Friday, 26 September 2008

Of Raya memory and Malay movies
by Norman Yusoff

When I was young, Hari Raya was a time for merriment all around. For most children, this could be due to, among others, baju raya and duit raya. But in my case, it was different. Being a precocious cinema enthusiast, I was excited because my parents would take my siblings and I to the cinema to catch the latest Malay movies.

The memories of going to the movies and watching Malay movies during Raya season in the early 1980s are still vivid in my mind.

From Sungai Petani, Kedah we'd head to Penang on the fifth or sixth day of Raya for Raya outing. We'd try the scrumptious nasi beriani at Hamiediaah restaurant located along Penang Road; we'd also visit the historical Penang Hill; best of all, we'd go to the movies to catch the latest Malay movie.

The only TV channel playing Malay movies those days was RTM1 (as there were two channels only). During Raya season, RTM1 would screen a handful of Malay movies; this entailed the black-and-white classics, Malay movies of the late 70s and early 80s (such as Permintaan Terakhir and Sumber Ilhamku). It normally screened Indonesian films, too, especially those featuring Yati Octavia, Lenny Marlina and Rima Melati, among others.

Watching Malay movies in Penang during Hari Raya means that we preceded others in the vicinity. All those Malay movies playing in Penang during Hari Raya Puasa would only reach us in our humdrum little hometown Sungai Petani during Hari Raya Haji. I'd blab it out to my neighbours and schoolmates that we'd have watched this and that.

My earliest memory of watching a Malay movie at the cinema during Raya season was when the whole family went to see Dia Ibuku, an award-winning tearjerker at the Odeon, Penang. My mother insisted the whole family to watch the film because it featured her favourite actress, Sarimah. Among other things that struck me: Sarimah as the middle-aged protagonist was a knockout, particularly in her alluring figure-hugging kebaya, thereby exuding some "to-be-looked-at-ness" qualities; the (in)famous word frequently uttered by the antagonist (played by Zainuddin Zimbo) - pelacur!

The following year of Raya we had another excursion to Penang. Alas, another sappy melodrama featuring Sarimah, Kabus Tengahari was playing at the Odeon. As usual, my mother preferred to watch the film. Another Malay movie playing simultaneously was Bertunang, a low-brow comedy-of-error directed by M.Amin, starring A.R.Badul and Maria Arshad. Since comedy was anathema to my father, we managed to avoid Bertunang. I then found out (from the newspaper ad) that there was an Indonesian horror called Dukun Lintah playing at the Capitol. My father assented to my suggestion that we watch Dukun Lintah, a gruesome horror starring Susana Cecilia and Hendra Cipta. I whooped for joy as I was a big fan of horror flicks.

The next Raya we went to Penang again. This time there were two Malay movies playing: one was Manis-Manis Sayang playing at the Dalit, Komtar and another was Dendam Dari Pusara playing at the Capitol.

Manis-Manis Sayang was another zany comedy directed by M.Amin featuring A.R.Badul and Maria Arshad. I was intrigued by Dendam Dari Pusara (directed by Ahmad Mahmud) because the title sounded "horror" enough; furthermore, the poster also seemed to imply that the film was a horror. I insisted my parents to watch Dendam Dari Pusara and we ended up watching it.

We were disappointed after watching Dendam Dari Pusara, as the film had nothing to do with "horror" (in the sense of Hollywood or Indonesian horror. Thinking back, I don't think the director meant to shift the horror paradigm by violating some generic codes). Actually, the film revolved around a middle-aged man (played by Ahmad Mahmud), an ex-prisoner who had been ostracised by the villagers due to his dreaded past. The villagers also accused him of impregnating his coquettish stepdaughter (played by Rashidah Jaafar) who, earlier in the story, experienced a kind of "sexual awakening."

The most salient thing that I remember is that, the story had a bunch of kampong folks who were Peeping Tom; they'd peep the kemban-clad kampong ladies while they were bathing, as well as newly-wed couples making love. Many POV shots were deployed, imbuing the film with a sense of voyeurism (just imagine what damage the film had done to my innocent young mind!).

There was a time when Raya was more exciting due to three Malay movies being screened simultaneously: they were Jasmin, May 13 and Talak. We were in Penang again. This time with my father's friend's family.

Jasmin, a period piece based on the Natrah tragedy in Singapore directed by Jamil Sulong was screened at the Cathay.

May 13 was another effort by Ahmad Mahmud shown at the Capitol; luckily we refrained from watching this film as the title (again!) appeared rather deceptive. I found later that the film, as reported, had nothing to do with the 1969 bloody racial riots. The film was a banal family melodrama, instead (To my surprise, the title of the film was changed to Korban Hari Raya during its second release when it was shown in my hometown during that year's Raya Haji).

Talak, a romantic comedy that poked fun at a problematic married couple was screened at the Dalit, Komtar; directed by Omar Rojik, the film featured Dharma Harun Al-Rashid, Hamid Gurkha and the sultry Noreen Noor.

As my father preferred to watch something "sophisticated," we eventually went for Jasmin, a less popular Malay movie. In addition, my father disliked queuing up to buy tickets.

It's heartening that Jasmin was screened at the Cathay, considering during those days in Penang, the Cathay and the Rex were considered "first-rate" cinemas, as they normally screened English-language (mostly Hollywood) films only. Malay (and Indonesian) movies were only screened at the Dalit, Komtar. In the case of the Raya season, Malay movies were also shown at the Odeon and the Capitol which had the Chinese film monopoly (Even the sequel Jasmin 2 was screened at the Rex Penang during its release in 1987).

Furthermore, the poster of Jasmin had "international" appeal, garlanded with Caucasian characters - one was the blonde Noraini Jane Ariffin who played the protagonist Jasmin, and the other was Valerie Al-Bakri who played Jasmin's biological mother, Mrs. Brown. At first glance, the poster would truly remind us of any Merchant-Ivory costume dramas (you know, Room with a View, Howards End, and others of the ilk).

For some reasons, when I was in secondary school, we had no more Raya outings. But I continued watching Malay movies during Raya, either by myself or with my schoolmates. The venues varied, ranging from the Cathay Sungai Petani to the Dalit Komtar Penang, from the Cathay Butterworth to the Capitol Penang. Some of the movies that I savoured during Raya season were Mawar Merah, Perawan Malam, Tak Kisahlah Beb, Driving School, Hati Bukan Kristal, Bayangan Maut, and Syahadat, among others.

Gone are the days when parents took their children to the movies. Today, the excitement of going to the movies (especially catching the latest Malay movies during Raya season) seems to be on the wane.

Come Hari Raya, I begin to miss my childhood. I wish I could be transported back to those good old days.