Shadow Play – Wayang

This is not going to be a normal Buzz post for several different reasons. One, is that the film in question, ‘Wayang’ is one that I have covered a fair amount in a recent article (to read it, click here). Writing about ‘Wayang’ again in the same manner that I have written the previous Buzz posts would feel…repetitive.

Another, more important reason, however, is the fact that I was partly involved in the prodouction. I am enthusiastic about this film (and as you will read later on, I am not the only one), but I still feel that there is a certain amount of objectivity that I should maintain. Yes, I do this blog for fun, but I still want to do it right, and beating my own drum doesn’t quite feel right (not in this case, anyway). Hence, I’ll limit myself to posting some screenshots from the film, with additional remarks at the bottom, and save my drum for another occasion πŸ™‚

Awang Lah (Eman Manan) realising that Awi is actually blind.

Melor (Mas Muharni) is captivated by Awi’s rendition of his love.

A young Awi and Melor, in the solitude of each other’s company.

Awang Lah and Pak Ku Seman (Mazlan Tahir), who are BFF (best friends forever) πŸ™‚

The family visiting Melor in hospital.

Jusoh (Wan Kenari) trying his best to turn Awang Lah’s wife, played here by Ida Nerina.

Shine a light…

Awi (Zul Huzaimy) enjoys the attention of the twins, Husin and Hasan.

Awang Lah and the objects of his affection.

An intimate moment between the two lovers.

What is ‘Wayang’ all about? The story follows Awang Lah (Eman Manan), a shadow play tok dalang (master puppeteer) idolised by a young, blind orphan, Awi. His enthusiasm for wayang kulit is infectious, and Awang Lah and his wife (Ida Nerina) adopt him. Soon after, they adopt a girl, Melor, after the death of her grandmother. All this while, Awang Lah’s brother, Jusoh (Wan Kenari), does not like Awang Lah’s activities, considering wayang kulit to be against Islam. As Awi (Zul Huzaimy) and Melor (Mas Muharni) grow up together, they begin to fall in love for each other. Jusoh eventually becomes jealous of this as well, and he strives to drive them apart. As the family drama unfolds, Awang Lah continues to perform wayang kulit shows, the stabilising influence in their lives.

How good, though, is ‘Wayang’? More to the point, how excited should we be about it? Well, no less an authority than Hassan Muthalib (who has seen it) compared its subject matter to the great films and filmmakers who are able to bridge generations, cultures and interpretations: films like Yasukiro Ozu’s ‘Tokyo Story’ and George Lucas’s ‘American Graffitti’, amongst others.

“Through Wayang, Hatta Azad Khan invites us to reflect upon ourselves,” he wrote in an email to the Malaysian Cinema mail group recently. “To the layman (those not involved in the arts), Hatta portrayed the world of those who live the arts, becoming their obsession. To the artists, they should hold strong. To the students in the traditional arts field, they are invited to return to their roots.”

“Hatta also invites students to think about the potential of traditional arts,” he continued, “and whether it can live on in the post-modern world that is becoming more chaotic and listless. What innovations should be done by them, so as to ensure that traditional arts can compete with the popular culture of the youth? Should an institute of higher education become a fort for these arts, one that protects them from being overwhelmed by development?”

Hassan finished his assessment with a quote from the Indonesian cinematic giant, Teguh Karya: “‘I put you, the audience, on the silver screen. If you can see yourself in my characters, then my work is done.’ Perhaps that is also the intention of Hatta Azad Khan in Wayang.”

With the original posting in Bahasa Malaysia, I had taken the liberty to translate the above into English. However, it is the last line of his assessment that stumped me. Stumped me, because though I can easily and literally translate it, I can’t quite grasp the same feel and meaning in the language of my former coloniser.

As my fingers hover over the keyboard, thinking of how to break that fort down, I find it ironic that his assessment of Wayang could very well describe a lot of the younger generation, certainly those whose influence of the foreign overwhelms the local, whose command of English unfairly outweighs that of Bahasa Malaysia.

“Ternyata, Wayang bukan hanya wayang. Wayang penuh dengan makna.”

Proof, if needed, that certain meanings can only be conveyed in a certain way, that certain truths, perhaps, can only be told through certain arts.

Or maybe it’s just me. πŸ™‚

Wayang will be released in cinemas soon. Fikri can be glimpsed in a blink-and-you’ll miss it cameo in ‘Wayang’ (though you have to hold that blink for a while), which is another reason why he is excited. Evidently, so is Hassan Muthalib, the renowned Malaysian film historian. He’s also a nice guy, because he gave me permission to reprint his quotes here. Thank you, sir.

11 thoughts on “Shadow Play – Wayang

  1. Er – Fikri. I didn’t compare WAYANG to the great films & filmmakers (Dr Anuar Nor Arai will kill me!). Just that the subject matter is similar. WAYANG has its faults (not very cinematic) but as I’ve said, in terms of story, acting & subtext, it’s very satisfying. I particularly like the middle path that Hatta has taken – speaking about the arts & its problems but bringing it down to the level of the common man. The pop songs do work as it’s written into the story. Zulhuzaimy’s character is under-stated but he represents the winds of change that artists today must confront & contend with in order for them to survive & at the same time, have a wider audience.

    As to the last line in my paper, reflect on the word ‘wayang.’ It has many connotations. What the character of Eman Manan says about the origin of wayang is just on the surface (Hatta cleverly didn’t go into details or it would have been MESSAGE!). The late Hamzah Awang Hamat, the great dalang, told me just before he died that the wayang kulit represents the dalang himself. And only a dalang who has known his inner self (mengenal diri), can be a dalang. sIMILARLY, in Syed Alwi’s play, KERIS, the last scene has a mahaguru silat (Omar Abdullah) standing resplendent in traditional Malay costume. Then a banner with an unsheathed keris pointing upwards comes down in front of him. He steps out & stands in front of the banner. To me, Syed Alwi is saying that only a mahaguru has the right to thrust up a keris (no relation to the infamous keris-wielding episode. Wink! Wink!).

    True art speaks through its subtext. Amateurs only deal with text. Where does subtext reside? It resides in the text. But do you have the (inner) eyes to see it?

    Hey, what’s this about ‘no less than an authority’ & ‘renowned film historian’? I’m just a guy who loves films. If I like something, I write about it. Rumour has it that some people are upset that I don’t write about their films. Just rumours. But as RPK says……

    Good job, Fikri. See HANCOCK. Intelligent screenplay & great character delineation.

    (PS: My English translation of the article will be out soon)

  2. Well, put it this way: if ever people want someone to write objectively about film and its history (especially on Malaysia), they’d probably hunt you down first. πŸ™‚

    And, yeah…I can see what you mean about the whole ‘comparison’ thing, and looking at the original text, I can see where I misunderstood it. Kejahatan saya (my bad, haha πŸ™‚ ). I’ll change it. Perhaps when it is out, I can just reprint it here so that we can all get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

    Not saying that you’re a horse, of course… πŸ™‚

    As for the role of the tok dalang, after doing plenty of research and what not, I feel that the tok dalang is, in a way, the ultimate auteur (in that a wayang kulit show is almost literally a one man show). I suppose in that sense, the late Hamzah Awang Hamat may well be right.

    “True art speaks through its subtext. Amateurs only deal with text. Where does subtext reside? It resides in the text. But do you have the (inner) eyes to see it?” Oh, memories of Monash flooding back to me…oh… πŸ™‚

    The film has pop songs in it?! Hmm…now I’m trying to think where it could have been put…

    Hancock will have to wait till two weekends later, though. I just saw Wanted (or WON-TEE-DUH, as Koreans say it πŸ™‚ ), and I may well go on a trip next weekend.

    Either that, or I just go look for a male chicken, hold it in my hand, then I can say that I’ve seen Hancock (Hand-cock), haha πŸ˜‰


  3. Fikri,
    I studied Ozu. I studied Mizoguchi. Both are great filmmakers. I’m not trying to compete with them nor do I want to copy them. Wayang is Malaysian: taste, colour, smell and everything else! I’m more interested in depicting real-life people and situations. You should watch Wayang to understand the life of Awang Lah, his relationship with his wife, his son, his ghost coming to haunt him in his dream, his memory! The last phase of my final post was a real challenge: I have to remix the music and sound with Hafiz, cut off another 2 minutes just before we went to Hong Kong to do the digital transfer. I’m grateful to Hassan who sat down with me and we discuss a great deal about the final scene,
    the symbolic relationship between Awang Lah and the shadow puppets on the screen. It’s not about a man dying but more of a man leaving his beloved art to be inherited by a blind young man! Will the art of shadow play survive?

  4. A’kum Prof,

    It’s not so much me trying to compare Wayang to those films. I just wanted to write something about Wayang, to promote it via this blog. At the same time, I wanted to use a third party’s opinion, because, since I was partly involved myself in the production, I wanted to maintain some objectivity.

    That is why I used Hassan Muthalib’s quotes, because at the time, no one else had formed much of an opinion about it (or, if they had, they hadn’t written it down somewhere. Otherwise, I might’ve used their quotes too). Since I myself haven’t seen it (and chances are, I won’t be for a long time), I can’t form an opinion about it as such.

    After all, I don’t know if the art of shadow play will survive. However, with more people focusing on making personal movies and commercial movies, I do think that the art of making movies that reflects Malaysian history and traditions is almost dead.

    Thus, I think your film could be an important film because of that.

    Thanks for dropping by, Prof. πŸ™‚


  5. Fikri,
    I wish that you’re in KL. I’m doing a special screening of WAYANG for some invited guest from US, Belgium, Germany and Korea next Tuesday 15 July 2008 at the Faculty. Anytime you come home for a break come and visit us and we’ll talk about it. I’m trying to get WAYANG to Pusan Festival.


  6. If UiTM is willing to pay for the flight, I wouldn’t mind πŸ™‚ It’s OK, I’ll watch it sooner or later. If not at Pusan, then back home.


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