Monday, August 27, 2012
It ain't you, Kit
Since we last wrote of Kit Siang's glaring insecurity on the release of Tanda Putera on August 17th, Lim Kit Siang has gone from delivering an UMNO-like cliche preaching unity to threatening boycott like the goon that urinated at the flagpole in front of the Menteri Besar's house.
He must be deluded and full of himself to actually think the film is about him, specifically attacking him and his political party, DAP. No Kit, Tanda Putera is a moviemaker interpretation of history based on the sacrifice and exemplary leadership of two great men that gave their all for the country.
Definitely can't be you, unker.
When Film Director, Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba clarified the film did not mention or accused him in the film, Kit Siang used his blog to deny the filmaker's ability to do research and later picked on some comments in Tanda Putera's facebook with a threatened lawsuit.
Maybe it came from a renewed confidence that he managed to find a good lie for his whereabout on May 11, 12 and 13. Hoping it will stand-up against some eye witness (read commentator Ayah on Bigdotcom here), and police records and documents.
He has got others to help spin out the urinating scene; doubt creating by Aliran's Ramakrishnan and deviation by Ahmad Mustapha. Malaysia Insider to argue in favour of Kit Siang's infringement of freedom of expression by taking a shot at Finas's stupidity.
But, why did it took him almost a year to answer YB Dato Zulkifli Nordin's remark in Parliamant? Does it took him a year to put a "story" together? The urinating scene is mentioned in couple of foreign authored books. Go dig up!
Of late, Kit Siang has utilised his trademark pre-emptive psywar to anticipate another orchestrated May 13 and accusation of creating illusion.
Our friend, Aspan Alias contributed to help his party's leadership but the Tengku Razaleigh man's reverse accusation psywar is only typical of his simplistic monologue of dillusionary inside stories, conspiracies and rhetorics. It could only work with some naive kampung folks and kampung-minded city dwellers.
How effective will Kit Siang to call for a boycott when his own supporters are not patrons of local movie [read nkkhoo.com here]?
All is not loss because Michael Cheang wrote the following review in The Star's Sunday paper dated August 26th 2012 issue:
‘The incurable heroes’
By MICHAEL CHEANG
The movie won’t open until November, yet it’s already courting controversy and sparking cyber battles over its merits and ‘agenda’. But what exactly is Tanda Putera about?
DATIN Paduka Shuhaimi Baba’s Tanda Putera has its fair share of critics, and that’s even before the movie has opened. But let us put all that aside and focus on the movie – which, by the way, very few people have actually seen in its entirety. Despite all the controversy it has stirred up, one important fact most people are overlooking about Tanda Putera is that it is a movie about a subject that has been largely ignored by local filmmakers. It is a movie that tells a story that needs to be told.
The racial riots of May 13, 1969, have long been something that’s swept under the carpet or just mentioned in passing at best. Whether or not Tanda Putera depicts the events of that day accurately is a question that will be up for debate after the movie actually opens on Nov 15; however, it already deserves credit for at least attempting to address this taboo subject that is so momentous that it completely changed Malaysia as a nation, for better or for worse.
Malaysians have been asking for ‘complete freedom’, so we should be mature enough to examine our own history, reckons Shuhaimi Baba.
And yet, believe it or not, May 13 is only the preamble, the background to Tanda Putera! For it is not what transpires during that infamous day that is the narrative of Shuhaimi’s movie, it is what happened after that day.
At the heart of Tanda Putera is the story of two men – friends, colleagues, legendary leaders – who held together a nation after its day of infamy, and put their lives on the line, literally, to do so. It is the story of then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and his good friend and then Home Affairs Minister, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman (played by Rusdi Ramli and Zizan Nin respectively).
“Essentially, the movie is about the secret they shared, and how they gave up their lives literally to save the country after the trauma of May 13,” Shuhaimi says during a recent interview at her production company, Pesona Pictures, in Kuala Lumpur. “They were both facing critical illnesses at that time, and that is a secret they shared with one another but not anyone else.”
She initially wanted to call the movie The Incurable Heroes, but then could not find a proper Bahasa Malaysia translation for that.
“It was quite intriguing in a way, because Malaysia was facing a situation where the PM and his deputy were both dealing with critical illnesses. It was also a critical period, because it was a time when the country needed to be stable. Can you imagine being there at the time and knowing that your No.1 and No.2 leaders were going to die?” she muses.
The director, whose previous films include award-winning blockbusters like Layar Lara and Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam, came across this little-known aspect of these two men while researching the 2007 historical film 1957: Hati Malaya.
“The research we did (for Hati Malaya) was very wide and also covered Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, which was how we found out about their story. However, we decided not to use it in Hati Malaya,” she recalls.
“What I initially wanted to do was to do a documentary drama on the two of them, but some of our friends read the script and suggested we make a movie instead.”
Finding the right actors to play the two icons was not an easy process.
“First of all, we needed actors who could spend a few months with us to build the character. We needed actors who could speak English because there was some English dialogue, and we also had to be able to digitally age them to see if they would look the part,” Shuhaimi explains, adding that Rusdi and Zizan both fitted those criteria.
Still, these being real-life historical figures, more research had to be done to try and get the most accurate portrayal of the two characters possible.
“Most of their children were still young at the time, and they all said the secretaries would know the fathers better than them,” Shuhaimi says.
The more she found out about the two characters, the more fascinating she found them – especially how, despite being very different personality-wise, they somehow still managed to make such a great team.
“Tun Razak was a quiet man and wasn’t the type to lose his temper. He had a kind of calmness that was infectious, and people tended to be calmer around him.
“However, all his former staff said that you would know when he was angry because he would just look at you in a certain way!” she says.
“Tun Ismail on the other hand, didn’t suffer fools easily. If you were late (for an appointment), he would walk out as you entered his office. They had contrasting personalities but they made a good team.”
One secretary spoke at length about how there would be traces of blood on Tun Razak’s clothes but he would just say he fell or knocked into something. “That was why no one ever knew he was ill,” says Shuhaimi.
They also found out about a book that Tun Razak used to carry around called the Pathology Of Leadership, and managed to track down a copy after much difficulty. It was written in 1969 by Hugh L’Etang, a British physician who examined the effect illness had on world leaders.
“We read it and realised that it was a book about leaders of several countries facing critical illnesses and what they did. He was reading that to find out what to do!” says Shuhaimi, still sounding amazed.
Surprisingly, 60% of Tanda Putera actually includes some form of computer-generated imagery. Don’t worry, there are no giant robots or alien spaceships in the movie – most of the CGI was used for much more mundane purposes.
“Most of it was used to take out modern structures, and remove tons and tons of air-con compressors, aerials, and Astro satellites from the buildings!” Shuhaimi says with a laugh. “It’s all the CGI work that no one notices! It was interesting to see how it came together, but it was hard work!”
Now for the million dollar question: does she think Malaysians are actually mature enough to handle a subject as sensitive as May 13?
“I would like to think that we are. After all, we’ve been so vocal lately about wanting complete freedom, freedom of expression and to express our mind,” she says, adding that a mature society should be able to accept its own history.
“Look at Hollywood, they have done films about the American Civil War, slavery, and even twisted the assassination of JFK; but they didn’t go to battle after that! That’s what a mature society is supposed to be like.”
While doing the research on May 13, she and her team found that it was not as straightforward as some people think it was.
“It was a very complex psychological situation. It wasn’t just a straight case of one race versus the other – there were a lot of other factors festering underneath. The bad economy, the communist situation, and the confrontation with Indonesia ... all these underlying frustrations and emotions built up to May 13,” she explains, adding that they tried their best to look at the issues objectively and be fair to all sides.
“We wanted to portray something that people could watch and not be shocked by, and be able to accept. But we didn’t want to cop out and not show what really happened either. Why did people get angry? There had to be something that sparked it. That’s what I wanted to do, and I think we did that.”
She emphasises that only about 10%-15% of the finished film includes scenes depicting the riots on May 13, and after that it’s all about Tun Razak and Tun Ismail.
“Yes, the opening is hot, but I believe we’ve balanced out the ‘hotness’. It was something that needed to be shown, or else it would be hard to understand the trauma the country went through back then,” she says.
In the end, Shuhaimi’s ultimate goal is to show how these two leaders, these “Incurable Heroes”, managed to pull up the nation from the low point of May 13, 1969. “The two characters are so good that they will make you forget May 13. And that was exactly what Tun Razak and Tun Ismail did for Malaysia back then.”
While she laments the timing of the movie’s release in the “crazy” (probable) election season, she maintains that it was unavoidable. “We started researching the movie in 2010, and then took time to look for funding and pitch for a grant. It took us about a year to raise the funds and do pre-production,” she recalls.
“By the time we finished the shooting it was already late 2011, and I only finished (editing) the film in 2012. Everything just happened to fall into place in this year, and unfortunately, we landed in the crazy season!”
● Tanda Putera opens on Nov 15 in cinemas nationwide.
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