The Kabir Bhatia Show – Setem

OK, so I’ll admit to ‘Setem’ not being a particularly new film. An easier and more popular solution would be to head out to the hills and plonk down some of my hard earned money for a film ticket. I went for ‘Tron’, and that cost me RM14 at Sunway Pyramid. What’s going on? I don’t know; the day I went wasn’t quite a holiday, either. Neither was it the 3D presentation of the film. I think 3D can be a good tool, it can be used to enhanced the story. It is, however, only and exactly that: a tool. It shouldn’t really be the main point of attraction in the making of a film. Of course, exceptions can and should be made. ‘Avatar’ was so integrated with its 3D elements that it became a part of the story. Jack Black’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, however, does not seem like the kind of story that should be told in 3D. The less kind may well point out that he looks 3D anyways in a 2D film, so you could save your money on that. My mother is not that unkind, and she urged me to watch it. But I didn’t. I don’t see the value in it.

Is that to say that I saw the value in ‘Setem’? The story, after, is about the chasing of an invaluable artifact. What is a film if it isn’t an artifact? Shallow rhetorical question, but then again, a similar question could be asked of Kabir Bhatia: what else can he make beyond beautiful and beautifully-integrated ensemble pictures?

The proof is in the pudding. ‘Setem’ tells the story of Joe (Afdlin Shauki) and Sid (Rashidi Ishak), two con artists who work in tandem to swindle people of their money. However, ‘business’ has been bad as of late, and they’re roped in by the man in charge of the orphanage they used to live at, Pak Ramli (Datuk Aziz Sattar). Pak Ramli needs money to hold on to the house and land that the orphanage is built on, and so he decided to enlist the help of his proteges. The job? To steal an a classic stamp worth RM2 million. Known as the Barring Stamp, it was exhibited by Charles Barring IV (Richard Gardner), but Sid and Joe aren’t the only ones in the hunt for the stamp. Piranha Lim (Frank Lewis), as one of the more obviously and interestingly-named loan shark characters, is also in the hunt for the stamp. The same goes for Mani (Indi Nadarajah), an ex-con who sees the money to be gained as a way to get back with his estranged family. Caught up in the middle of all this is the illegal immigrant Aryanto (Isma Yusof) and the blind Iskander (Que Haidar) and his sister Alliya (the lovely Vanida Imran). It doesn’t help that Bront Palarae also makes as an appearance as Burn, a goon of Piranha Lim who has a tendency of…well, playing with fire in order to get what he wants.

"Really, I thought you said Justin Timberlake..."

So you see? Look at the number of characters above, and see how they really differ from Kabir Bhatia’s other efforts such as ‘Sepi’ and ‘Cinta’. The same multi-layered plot that can be seen in his previous films is also employed here. That’s not to say that it’s no good, however, because I think that the story is quite well-written. Apparently, this is the first time that he has written his own story and screenplay, and though it bears the hallmarks of his previous efforts, it’s still an enjoyable enough film. I do wish that we don’t touch the comedy too much, though. Sometimes, when comedy is forced, it looks horrible. There are several parts of the film that felt a little forced in that way.

Is there something wrong with the film, though? In truth, I am nitpicking, because Kabir Bhatia manages to hold everyone together in the story. Though certain characters had to be given priority (you can’t not feature Afdlin Shauki and not make him the star, can you?), in truth I feel as if I was able to be properly introduced to all the main characters. Even ex-cons have reasons for the things that they do, and therein lies the biggest different between a real protagonist and antagonist. Therein lies the difference between a maniac like, say, The Joker, and a madman with a heart like, say, Rutger Hauer in ‘Blade Runner’. Yes, I know he was rather heartless in many ways, but you can’t help but feel sorry for him at the end, can you? That’s the feeling I got here, and the exposition of each character’s motivations made it easier to get into as a comedy.

Yes, Bront. We know you're the bomb...

Beyond a comedy, it is a caper, a heist flick without the heist, where the MacGuffin is a mobile object like the stamp in ‘Setem’. That adds an interesting element to the usual heist films, where characters try to obtain an item locked within a single environment. Here, I could at least give more credit to Kabir Bhatia for doing that. I suspect that is his idea of stretching himself. I wish he would do more. I like seeing director’s outside of their comfort zone, because then you’d have a better idea of what they’re made of.

In fact, I find myself being unable to think of anything else but the director in this regard. In spite of the presence of a talented and beautiful cast (I now realise why Diana Danielle is causing such a fuss in the local tabloids), the beautiful mise-en-scene with a very mobile camera (although having said that…Mr Bhatia, you don’t have to dolly every time a door closes, do you?), the wonderful talent of the assistant director Maz Irwan (there, cheap plug for my friend, and the true reason why I watched this film to begin with), and the presence of a very, very nice-looking car, I can’t help but wonder whether Kabir Bhatia would do better by pushing the boundaries of his works, boundaries that he has labouriously, beautifully built up.

I think I’d prefer this film to most of the films available in the cinema now, with the exception of ‘Paranormal Activity 2’. I await his next film.

Fikri wonders whether Charles Barring’s statement that we Malaysians believe anything international is something worth wondering about…

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