Sunday, August 31, 2008

"It's a wrap!"

"It's a wrap!"

On the night of August 29th, our 3rd Assistant Director Sharifah Amani stood on a chair and announced, "It's a wrap!"

After nearly 2 months of intense rehearsals, principal shooting began on August 17th. We had a 1 day break in the middle, so that makes it 12 days of shooting for "Talentime", just like "Sepet", "Mukhsin", and "Muallaf" before it.

Honestly, this was not something we planned. 12 days was all we needed, alhamdulillah, and if you had given us extra days to play around with, we wouldn't have known what to do with them.

Nadia the Singaporean

Nani's announcement was greeted with wild applause and cheering, of course. People started shaking hands and hugging, and that's when the tears began.

This was a bunch of 60 to 70 people who had been having breakfast-lunch-tea-dinner-supper together for 3 weeks. We had toiled together, slept together (separate rooms for boys and girls, of course, but all next door to each other). We had laughed together, and cried together.

These weren't co-workers or colleagues anymore, this group of people had become a FAMILY.

Everyone was relieved that all that hard work was finally over, but no one wanted to say goodbye. Men and women, boys and girls, we were all teary-eyed.

Some of the younger actors were sobbing convulsively. I was halfway through comforting the tearful lady who played Melur's grandmother, when the kids came up to me and said, "Mak, you'd better come and attend to Kahoe (the boy who plays the erhu), cos he can't stop crying."

Bhavani (Jac)

We were also lucky to have in our cast that outrageously talented singer who goes by the name of Jaclyn Victor. Jac (or Bhavani, as we call her on set) just took to the microphone and sang her heart out. What a treat!

When Jac started singing "I will always love you", there was a lump in everyone's throat and even some outsiders dropped by to have a listen.

It started to drizzle, but we didn't care. As far as we were concerned, rain is God's blessing, so in the end people just came out from under the shelter of the tents and started dancing in the rain.

Going hog wild!

But I must say, the most moving moment of the evening for me happened a few minutes before Nani's announcement. It happened when our special guest Ustaz went to the front and said a prayer of thanks on our behalf.

While holding the palms of my hands up to say "Ameen", I surveyed the area to look at my big new-found family and saw that the folks of other races were also holding their hands up and saying "Amen". There was so much love and so much trust there that everyone automatically assumed that the prayer, although in Arabic and not understood by all, was a good prayer that could only ask for good things for us all. It was a moment so overwhelmingly powerful for me that the hair on the back of neck stood on end and the tears were unstoppable.

Allah is generous beyond our comprehension.

Sister and brother.

Bhavani and Mahesh

The boy who plays the guitar.


The boy who plays the erhu.


The youngest sister's name is Melati.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Three sisters and a father.

Three sisters and their father.

"Words say too much. Love comes in silence." - Mahesh


Friday, August 29, 2008

Two stars and the moon.

The StarsThe Moon

"Mahesh look," she said, pointing to the night sky. "Because I'm lonely, the night sticks her tongue out at me... half moon."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The scene that left us all solemn and quiet.

DespairThe Cremation

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A scene from "Talentime".

The Indian star

At the end of a heartbreaking scene in the film, a Hindi song by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is heard. The words say, "It feels like I've been raised by strangers... please take me into your world..."

The song ends on a 12-year old Indian girl dancing like an angel on stage. Our hair stood on end as we filmed her floating across the floor, in moves that spelled deep love and heartache.

Monday, August 11, 2008

We're off to shoot a movie!

melur & mahesh

Tomorrow, inshaallah I'll be flying to Bali to judge for the Indonesian advertising awards. I'll only be there one night though, because the very next day, on Wednesday evening, I'm scheduled to fly back to KL.

Why? Because on Thursday, my entire production crew and I will be heading for Ipoh to make "Talentime", inshaallah.

We plan to rehearse our actors at three different locations before principal shooting starts on Sunday.

The picture you see here shows two of our leads in the story. (Yes, there are more than two!)

Wish us luck, and assalaamualaikum!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Probably the most detailed, most considered, and most positive review so far for "Mukhsin".

celebrating end of mukhsin shoot

It was written in the U.S., by a gentleman by the name of Michael Sicinski, in a website called The Academic Hack.

I must thank Amir for the heads-up.

The review can be found at and it reads like so:

"I've been at a bit of a loss to explain just exactly what it was about Mukhsin that gradually blew me away. As I've allowed my reaction to Ahmad's film to steep like tea in my mind, I've started to realize that my difficulty in articulating the precision and wonder of Mukhsin directly pertains to Ahmad's status as a criminally underrated international director whose earlier work I must catch up with immediately. Mukhsin is characterized by patience and restraint; there is nary a close-up in the film, and most of the action occurs in medium-long master shots that often render the films two young protagonists hazy and even somewhat typical. But this set of formalist remarks could be attributed to any number of Asian films of the last twenty to thirty years. This is not to sell Ahmad short; she displays subtle, exquisite handling of cinematography and mise en scène. Interiors often bear an off-kilter Ozuian rectilinear depth; slight camera movements and graceful readjustments within close quarters echo Mizoguchi without any ostentatiousness; her outdoor shots effortlessly embed her figures in radiant magic-hour landscapes, demonstrating a tactile yet quasi-spiritual treatment of light that would indeed hold its own alongside Apichatpong. But as you watch Mukhsin, you actually have to actively attune your mind to these formal elements, since they are so organically woven with Ahmad's story values. And this, I think, is why it's possible to watch Mukhsin, and possibly other Ahmad films, without really seeing them. Her directorial touch is light and supple, defined by what it doesn't do. Mukhsin never swaggers across the screen like "art cinema," even though it is incontestably a cinematic work of art.

In narrative terms, Mukhsin is a story of puppy love curtailed. Again, this in itself might send serious film critics moving in the other direction, although Ahmad's sensitive, intelligent treatment is more Blue Gate Crossing than Shunj Iwai. Orked (Sharifah Aryana Syed Zainal Rashid) is a tomboyish 10-year-old who takes a shine to the new boy, Mukhsin (Muhammad Syafie bin Naswip) after she chunks a football at him hard enough for him to let her join an all-boys game. Their hesitant blossoming friendship, with walks and bike rides and Koran study and Mukhsin staying with Orked's hip parents for dinner, serves as the fulcrum around which Ahmad sends numerous other bits of narrative coloratura. Operating in a nearly Renoirian register, Ahmad grants all of the film's marginal business a remarkable depth of implied social and emotional context, to say nothing of an abiding generosity of character. Orked's "differently ambitious" musician father and outspoken, British-educated, English-speaking mother, for example, flout conventional Malay gender roles as well as ethnic codes of decorum. Neighbors remark on this, and Ahmad allows this to become a source of tension at certain moments in the film. But for the most part, this "issue" is left unresolved, since it is not an issue, as such. Likewise Mukhsin's acknowledgment of liberal Muslims' conflicts with tradition, and Malaysia's overall grapple with modernity in all forms; the tensions between ethnic Malays and ethnic Chinese; and the need for frank and open discussion of sexuality, in particular among women. Ahmad never drops these very real social concerns into the film as "topics for edification;" rather they emerge naturally, as they would in the course of life in a culture in transition. Ahmad activates a field of complex questions, without ever purporting to supply answers.

Instead, Mukhsin dramatizes, within the drama itself, the very real social forces that impinge on and swirl around two young people simply trying to grow up, learn to write their school themes, steal a kiss, put a bully in his place, or hide an erection. I do not want to make grandiose claims for Mukhsin, not because the film cannot withstand them -- the film is excellent -- but because Ahmad's craft, her art, is premised on a fundamental humility, and to overburden the film with theoretical grandstanding runs counter to its very nature. (Then again, its the very unassuming quality of Ahmad's mastery that seems to be preventing the film intelligentsia from taking this film as seriously as it should.) But so-called Transnational Feminist theorists would do well to examine Ahmad's work, since like them, Mukhsin is about complexifying the world, deepening interconnections, delving into the messiness of the conundrums that women face, and moving outward, forging even more connections. At Mukhsin's conclusion, Ahmad delivers a voiceover that informs us that she was Orked, and that she found love again later, and the film is in part a dedication to Mukhsin in hope that he did too. And so, among other things, Mukhsin is Ahmad's absolutely specific examination of a moment in time from the subject position of a 10-year-old girl, with the recognition that whatever time, tide, and patriarchy may have done to Mukhsin, he was there in the thick of it with Orked, a comrade in the fight just to become. This, in addition to being profoundly moving art, is a dual triumph for feminism and humanism, one in which neither sells the other short."

Rabbana wa lakalhamdu. I only wish I knew how to contact Mr. Sicinski, so I can send him dvd's of "Rabun", "Sepet", and "Gubra".


Thursday, August 07, 2008

I really liked it.

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller
I just came out of "Susuk".

To me, in it's barest form, "Susuk" is the story of people who would stop at nothing to get to the top, and having reached it, refuse to come down.

I'm not saying it's a political satire; I'm saying it's a satire on those most destructive of human foibles: greed and vanity.

What a relief to watch a Malay horror film that despite not taking itself too seriously, was seriously spooky in parts. This, as opposed to many Asian horror flicks, local or otherwise, that DO take themselves seriously, but leave me guffawing inside.

I won't say if "Susuk" is a good film or not (because I don't know what a good film is, and I prefer to leave such solemn foolery to some of the local critics), but what I CAN say is that I liked it very much.

The kitsch art direction that was bursting with its makers' wicked sense of humour; the homage to Argento, Almodovar, Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi; the shameless but totally knowing and tongue-in-cheek borrowing of images from "The Godfather", "Hellraiser", and countless others... all this led to a thoroughly enjoyable movie experience for me.

Walking out of the cinema hall, I felt a strange sense of relief. "How lovely," I thought, "to watch a local film made by genuinely smart filmmakers who didn't have their heads up their own arses, and who seemed to have fun playing with film."