Boy Wonder – Azharr Rudin

prbm_stdInitially, I am always confused as to whether there is only a single ‘R’ in his name. Perhaps it is a slight attempt to mark himself out a bit more differently from the rest. If that is the intention, then he needn’t have worried so much; Azharr Rudin can safely assume the mantle of ‘Boy Wonder’ for the Malaysian independent film scene. I don’t know how pleased he would be with me bestowing that title upon him, but really…he does look very young.

Then again, he is still young, in relative terms. Yet, he can already sit back and look upon the awards upon praise that has been bestowed upon him since his very first film, ‘Dancing Kites’. With the release of his first feature film, ‘Punggok Rindukan Bulan’, late last year, the kudos has not stopped raining on him; if showering such praise is a crime, then Ben McKay may well be locked up for it. πŸ™‚And so I had intended to ask him about the whole ‘R’ thing, but somewhat inexplicably totally forgot about it. Maybe it was something as mundane as “my dad chose it”, or something.

517253874_71fcbf9e3c_mI usually start with the personal questions first, but in this case, I’ve a burning question to ask. Why on earth did you release two versions of ‘Punggok Rindukan Bulan’ so close to each other? Is one of them a director’s cut, or is it to get a world-premiere status at Pusan?
To quote my producer, the shorter version was “easier to show”. The local release date was arranged between my producer and GSC, while the Pusan selection result came in a bit later.

I wanted to release just one version (122 minutes) locally, but after some consultation from key people from PRB, we decided to show the 88 minutes version. The structure and pace of the movie allow space for the shorter version.

The longer version, then, had nothing to do with the ‘world premiere’ status in Pusan. In ‘Punggok’s’ case, the organisers were happy enough with the ‘international premiere’ status. They were happy to know that they were the first foreign nation to screen ‘Punggok’.

Will there be another, different cut for the DVD release?
It’ll be the 122 minutes version.

I personally thought that the Sharifah Amani segment might have done better as a separate short film. Did the thought of making more than just a feature film at the flats cross your mind? A documentary, for example?
A lot of times, filmmakers would classify their film as fiction for several reasons. Sometimes to allow radical or creative treatment to their film, at other times to protect the characters in their films. A “documentary” would limit a film to certain rules and expectations, while fiction allows more room for interpretation and exploration. Still, when I fill up forms for festival participation, I ticked both fiction and documentary boxes for PRB.

f_21azharrWhich came first: the story, or the location?
Generally speaking, numbers don’t really matter. They both need each other. Although sometimes the location can be the narrative.

The story’s been in my head for a while. It is a slice of life of the people who used to live there. Only after I had finished working on “Dancing Kites” did I start to seriously think about my first feature film. And the news about the planned demolition of the flat became one of the reasons that pushed me to shoot Flet Bukit Chagar before it is too late.

What was the process of making this film like for you? Having spent years making short films and editing films for other people, was there anything particularly different in terms of how you approached this project?
PRB was quite a long journey. The filming alone started in October 2007 and was completed in May 2008. And I believe I am a richer person thanks to this long process. I kind of applied some of the things I thought worked very well in my shorts to PRB and pushed them even further. The approach is pretty much the same, the film is boss.

Speaking of ‘other people’, Amir Muhammad and Tan Chui Mui were involved in this project as producers. How much say did they have in the creative direction of this project?
They did not interfere directly. But the problems aroused from budgetary constraints were often met with far more creative solutions and more interesting results.

432705803_b389a8508dLike?
The scene with Sidi going around on the ‘island’. Initially I wanted to shoot it differently. I planned 2 shots with 3 cuts taken from the bridge above the bonfire/accidental island. But I couldn’t get the proper equipments to execute the shots. So it turned out the way you see it, which I find to be more suitable and much more engaging than what I originally planned.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced in the production of ‘Punggok’?
Adapting my sense of humor to others on the production team.

A lot has been made of Maya Karin’s short appearance in this film. I can’t help but think of ‘Psycho’, in which Hitchcock killed his main star less than 2/3 of the way through. Was there any similar intent to shock the audience? Or was it something more mundane, like her being paid by-the-hour? πŸ™‚
I think the ‘Maya Karin shock-factor’ would only work locally. Dia digunakan secukup rasa. It’s not easy to make the audience ‘long’ for the mother/wife/woman character in just 88 minutes/122 minutes, but I tried.

In one of the online articles I found, someone suggested that Sharifah Amani’s character “seems something of a stand-in for the filmmaker.” It made me think: how personal is this project to you? Were there any parts in particular that was autobiographical?
I am not too sure myself. I see a lot of other people in that Sharifah Amani character. A local film director thought that character represented herself too. I supposed our personal touches help make these characters and places come to live.

img_0222-3There were two things I liked about Punggok. The first is the cinematography. I thought that the lack of artificial lighting in a lot of the scenes was an incredibly brave decision on your part. How much of this decision was deliberate decision, and how much of it was a practical choice?
I would typically adapt my aesthetic decisions to the nature of the location. I rarely forced my aesthetics to the place. Although some of the scenes that seem lacked of artificial lighting were actually artificially lit. The cinematography was necessary to the ‘story’telling. It’s hard to see unless you were there.

Secondly, I was particularly impressed with the acting of Saeful Nazhif Satria. The long take scene of him crying at the balcony was particularly impressive. How different was it to work with a child actor as opposed to an adult actor?
Saeful Nazhif Satria was amazing. I find it hard to believe myself that he’s a first time actor.

I couldn’t really tell the difference other than their physical size.

Did any of the other Dahuang filmmakers contribute in this area? After all, they seem to be fond of casting child actors in their other films.
No, they did not. But my producer and executive producer did help transporting some of the kids during rehearsal and shoot. I have no idea what they did to them during those rides.

In an interview with ‘The Star’, you mentioned that you had wanted to use a P. Ramlee song for the film. Having seen it, I can’t quite imagine the film with music at all, but I am curious all the same: which P. Ramlee song would you have gone with?
At one point, I had ‘Engkau Laksana Bulan’ in mind for the end credits.

galleryOne comment on a blogpost about your film reads, “Going to a cinema n watch a film is suppose to be a fun thing to do…That’s the reason why im sticking with the hollywood blockbusters… Such a waste of time and money!” Of course, its fine to have personal, informed opinions, but how do you feel about the sustenance of Malaysian films like ‘Punggok’ within the current film-going environment?
We’re doing OK. There’s a fair amount of people who hate and love the kind of films that we’re making. Give us more space and time and I’m sure the audience will also grow.

Watching a screening of ‘The Class’ at Pusan, my friend and I marvelled at how all the old people would be willing to get together and come out for a movie (a foreign movie, at that). In an interview with Ajami Hashim, you talked about how this is something that impressed you. “They come to get ‘something’ from the films that they watch. For sure, this ‘something’ is not just a matter of entertainment.” How do you think this can be achieved in Malaysia?
We need the right kind of people in the right kind of places at the right time.

In the same interview, you also mentioned that you were particularly inspired about filmmaking after your experience on the production of Paloh. What was it about that experience that kicked you in the right direction?
It was not sparked by any single moment. It was sparked by series of things – some of which I may have bothered or remembered to list.

I think it helped that my father was very into films (the Jalan Ampas ones especially). He couldn’t afford to take our family for holidays in exotic locales, but he brought us to the movies almost regularly when I was a kid. He also bought me my first camera – a point and shoot still camera which later helped to unearth my talent in photography.

While my mother loaned her video camera which I used to make my first short film, ‘Dancing Kites’. Through this short film I made a few fast friends who have helped me along the way. One of them is Amir Muhammad who eventually produced ‘Punggok’.

Oh, and back in college (and slightly after), I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to do with my life, so I did three internships – one official, two unofficial – perhaps to help me figure out. One of these internships was with a film production called “Paloh”. There I met with bunch of people who were really passionate about cinema. They would literally fight for it. The list is probably endless.

Was there any particular films or filmmakers who influenced you?
There’s too many to name. Some of them are in Malaysia, a lot of them all over the world but most of them are dead. But their films live on, you see.

azharudinYou have also served as a juror in the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in 2007. What was the experience like, being on the other side of things for a change?
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I learn a lot from watching other films. But judging and awarding them – that’s a huge responsibility.

At the time of this interview, you’re only 27 years-old, and have just made your first feature film. Yet you already have people presenting papers on your films at international conferences. Does that do anything to your head? That things are somehow moving on fast-forward?
Doesn’t do much to my head because it’s physically big enough as it is. On the contrary, I think I’m slowing down. It’s perhaps time to re-direct my attention to other more important things in life that I may have neglected while going on this express ride.

What’s next for you?
I may want to disappear into the wilderness.

And finally…what’s with the vertigo shot as Sidi entered the shopping mall?
Ah yes. I told my DP exactly, ‘Let’s do the Vertigo shot here!’ And he was like, ‘Huh?’

It is, at least, a sign of more headache-inducing shots to come.

Azharr Rudin is an independent Malaysian filmmaker. His first feature film, ‘Punggok Rindukan Bulan’, is reviewed here.

Featured image credit: Medical Media Training

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