Sepet is the small Malaysian film that garnered numerous awards regionally and internationally and at the same time, courted controversy on home turf when the film was eventually released with eight cuts. Screened uncut in Singapore for two separate runs, it became a runaway success selling out most of its shows.
Yasmin Ahmad is the brilliant director of that small movie, who, in the company of her peers like James Lee and Woo Ming Jin are slowly but surely changing the face of Malaysian cinema.
On 27th February 2006, columnists from movieXclusive.com were invited to attend the World Premiere of Gubra, the latest offering from Yasmin Ahmad. The event was organized by the Malaysian High Commission, Lighthouse Pictures and Golden Village Cinemas. In attendance was Yasmin herself with her cast led by Sharifah Amani, Alan Yun, Mei Ling, Adibah Noor and Ida Nerina.
The evening started off with a gala dinner at the GV Grand Garden where invited guests also had the chance to meet the cast and crew of Gubra.
The People versus Sepet
Most of those in attendance had watched Sepet when it was screened on our shores or own them on DVD. Playwright Michael Chiang, of Army Daze and Private Parts fame, confessed to have had seen Sepet on the silver screen twice and thrice on DVD. Kenneth Tan, Managing Director of Golden Village Cinemas who enjoyed Sepet, explained, “Sepet brought about something fresh when it was released. It had the best exposition of cultural relationships.”
Most recently, a Mediacorp Channel 8 drama serial, Love Concierge had a subplot that involved a Chinese guy falling for a Malay girl. We asked the Malay girl from Love Concierge, Suria Artiste, Nurul Aini if she had watched Sepet as an inspiration for her role in the drama serial. She said, “I’ve only realized the similarity now that you’ve mentioned it! Still, it was the same but yet different. In my case, it was about a Malay girl who had to learn to understand the Chinese culture as opposed to Sepet which was the reverse.”
Sepet’s tale of inter-racial love may have hit the right notes but Nurul Aini also felt that there are still a lot of people who oppose the notion of mixed marriages. “I hope this film opens up people’s minds even further.”
Sepet versus Gubra
Scheduled for a 2nd March release, Singapore is the first territory in the world to watch Gubra. Having had problems with the Malaysian Board of Film Censors, Gubra has only recently been submitted and at present yet to have a release date in Malaysia.
If Kenneth Tan felt that Sepet was more entertaining and much lighter, then Yasmin Ahmad’s pre-show warning was pretty good advice. In her speech, she said, “Gubra is nothing like Rabun or Sepet. It is much darker.” She also took the opportunity to announce that local Malay magazine, Manja, has voluntarily organized a drive-in screening atop IMM Building come 8th March. “It is believed that this is the first time such an event is going to happen at IMM,” she said. Riding high, she jubilantly announced that Monte Carlo, her upcoming film, which will be shot in Singapore had found a major sponsor on that very evening.
Comparing both Sepet and Gubra, Kenneth Tan explained that he liked both films for separate reasons. “Gubra is much more serious and probing. The emotions explored are darker.” While he felt Sepet was the easier of the two to watch, he explained, “Together, they both represent an honest way of storytelling. Yasmin’s films have the power to draw a reaction to draw a reaction from the audience that it would be impossible to not have one.”
He also expressed his excitement helping and promoting Gubra. He also announced that, “We would hope to support Yasmin with her future projects and I promise that one day, we will have a Yasmin Ahmad retrospective.”
The People versus Gubra
Undoubtedly, Gubra has a hard act to follow. As Anugerah winner Khairul Amri said, “I have heard the highest compliments that have been bestowed upon Sepet”. Will Gubra be able to be as successful as Sepet? We ask people for their expectations.
Suria Artiste Azhar Nor Lesta expressed his thoughts, “My expectations are similar to those who are in the same line of work. We all expect to see quality in a commercial Malay film. This is something that has been lacking. The last time we had a Malay film of quality was probably during the Jin Shamsudin era.”
While Michael Chiang enjoyed Sepet, he is not placing any expectations for Gubra in knowing that it is different from its predecessor. Instead, he mentioned, “I really enjoy Yasmin’s storytelling. There is much simplicity in them yet the can be just as complex.”
Nurul Aini expressed her joy at getting to finally watch Gubra. “Sepet was good. I hope Gubra is very very good!”
Singapore versus Gubra
While Yasmin’s films are essentially Malaysian, Singapore can easily identify with their multi-cultural elements like the language we speak and customs we adhere to.
However, the Malay film industry in Singapore is pretty non-existent. Granted, there are optimists who believe that one day the Malay film industry can be rejuvenated ala the glory days of P. Ramlee. Azhar Nor Lesta lamented the problem that we are currently faced with, “Do not always think that you’re the best when you have yet to prove anything. When you think such, you leave yourself with no room for improvement. If you work hard enough, you will become better.” Echoing an optimistic sentiment, “My dream is to watch a Singapore made Malay that is actually on par with what Yasmin Ahmad has succeeded in doing.”
There is much to learn from the very warm and insightful Yasmin Ahmad. In his speech, Kenneth Tan said, “If it means telling a story only the way you can tell it, then it’s a Yasmin Ahmad film. If it moves an audience, it’s a Yasmin Ahmad film. If it can travel and be appreciated when people cannot understand its spoken language, then it’s a Yasmin Ahmad film.”
And as Kenneth Tan himself put it best, “I have seen a lot of experimentation in recent years with the likes of Crash, Super Size Me and Clean. Gubra is not an experimentation, it is a winner!
|Reported by Mohamad Shaifulbahri | Photos by: Stefan Shih
Layout by: Lokman BS