Life’s A Preach – Nur Kasih The Movie

Disclaimer: I had not seen the TV series called ‘Nur Kasih’, a somewhat groundbreaking series that was aired on TV3 over the past year or so, if I am not mistaken. I am aware of its popularity, a popularity that has parlayed itself into a feature film outing that served as a…what? A sequel? Prequel? Perhaps it was like the ‘Iris’ movie, a feature film that promised much but turned out to be nothing more than a slapdash edit of twenty different episodes into a feature film unworthy of its name.

Therefore, I go in with my eyes open. It is not such a bad thing, after all. There are very few films I know little about before watching them. At the very least, I would have at least known about the actors and actresses, as well as other key people in important production roles. Just the other night, I caught ‘National Lampoon: Van Wilder’. I had not seen the film before, but I was aware that Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid and Kal Penn was in it; it was probably the first feature hit of Ryan’s career after ‘2 Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place’. With ‘Nur Kasih’, I’m a bit more of a virgin (not entirely inappropriate, mind you), though I did manage to accidentally find out that Kabir Bhatia is the man in the director’s hotseat. At the very least, it promises to be an aesthetically pleasing experience.

****

The street kids of the kampung are cute.

‘Nur Kasih’ tells the story between Aidil (Fizz Fairuz) and Adam (Remy Ishak).  They are two brothers, the former more filial than the rebellious latter. They both apparently fall for the same girl, Nur Amina (Tiz Zaqyah). Also apparently, Adam had married Nur due to his father’s dying wish, while Aidil himself had some sort of designs for her.  Adam didn’t treat her all that well, but being an Islamic story of sorts, he is the hero who repented and returned to see the light (ho hum).

A lot of apparentlies in that particular paragraph, but that’s because it was the story duration fleshed out in the TV series. The plot duration of the film starts out with a train crash in a Middle Eastern country, and we are plunged straight into a crisis. Cut to a flashback, and we have ourselves another crisis: Aidil had lost his wife, Aliya (Ayu Raudhah). He suffers and is in pain. It is a pain not eased by the fact that Adam and Nur are happily married. They both spend a lot of time helping a lot of kids at a shelter, as Adam works his magic in helping ‘lost’ kids mend their ways. His magic works on his wife too, as their extracurricular activities pays off with his wife being pregnant.

Watercolour paint is a particularly popular dish amongst the locals.

Obviously, being a film rooted in its TV drama origins, Nur miscarried her child. I say that because it feels like a clichéd development in a lot of drama. Drama, by itself, means merely action. Drama in a Malaysian context, however, has a whole other meaning: it is not drama if there is no one dying. I find myself struggling against this particular tide, especially with the wave after wave of TV drama stories submitted by my students as short film scripts. At the risk of sounding like I exaggerate, eight out of ten scripts I have ever marked contains elements of deaths; further interviews reveal a desire to remind people of the value of life and other such efforts at proselytising. I don’t believe in starting a story with a moral principle in mind, but I will get on this issue much later. For now, I’ll say this much: drama need not include overcomplicated plots.

By way of trying to cope with the whole situation, the unhappy couple decided to decamp to Jordan to take in the sights and be closer to God. It leads to the aforementioned train crash, and we are back where we started.

Where are we, though? What is this location we find ourselves in? Within the oeuvre of cinematic offerings, this film could be safely put under the category of Islamic Cinema. This, as it so happens, is a collection of films made promoting the values and beliefs of Islam. That is the shorthand and imperfect recollection of a PhD proposal I had read recently on Islamic Cinema. I breezed through the entire proposal not necessarily because it was a badly written one (peppering a PhD proposal with the words of God is never a good idea; God doesn’t reference as well), but because the entire proposal laboured upon the point that Islamic cinema preaches good values. Therein lies the key word: preach. Preach, preach, preach, preach, preach. I am not a big fan of anything or anyone preaching to me, and it is for this reason that I am not necessarily a big fan of ‘Nur Kasih’.

Pray tell.

Do note, however, that it is the style that gets to me. For the most part, it is not a reflection of my own ideals and beliefs, but the assumption that one way is the right way, or, more damagingly, the ways of others are not right, is an incredibly ignorant approach in today’s post-modern age.

Consider this scene: Adam and Nur had just lost their unborn child, and were grieving. Adam mentions some unkind words to God, and Aidil, no doubt in good faith, puts his arm around his brother and implored him: “Why have you forgotten God?” My exact recollection ability might fail me a little bit more here, but that was the gist of this gist: that you should not turn away from God. All fair and well, but by the same token, the man had just lost his child! I had expected there to be some room for some kind of grieving. Isn’t it the human and humane thing to do, in a way? We all grieve, and yet, in this scene, Aidil, a key character in the film, chose this moment, of all the moments in the world, to preach. There is no other word for it; noble though his intentions may be, it is the sort of thing that jars me.

To claim that this alone is reflective of the whole film is, of course, like claiming that the entire Raya experience can be encapsulated in the ketupat, when it is not necessarily so. Yet the examples are there, far and few but significantly so in between, reminding the viewers and the characters of the greatness of God. I find it to be touching in certain places (the passing of a CD from one character to another had me whooping in delight, such was the handling of the scene), but it is this inconsistency that left me feeling frustrated. I like Jehan Miskin, and his special appearance here is a plus, but his character’s idea of progression consisted of a Malay / Muslim building a nightclub in the middle of town. Such directness may have its place in cinema, Islamic or otherwise, but there is a way to do it. Being pummeled by it is not my idea of fun.

I'm literally running out of ideas for these captions...I just want to break my fast now...

I may sound as if I am ceaselessly complaining about the horrible caricaturing (not characterisation) of certain characters (you’re in the Middle East, and then there are people with guns. What are the odds…?), but that shouldn’t distract from the other fine performances here. Nur, for example, displays a lot of strength. Her search for her husband, after he was lost, was powerful in its drive. At the risk of being accused of narrowing things down to certain aspects of a character, rather than its whole, I cannot remember when was the last time I saw a strong Muslim female character. Later on, it is also shown that she is a designer, an architect of sorts. It occurred just at the moment when I was starting to wonder what they actually do for a living (helping out street kids ain’t exactly the most profitable of ventures; they need to eat, right?). Stay strong, my sister.

And therein lies the crux of this review: it’s matching of ideals. I could go on and on, about Kabir Bhatia appearing to reign in his OTT camerawork, or that the portrayal of Aidil fails to…err, portray enough of his supposed feelings for Nur, but all of it would still lead to this point: compatibility. I had not responded as well with the morals, the preaching (that word again), the proselytising, the whole God is great concept of this entry of Islamic Cinema. I do not believe in film being used as a platform for preaching, and I don’t believe in starting out a story with a moral intent. More often than not, it overshadows the conflicts and characters within the story, rendering them less easy to relate to. That is the case here: I find ‘Nur Kasih’ the movie to be overshadowed by this whole ‘God is great’ concept. My students who write of drama as they know it, as the audience members have consumed it, will probably lap it up.

It did make close to RM5 million, after all…

Fikri thinks Syafie Naswip enjoyed beating up the ustaz, just to break the mold. Go on, my son!

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