What Next, Malaysian Cinema?

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This is a sequel to my other blog post, What Next, After Polis Evo?, written back in November. In it, I threw the challenge to Astro Shaw, since the ball was in their court, to make a film that would appeal to all Malaysians. They have the resources, they have the track record, better than anybody else.

Well, yesterday the new Astro Shaw movie, OlaBola, opened nationwide. Let it be known that I’ve been involved, albeit in a small way, in the final lead-up to the release of the movie. But back then, when I wrote that post, I had no idea what OlaBola was about. I only knew it was a football movie.

But now, I know that the movie has a much bigger goal in mind – to be a truly Malaysian movie that appeals to all.

Now, it’s ethically inappropriate for me to opine on this blog about a film I’ve helped in one way or another. As such, there will be no review of OlaBola here. I’ll just state all the obvious facts instead.

It’s a football movie, yes. It’s a fictionalised account of the Malaysian national football team’s struggle to qualify for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It’s also an attempt to portray how a unified Malaysia can achieve great things. Therefore, it’s the right film for these times.

God knows this nation has gone through a lot in the last few years – missing planes, natural disasters, border invasions, terrorist kidnappings, political turmoil and scandals. I think this country has not felt more scattered and divided than now. Films and art in general are always a reflection of the times, holding up a mirror to current issues colouring the contemporary climate. Whatever we are feeling collectively comes through in the artist’s work and the kind of products the artistic mind creates are always shaped by the times.

It’s no surprise that OlaBola came along at the right moment. But in retrospect, there was already another film that cried out for unity – the comedy Rembat, surprisingly also a film that involves football.

While Rembat is a film with an aching longing in its heart for better times that hark back to the good, old days, OlaBola is a movie designed to remind us of the good, old days in the hope that it would inspire in us that same yearning in Rembat.

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Back to Yasmin

At this point in time, I can’t help but trace it all back to Yasmin Ahmad. Sepet, though just a modest success, has somewhat of a cult status now, always spoken of in reverence, always remembered as the film that broke social and cultural barriers. Sepet was a small production, with a small budget, and without the pressures and shackles of commercial expectations. It could be daring in ways that other commercial productions could only dream of.

Yasmin came to prominence in Malaysian cinema at a time when the multiracial independent cinema scene, the so-called Malaysian New Wave, was flourishing. Part of the New Wave’s success was also due to her support and encouragement (few know that she invested, or more accurately, donated, money to quite a few indie filmmakers to help them make their films). This was a time not unlike the Golden Era of Malaysian football depicted in OlaBola; in this case, it was the Golden Era of Malaysian independent filmmaking where a group of indies of different cultural backgrounds collectively brought a lot of international attention to Malaysian cinema, an effect that has lasted till this day. Film festival programmers still come to Malaysia hunting for films.

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But the thing is, the indies still made films that were largely in their mother tongues, even though on a macro level, their films showed a truer picture of Malaysia, with multiracial casts and scenes depicting the multicultural make-up of the country.

But Yasmin was doing something else. She was always challenging the status quo, rocking the proverbial boat to see who would stay on board and who would fall overboard. And her films have a strange temporal placement; they’re contemporary, set in the then-present time, yet they feel like films from an era long past.

Sadly, after her sudden passing, there was no real follow-through on her ideas of a multicultural Malaysian cinema. Even the indies scattered and went their own ways.

Change is coming?

Today, however, it’s a different matter. As of late, especially in the last two years or so, we have seen a gradual change in moviegoers’ tastes and predilections. I believe with the increasing Internet penetration, Malaysians are more exposed to different kinds of cinema. The pervasiveness of illegal downloads aside, even the more legal avenues such as YouTube and Muvi (and now iFlix and Netflix) have provided Malaysians with a broader spread from which to select.

Fast-forward to this year, and in the last few months alone, we’ve seen Rembat, a good but ultimately failed attempt to draw audiences of various cultural backgrounds with two lead actors of different races getting top billing, a somewhat slight return to Sepet. And now with Olabola, we have Ali, Muthu and Ah Keong sharing top billing.

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Let’s not forget, we also had Jagat, the Tamil-language social drama that is surprisingly into the 7th week of its limited release, surpassing all expectations. It was reported to have attracted audiences of all races. A Tamil-language local film playing to multiracial audiences is totally unheard of in this country. But there it is.

There is high expectation for OlaBola to do well, after the record-breaking feats of The Journey (2014) and Polis Evo (2015), both produced by Astro Shaw. It certainly would be a nice hattrick. By the looks of it, with OlaBola director Chiu Keng Guan’s fanbase and the film’s high pre-release visibility, the film will do brisk business at the box-office. It’s just a matter of whether it will surpass Polis Evo‘s RM17.47 mil.

Whatever it is, we can probably expect copycat inspirational sports movies in the future. Maybe someone might decide to make a movie about the heart-stopping 1992 Thomas Cup victory when Malaysia beat Indonesia 3-2.

But we hope that if someone does decide to copy, may they copy the multiracial aspect of it, too. That’s what really matters.

Remember the Titans

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. If you noticed, the subhead above refers to another inspirational sports movie “based on true events,” about an American football team in 1971 that attempts racial integration but faces all kinds of odds before achieving victory.

OlaBola is powered by nostalgia, while Rembat has nostalgia as a by-product. Yasmin’s films are coated with nostalgia. The Brazilians have a word, saudade, which cannot be translated in English. The words closest to its meaning are “longing” or “yearning.”

According to Wikipedia:

Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.

I think this beautiful Portuguese word captures the essence of what OlaBola and Rembat are really about, the emptiness/sadness we feel now intensified by those films yet soothed by the nostalgia they inspire at the same time. It’s not so much the sport of football that unites us, but the saudade evoked in those films.

Can movies bring social change? We don’t know. But do recall that sometimes, things do happen, like with the Dardenne brothers’s Rosetta (1999), which was so powerful a film that it inspired changes and reforms to youth labour laws in Belgium. Movies can remind us.

Can films bring back a time when people were more united and shared common goals? Can they at least inspire us to work towards that?

We hope at least they might inspire a new era in Malaysian cinema, one where Chin Chye and Malik and Ali and Muthu and Ah Keong will not be strangers to those not within their own social circles or communities, one where people love a good film not because of language but because it is a true reflection of who we collectively are, one which truly lives up to its name, “Malaysian cinema.”

Hopefully, it’s closer than we think.

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Ini sekuel kepada blogpost saya, What Next, After Polis Evo?, yang ditulis November lalu. Dalam posting tersebut, saya mencadangkan supaya Astro Shaw menghasilkan sebuah filem yang boleh menarik minat rakyat Malaysia pelbagai kaum kerana keupayaan Astro Shaw tidak lagi boleh dipersoal.

Semalam filem terbaru Astro Shaw, OlaBola, mula ditayang di seluruh negara. Saya terlibat secara kecil-kecilan dalam filem tersebut. Sebelum penglibatan saya itu, saya tidak tahu banyak tentang OlaBola. Yang saya tahu, ia sebuah filem bola sepak.

Baru sekarang saya tahu yang filem ini mempunyai matlamat besar – untuk menjadi sebuah filem Malaysia yang mampu menarik perhatian seluruh masyarakat Malaysia.

Secara etika, tidak sesuai bagi saya mengutarakan pendapat tentang sebuah filem yang saya terlibat dalam promosinya. Maka, ini bukan ulasan mengenai OlaBola. Saya cuma menyatakan fakta-fakta yang memang sudah diketahui.

Ya, ia sebuah filem bola sepak. Ia sebuah fiksyen tentang perjuangan pasukan bola sepak negara untuk layak ke Sukan Olimpik Moscow 1980. Ia juga cuba menggambarkan bagaimana sebuah negara yang bersatu mampu mencapai kejayaan yang luar biasa. Ia sebuah filem yang amat sesuai untuk masa kini.

Kebelakangan ini, negara kita dirundung segala macam cabaran – kehilangan kapal terbang, bencana alam, pencerobohan sempadan, penculikan oleh pengganas, skandal politik. Pada pendapat saya, negara kita tidak pernah mengalami perpecahan seteruk masa kini. Filem dan seni sering kali mencerminkan keadaan masyarakat dan isu-isu semasa. Segala yang kita tempuhi sebagai sebuah bangsa akan terserlah melalui karya dan hasil kerja penggiat seni yang dibentuk oleh keadaan pada waktu itu.

Kemunculan OlaBola ini tepat pada masanya. Tetapi sebelum ini sudah ada filem bertema keharmonian iaitu filem komedi Rembat yang kebetulan juga mengenai bola sepak.

Bezanya, Rembat adalah filem yang mengimbau kenangan manis dahulu kala, manakala OlaBola bukan sekadar mengingatkan kita kepada masa lalu, malah cuba menjadi inspirasi supaya kemanisan zaman lampau boleh dikecap semula.

Kembali ke zaman Yasmin

Semua ini bermula dengan arwah Yasmin Ahmad. Filem Sepet, walaupun hanya meraih kejayaan kecil, adalah filem yang disanjung tinggi dan dikenang sebagai filem pertama menentang arus sosial dan budaya. Oleh kerana ia sebuah produksi kecil dengan bajet yang sederhana, ia tidak dikongkong oleh matlamat komersil. Yasmin bebas mencuba banyak perkara yang dianggap terlalu berani bagi filem komersil.

Yasmin mula menonjol tatkala bidang perfileman bebas (independent) di Malaysia, dikenali sebagai Malaysian New Wave, sedang berkembang dan merangkul kejayaan di persada dunia. Kejayaan golongan New Wave ini ada kaitan dengan Yasmin yang banyak memberi galakan dan sokongan kepada para penggiat, termasuk sokongan kewangan. Zaman itu mirip era kegemilangan bola sepak negara yang dipaparkan dalam OlaBola. Lebih tepat lagi, ia era kegemilangan bidang perfileman bebas Malaysia, di mana sekumpulan penggiat “indie” pelbagai kaum bersatu dan berjaya menarik perhatian dunia kepada sinema Malaysia hingga ke hari ini.

Cuma, ramai golongan penggiat “indie” ini hanya menghasilkan filem dalam bahasa ibunda mereka, walaupun benar filem-filem mereka memberi gambaran sebenar masyarakat dan keadaan di Malaysia, dengan pelakon-pelakon pelbagai kaum dan adegan yang memaparkan pelbagai budaya.

Yasmin pula lain kerjanya. Beliau sering mencabar “status quo” dan pemikiran, seolah-olah untuk melihat siapa yang sanggup menyahut cabaran beliau. Filem-filemnya juga tidak mengikut gaya kontemporari secara keseluruhan, lebih mirip filem lama dari era yang sudah berlalu.

Malangnya, setelah pemergian Yasmin, tidak ada pembikin filem lain yang memastikan kesinambungan idea sinema Malaysia pelbagai budaya yang diterajui oleh beliau.

Perubahan bakal tiba?

Keadaan kini sudah berubah. Dalam setahun dua kebelakangan ini, kita dapat melihat perubahan dalam cita rasa para peminat filem di negara ini. Dengan meningkatnya penggunaan Internet, lebih ramai orang kita mendapat pendedahan kepada pelbagai filem dan jalan cerita. Selain daripada muat turun secara haram, YouTube, iFlix dan Netflix juga menghidangkan banyak pilihan kepada penonton.

Dalam tempoh hanya beberapa bulan yang lepas, kita mendapat Rembat, filem yang bagus tetapi gagal dalam cubaannya untuk menarik minat penonton pelbagai kaum, walaupun memberi “top billing” kepada dua pelakon berlainan bangsa seperti dalam filem Sepet. Dan sekarang menerusi OlaBola, Ali, Muthu dan Ah Keong pula berkongsi “top billing.”

Juga tidak lupa filem Jagat dalam bahasa Tamil, sebuah drama sosial yang kini dalam minggu ketujuh penayangannya di pawagam, jauh lebih baik daripada apa yang diharapkan. Mengikut laporan, Jagat berjaya menarik minat penonton dari semua golongan, tidak kira bangsa. Ini kali pertama sebuah filem Tamil tempatan menempa kejayaan sebegini.

Harapan menggunung kini disandarkan kepada OlaBola untuk meraih kejayaan besar selepas The Journey (2014) dan Polis Evo (2015), dua buah produksi Astro Shaw yang memecah rekod box-office. Jika menepati ramalan, ia akan menjadi satu hattrick yang memberangsangkan. Dengan sokongan peminat pengarah Chiu Keng Guan dan promosi yang kuat, OlaBola pasti meraih keuntungan besar. Soalnya, mampukah ia mengatasi rekod Polis Evo sebanyak RM17.74 juta?

Apa pun, selepas ini kemungkinan besar akan menyusul filem-filem sukan persis OlaBola. Pasti ada pihak yang sudah berkira-kira untuk menghasilkan filem mengenai kemenangan Malaysia di Piala Thomas 1992 mengatasi Indonesia 3-2 dalam perlawanan mendebarkan.

Harapan kita semoga pembikinan ini turut meniru aspek kepelbagaian kaum filem OlaBola. Itu yang paling penting.

Remember the Titans

Nostalgia mampu mempengaruhi hati manusia. Remember The Titans merupakan tajuk sebuah filem sukan Hollywood. Seperti OlaBola, ia juga mengambil kisah benar sebagai sumber ilham. Filem ini mengisahkan satu pasukan American football tahun 1971 terdiri daripada pelbagai kaum yang terpaksa mengharungi pelbagai cabaran sebelum mengecap kejayaan.

OlaBola menggunakan nostalgia sebagai sumber tenaga, manakala dalam Rembat, nostalgia merupakan hasil sampingan. Filem-filem Yasmin pula penuh dengan nostalgia. Orang Brazil sering menggunakan perkataan saudade yang tiada terjemahan tepat dalam bahasa lain. Perkataan Bahasa Malaysia yang paling hampir dengan saudade ialah “rindu.”

Menurut Wikipedia:

Saudade adalah mengingati perasaan, pengalaman, tempat atau kejadian yang pernah membawa kegembiraan, keseronokan, kesejahteraan, yang merangsang deria dan membuatkan seseorang hidup. Ia mungkin berbentuk kekosongan, seperti apabila seseorang (anak, ibubapa, datuk nenek, sahabat, haiwan kesayangan) atau sesuatu (tempat, permainan semasa kecil, atau apa-apa aktiviti masa silam) yang sepatutnya ada pada sesuatu masa itu telah tiada, dan ketiadaan ini dirasai. Ia mencetus rasa sedih dan gembira sekaligus, sedih akibat ketiadaan dan gembira akibat pernah mengalami peristiwa tersebut.

Bagi saya, perkataan bahasa Portugis yang indah ini sedikit sebanyak merakam inti pati OlaBola dan Rembat. Perasaan kekosongan/kesedihan yang dicetus oleh kedua-dua filem ini juga membawa ketenangan yang dihasilkan oleh nostalgia. Sebenarnya, bukan bola sepak yang menyatukan kita semua tetapi perasaan saudade dalam filem-filem ini.

Bolehkah filem membawa perubahan sosial? Mungkin, mungkin tidak. Tetapi adakalanya kebaikan boleh berlaku, seperti filem Rosetta (1999) arahan Dardenne brothers yang begitu kuat kesannya sehingga membawa kepada perubahan undang-undang buruh belia di Belgium. Filem boleh dijadikan peringatan tentang realiti dunia nyata.

Bolehkah filem mengembalikan keharmonian dan perpaduan masa silam untuk merangkul kejayaan atau sekurang-kurangnya memberi ilham kepada kita untuk mencuba?

Mungkin filem boleh mengilhamkan satu era baru sinema Malaysia, di mana Chin Chye, Malik, Ali, Muthu dan Ah Keong tidak lagi merasa asing di luar komuniti mereka, dan minat kepada filem bukan lagi atas dasar bahasa tetapi kerana filem itu adalah gambaran tepat masyarakat majmuk kita. Filem yang benar-benar mewakili “sinema Malaysia”.

Semoga menjadi realiti tidak lama lagi.

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