lies

Director  Al Jafree Md Yusop’s latest project Mencari Rahmat will be premièring at The Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival (KKIFF) which runs from July 7 to 16. This indie film is a Malay adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s famous play The Importance of Being Earnest and set in a local context.  
This dark comedy centres on successful businessman Razak Abdullah who has to look after his niece Ratna. Razak has a wild, party-loving side. But he hides it from Ratna. Whenever he heads to the big city for some fun, he tells Ratna he is going to see his troublesome younger brother Rahmat. In reality, Rahmat does not exist. Inadvertably, Razak’s charade is exposed.
Taking on the role of Razak is Shahili Abdan or better known as Namron. Others in the cast include Amerul Affendi, Adibah Noor, Sharifah Amani, Fauziah Nawi and Nadiah Aqilah.
Explaining his reason for accepting the role, the 48-year-old Namron says: “I love the fact that the director has taken the trouble to interpret a well-known western work in a Malay context. We
should experiment with the way we tell stories.”
This is something close to the heart of this actor-director. In 2003, for his first attempt at directing a film, Namron did a a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which
he entitled Gedebe. The film deals with the power struggle between two best friends where one eventually is killed. 

The other reason Namron signed on for Mencari Rahmat is that the story takes place mostly in two houses. He says that goes to show that director Al Jafree wants to put the whole focus on the story
and performances to hook the audience.
“The actors have to rise to the challenge to churn out a convincing performance,” says Namron
"And as an actor, I like to be challenged.” 
Going into more details about his character Razak, Namron says: “All of us have a mask, and It is up
to us whether we want to wear it or not. In Razak’s case, he chooses to wear his mask because he is afraid of people judging him. If we live our lives like Razak, then we are not being true to ourselves. I do not think I will be good friends with someone like Razak.”
Wilde’s play is full of sarcasm and witty humour – elements that might not appeal to the average Malay film goer who generally prefers slapstick comedies.
“We should be adopting a totally different marketing strategy for Mencari Rahmat from the usual way we promote a typical Malay comedy,” says Namron, adding that they will try to lure in audiences who love to see subtle comedies.   
If everything goes well, Mencari Rahmat will hit the big screen here by the end of the year.Currently, Namron is busy directing his new film, One Two Jaga, where he bravely tackles the sensitive issue of corruption.
The story centres on two crooked authorities  who harass and take bribes from illegal immigrants. The film stars Rosdeen Suboh, Zahril Adzim, Ameriul Affendi, Vanida Imran and Azman Hassan.
Namron has sent the script to Bukit Aman to be vetted before shooting began. After making a few changes, he got the green light to shoot but the film might yet be banned by the censorship board.
If that happened, it won’t be the first for Namron as his earlier films, such as Gaduh, which deals with racial tension in a school, and Jalan Pintas, about an unemployed graduate resorting to crime,
were banned too.
“I am not purposely stirring up controversy here,” he says of his latest project.
“All of us have heard stories like this from immigrants. I am just highlighting what I have heard in a film.I am a firm believer that a filmmaker should push the boundaries and discuss sensitive topics with an open mind. Not discussing certain issues is like sweeping rubbish under the carpet.”
He points out that most people mistakenly think that corruption is not a dangerous crime because nobody gets killed. 

“Corruption can be deadly. It can kill people’s hopes.”
He also stresses his film does not entirely paint the authorities in a negative light.
“I am sympathetic towards them too,” he says.
“I am trying to show what forces someone to go down the wrong path and take bribes. My film is more about humanity than corruption.” 
With Namron at the helm, expect One Two Jaga to stir up some interesting discourse. The director also plans to bring the film to international film festivals and markets overseas.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Bront Palarae





Today theSun published my interview with Malaysian actor Bront Palarae  who talks about the latest happening in his career. He is  is acting Indonesian horror movie as well as a Philippines thriller.   

Headline : Thriving On Challenges 
By Bissme S

Director Sisworo Gautama Putra’s Pengabdi Setan produced in 1980, is  an iconic Indonesian horror  film that went on to be 
screened in Japan and the United States.  In April this year, award-winning director Joko Anwar  (Pintu Terlarang & A Copy of 
My Mind) shot a remake of this classic, which is slated for  release in Indonesian cinemas at the end of the year. 
Playing the lead in Joko’s version of Pengabdi Setan is  award-winning Malaysian actor-director-producer Bront Palarae. In an exclusive interview with  theSun, the 38-year-old  actor says: “Pengabdi Setan has  been Joko’s favourite film since childhood. He always wanted to remake the film.”
Bront says that he is honoured to be part of the project which is  so close to Joko’s heart, adding  that the director had kept the 
iconic elements from the old film, and brought in some new changes to the remake.
“You will get a sense of deja vu  and some freshness from the  film,” he says, adding that the  movie is about a man trying to 
keep his family from the brink of  destruction. 
Bront first met Joko in late 2014 when the director saw his  performance as an eccentric filmmaker in  Terbaik Dari Langit, 
which later won him the best actor award at the 2015 Asean  International Film Festival &  Awards. 
Joko praised the film on  Twitter, which led to an invite to meet with Terbaik Dari Langit’s cast and crew. “That was my first 
time meeting him,” says Bront.
Before long, Joko offered Bront a role in HBO Asia’s Halfworlds, a landmark English-language supernatural-themed 
TV series. Pengabdi Setan is their second project together. 
Bront takes on the role of father-of-four Bahri Suwono, who has just buried his wife. When strange, eerie incidents 
start happening in his house, Bahri suspects someone has been  dabbling in black magic and now, he spirits are haunting his 
children. 
“You feel like you are  watching an Agatha Christie whodunit,” says Bront, who had to learn Bahasa Indonesia to play 
the role.   
While waiting for  Pengabdi  Setan to premiere, the actor is not  sitting on his laurels. Next week, Bront will be 
leaving for the Philippines to shoot another chilling horror film,  Daddy’s Home. 
He plays a man who returns home after a few months working  onboard a ship. But his wife and  teenage son soon realise he is not 
the same person. The film will be directed by award-winning Malaysian filmmaker Bradley Liew, who is 
based in Manila, and produced by award-winning Philippine producer Bianca Balbuena. 
The two had previously worked together on the film, Singing in Graveyards. For Daddy’s Home, Bront has to learn Tagalog to get into the skin of his character.  Asked why he is going for roles in foreign films, Bront explains: “When I act in these 
foreign productions, nobody really knows who I am. I am almost like a newcomer and have to prove myself all over again. 
“That is a good feeling. I want to be out of my comfort zone. I want to be put in a new place where I have to struggle to play a 
role. I would rather be an anchovy in a big sea, than a big fish in a small pond.”     
As for local productions, the actor has just completed shooting Safari Mall, a comedy directed by Jordan Suleiman, about a group of people trapped in a shopping mall which is suddenly attacked by aliens.
Bront says he will be playing himself in this film. “Sometimes, as an actor, we impersonate others and mock them. Here, the 
audience will see Bront Palarae mocking Bront Palarae.”  
Next year, Bront goes behindthe camera to direct his second film, Dawn Raid: The Hands that Rattled the Queen
, based on a true story about the Guthrie Group, a British trading firm which controlled the Malaysian rubber plantations. 
In 1981, a group of Malaysian businessmen took control of the company through the stock exchange, with the aim of 
returning the plantations back to local ownership. 
“We are not doing a pure business film,” Bront explains. 
“We are approaching it like a heist film. Through this film, we want to say that it is cool to serve your nation again.”

Monday, May 29, 2017

OlaBola The Musical & Rise of the legend

This story was published in theSun on Monday May 29....theSun highlighted two productions  - one is a musical theater and the other is a biopic -  that deals with Malaysian sports and Olympics. Read  the full story here

 Headline: Firing Up The Malaysian Spirit

FOOTBALL fans the world over are looking forward to the Fifa World Cup next year. This international football tournament will be held in Russia from June 14 to July 15, 2018. 

While this sporting fever will be sweeping the world, Malaysians will be presented with two ‘hot’ local productions that deal with Malaysian sporting triumphs.
The first is a musical theatre production based on director Chiu Keng Guan’s 2016 movie, OlaBola, about the exploits of the Malaysian national football team that qualified for the 1980 Olympics. Award-winning actress producer Tiara Jacquelina will be making her directorial debut in this musical.
The second production is a biopic by director Teng Bee on local badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei, who is a triple Olympic medallist and an acknowledged world singles badminton champion. Both productions will be premiering next February. Below is a quick comparison between the two productions. 

OLABOLA THE MUSICAL 



Venue: 
The musical will be staged at the national theatre Istana Budaya from Feb 22 to March 22, 2018.  

Director: 

Tiara Jacquelina has been producing entertaining musical theatre productions such as Puteri Gunung Ledang the Musical and P. Ramlee the Musical. In OlaBola the Musical, she will be directing for the first time. 

The story: 

The musical is based on Chiu Keng Guan’s 2016 football film of the same name, which referenced the 1980 Malaysian national football team and how its multiracial players overcome their differences to qualify for the Olympics.

How the idea came about: 

Tiara loved the film and its theme of dedication, hard work, perseverance and unity. She says at that time, Malaysia did not have the tallest building like the Petronas Twin Towers, or the national car like the Proton Saga, but we were daring enough to dream about entering the Olympics. She hopes her musical will help capture that psyche.

Her challenge: 

Tiara wants the audience to forget they are watching a musical production. She wants them to exprience OlaBola the Musical experience as if they are watching an exciting football game.

Budget: 

Tiara refused to divulge the amount but hinted that the musical could be the most expensive that she has ever produced.

Additional information: 

Some of the people involved in the project include acclaimed music director Saiful Ridzuan, and awardwinning set designer Raja Malek.
Tiara intends to include rap and hip-hop tunes in the musical. Composer Mia Palencia will be composing the score, with additional music provided by rapper Altimet. Actress, director and comedian Shamaine Othman will be cowriting the script.
OlaBola the Musical will be the first show at Istana Budaya after it has completed its current renovation.
The cast of the OlaBola film have been invited to audition for the musical. The production is hoping that the success of the film, which collected more than RM16 million at the box office, as well as next year’s World Cup will attract Malaysians to watch the musical.
Chiu is happy his film is being turned into musical and is keen to watch it.
------------------------------

RISE OF THE LEGEND 


Screening: 


Opening in cinemas on Chinese New Year day, Feb 16, 2018.

Director: 

Teng Bee is known for triad film Kepong Gangster and the sequel Kepong Gangster 2. This will be his fourth film.

The story: 

This biopic of national badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei will focus on his life from the age of 10 to 17, with two child actors set to portray Lee at that age. The audience will see how Lee became a badminton champion.  

How the idea came about: 

Teng says they wanted to tell the story of how Lee who grew up in poverty could still manage to achieve his dreams despite these obstacles. The director hopes the film will inspire the youth out there that whatever challenges they might face in life, they can overcome them, just like Lee.

His challenge: 

The difficulty of finding two child actors who could play badminton as well as act. So far, over 2,000 children have audtitioned for the role, including young actors from Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.

Budget: 

RM6 million has been set aside for the film.

Additional information: 

 The production house had wanted to make the film three years ago. But it only got the green light from the badminton player late last year.
Teng had an intimate interview with Lee before writing the script. He also read the finished script to Lee in order to make sure that he got the details correct.
The film also looks at Lee’s relationship with another badminton great, Datuk Misbun Sidek, who was his mentor. The producer is hoping to sign on a well-known Malay actor to play Misbun, most likely award-winning Rosyam Nor. 

The film will also highlight Lee’s first meeting with the love of his life, fellow national badminton player and now wife Datin Wong Mew Choo. The film will feature dialogue in Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Bahasa Malaysia and English.
The filmmakers are also hoping to release the film internationally, particularly in countries were Lee is wellknown. Lee may likely make a cameo appearance in the film itself.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nurul Izzah & Wan Azizah ( Mother's Day)


For mother's day I interviewed Nurul Izzah who talks about her mother Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. The story was uploaded in theSun website. Below is the full story  


Headline: Wan Azizah - A Pillar of Strength 
By Bissme S


DATUK Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, 65, is the president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Selangor state legislative assembly member for Kajang.But there is a side of Wan Azizah that has not been explored. She is also a mother to six children, and a grandmother to nine grandchildren.
To celebrate Mother's day which falls May 14, we examine Dr Wan Azizah as a mother and a grandmother through the eyes of her eldest daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar.
“My mother had faced so many trail and tribulations in her life,” says Nurul, who is a member of Parliment for Lembah Pantai.
“But my mother is a spiritual person. She relies on God for strength and support."
Born on Dec 3, 1952, in Singapore, Wan Azizah received her early education in Alor Setar and Seremban. Then, Wan Azizah studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, where she was awarded a gold medal in obstetrics and gynaecology, and later graduated as a qualified ophthalmologist.
Nurul remembers in the early years when she was a student, and her mother was busy working in the government hospital, her mother would sit with Nurul and helped Nurul to complete her home work.
“My mother always made time for me and my home work, no matter how busy she was,” says Nurul.
Wan Azizah never expected to be a politician, but fate had something different in store for her.Nurul honestly admitted that when she was younger, she was resentful that her mother was spending so much time in politics.
“I missed having my mum on my side,” says the 36-year old Nurul.
"But as I got older, I understand her motivation and her sacrifice better. She wants a better future for her children, her grandchildren, and for every young Malaysian out there. You can only achieve this dream if you are busy eradicating the society ills. She is very focus of her responsibility and her role .”
Politics keeps Wan Azizah busy but she never neglects her family.
“Her parents are still alive, and she is a doting daughter,” says Nurul.
“She always there when her parents need her. [The same] goes with her children. ”
Once a week, Wan Azizah makes a point to have all her children and her grandchildren under one roof, and to have a good family bonding session. They talk about everything under the sun, as well as enjoy delicious food.
“My mother bakes well, and loves baking bread,” Nurul says.
“She has a great sense of humour and she always makes us laugh. She could have her own stand up comedy show. ”
Nurul reveals that her mother is very good at winning the hearts of her grandchildren when they are at their worst behaviour.
"She [manages] to persuade her grandchildren to end their tantrums, and she uses a lot of psychology to achieve this goal," Nurul says.
When asked how Nurul and her siblings will celebrate Mother's Day, Nurul says: "My mother is a homebody. She prefers to stay at home. It is very rare for you to get her out for a dinner. We can’t even get something expensive for her. She loves to embrace the simple things in life.”
Nurul also believes that one should not treat their mother well just on Mother's Day, and "be ungrateful" to them for the other 364 days.
“In fact every day is supposed to Mother's Day,” says Nurul.
“One should always appreciate one's mother. There is a Malay saying that 'syurga itu di bawah telapak kaki ibu' (Paradise is under your mother’s feet)."
Nurul herself is a mother of two - Safiyah, 10 and Raja Harith, eight - and being a mother has made her appreciate her own mum more.
“When you hold a life in your hand for the first time, you will realise all the sacrifices your mother goes through,” she says.
When asked what kind lessons she wants to impart to her children, she says: “I want them to be exposed to different culture and respect them. I want them to understand the world is not made for one race.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Joe Hasham & Betrayal

 Today theSun published my interview director Joe  Hasham and actress Stephanie van Driesen on working Harold Pinter famous work Betrayal

Headline: An Act of Betrayal
By Bissme S

THE CHEMISTRY among actors Razif Hashim, Stephanie van Driesen and Omar Ali is amazing to watch. You can feel the tension in the air. 
Even their director, Joe Hasham, looks satisfied with what his actors have created on stage at the rehearsal for Betrayal. The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat’s latest production will open at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) this Friday and runs till June 4. 
Written by Nobel Prizewinning British playwright Harold Pinter in 1978, Betrayal centres around three characters – a publisher named Robert, his wife Emma, and Robert’s best friend Jerry, who’s also a literary agent and art gallery owner. 
For seven years, Jerry and Emma have been having an affair behind Robert’s back. But secrets do not remain hidden forever, and Robert soon learns about the affair. 
What is interesting about this play is that it is not told in chronological order, and the audience learns the history of the affair in bits and pieces. Creatively, the first scene of the play begins with Jerry learning that Emma has confessed their affair to Robert, and an angry Jerry feels awkward and frightened to face Robert. The last scene in the play is when the affair first blossomed between Jerry and Emma. 
 The play was a huge success when it was first staged in 1978, and the following year, it received the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for best new play from The Society of London Theatre. “Everyone in this play is betraying someone,” says Joe. 
 “In some ways, they are even betraying themselves. They lie to themselves.” 
He adds that the idea of betrayal is still relevant in our society today. When asked if he himself had ever experienced a romantic betrayal, Joe says: “I have been lucky in that sense. But of course, you can never escape from people betraying you. The way I handle betrayal is that I’ll forgive, but I will never forget.”  
Joe is also breaking new ground with this production, by presenting it in two languages. There will be five performances in Bahasa Malaysia, and seven in English. 
When asked why he is presenting the play in two languages, Joe laughs before replying: “It is a stroke of madness on my part. We believe the Malay-speaking audience deserve a play like Betrayal.”
In this particular production, Omar is playing Robert, while van Dreisen plays his wife Emma, and Razif is Jerry. Both language versions will be performed by the same cast. Omar had also taken on the task of translating Pinter’s work into Bahasa Malaysia. 

Joe adds that it has never been done before, where the same cast perform the same play in two different languages. He admits this method of presenting a play would not be easy, and the rehearsal process had been tough for the cast.   
“I always choose projects that are good for my actors and myself,” he says. 
“If my actors and I cannot be challenged, there is no point to do the play.”  
Joe advises audiences to catch the play in both languages as they will probably find a noticeably different nuance in each production. Van Driesen readily admits that Bahasa Malaysia is not her first language. 
“I speak Malay like an orang putih,” jokes the Dutch-Eurasian actress who has won best performance in a supporting role in a musical theatre at the 9th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards in  2012 for her role as Betty in The Secret Life of Nora.  
Van Driesen has been working hard on her accent, adding that according to her cast members and director, she has come a long way. 
Speaking of her character, she says: “Emma struggles with what she wants. She obviously is not in control of her destiny.”  
Van Driesen finds Robert to be a man with a lot of insecurities, but he knows how to manipulate his wife and floors her completely, while Jerry is a romantic poet who knows how to make Emma feel attractive. 
“She tries to have the best of both worlds, but it never works when you try to do that,” says van Driesen. 
“She lets her heart [lead] her, and it cuts her instead. There is a part of me that wishes Emma would make a choice between the two men. She needs to be honest with what she wants.”  
---------
Footnote: Betrayal will be staged in English on May 19, 24, 26, 28 and 31, as well as on June 2 and 4, while the Bahasa Malaysia version is on May 20, 25, 27, as well as June 1 and 3. For more, visit klpac’s website 
--------

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Datuk Lee Chong Wei


I spoke to film’s producer Josiah Chieng and director Teng Bee who is keen making biopic movie on our famous national badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei 

Headline: Legend In Reel Life 
By Bissme S

NATIONAL badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei has made Malaysia proud with his achievements on the international badminton courts. 
He is currently ranked No.1 in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ranking for men’s singles, has won the silver medal for three consecutive Olympic Games for the sport and also captured the All England title for the fourth time this year. 
The story of his meteoric rise from bench warmer to world’s top badminton men’s singles player will be soon be depicted in the two-hour film, Rise of the Legend, produced by CB Pictures in association with Mahu Pictures. 
Shooting of this RM6 million biopic will likely take place in July with a release date tentatively set for 2018. In an interview with the film’s producer Josiah Chieng and director Teng Bee at a recent event to announce the sponsorship of Hwa Tai Industries Bhd for the movie, Chieng says: “I have produced 17 films and I’m proud with some of the works that I had done. But I’m eager to produce a film that will truly represent Malaysia.” 
Chieng adds that Lee’s life is the perfect subject to feature because every Malaysian can relate to his success. The film will focus on the early years of the badminton player’s life, from age 10 when he first learnt to pick up the game from his father to when he was drafted into the national squad at age 17. 
“We want the audience to see how Lee first started out pursuing his passion and dream to be a badminton champion,” says Chieng. “Lee did not have a rosy childhood. He grew up in poverty. Yet he managed to achieve his dream despite the obstacles he faced. 
“We want to tell people, especially the youth out there that whatever challenges you face in life, you must overcome them, just like Lee Chong Wei. 
“We want this film to be educational and motivational, and to inspire everyone to reach for [his/her] dreams.” 
The production house is currently carrying out auditions to find two children to portray a young Lee, first from ages 10 to 13, and then from ages 13 to 17. More than 2,000 candidates turned up for the audition, including some from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China. 
At the time of writing, the production house has yet to finalise the lead actors. Director Teng explains: “Some can act well and others can play badminton well,” but adds they are looking for two who can do both well. 
Teng, whose most recent acclaim is the triad film Kepong Gangster, says once he finds the right candidates, he will put them through an intensive acting workshop before they face the cameras, to help them give a more convincing performance. 
Rise of the Legend is Teng’s fourth feature film. He adds that Chieng and he had wanted to make the film three years ago. 
“We wanted to work closely with Lee on the film,” he says. 
“But Lee was not free [then]. He was concentrating on the Olympic Games at the time.” 
It was only late last year that they finally got the green light from Lee to go ahead with the project. The director had an intimate interview with Lee before writing the script. Once the script was ready, he read it to Lee. 
“The last thing I want is to present an inaccurate film about the badminton legend,” Teng says, adding that they are still fine-tuning the script. 
The film will highlight Lee’s relationship with his former coach, Misbun Sidek, who first discovered him. The production team is currently in talks with a well known local actor to play Misbun who was himself one of Malaysia’s greatest badminton players. 
Rise of the Legend will also touch upon how Lee met national women’s singles player Wong Mew Choo, who later became his wife, and with whom he now has two children. 
There are plans to shoot the film at Lee’s hometown in Bagan Serai, Perak, to add authenticity to the film. The film will be mainly in Mandarin with some Hokkien (Lee’s native dialect), Cantonese, Bahasa Malaysia and English thrown in as well. 
If everything goes according to plans, Rise of the Legend will be screening in cinemas sometime during the next Chinese New Year. There are also plans to bring the film to international markets seeing that badminton fans around the world already know of Lee.


the director
the producer