A disclaimer: I have an older brother who is autistic. As a result of that, I find myself being more drawn and attracted to films who do feature autism in one way or another. It is a normal thing, I think; as human beings, I think we are naturally drawn towards that which we can relate to the most. I find this to be one of film’s strongest qualities, for it helps to broaden our emotional palette, reminding us that linguistic, cultural and other such barriers are nothing more than mere constructions that can’t hold back mutual appreciation of a good story. It is a big part of the reason why I am keen to be involved in any way I can.
In ‘Sekali’ we follow the story of several different characters in fairly equal measures. Arman (Shaheizy Sam) is the aforementioned autistic character, essentially someone who is of the appropriate age for marriage but with a bigger likelihood of striking up a strong friendship with a six year old kid. That is precisely what happened, when Amy (Mia Sara Nasuha) comes to his rescue after some thugs tried to rob him. The question of what a six year old kid is doing wandering the streets of KL is not properly addressed, but their budding friendship is encouraging enough for us to be disappointed when it is nipped in the bud.
The girl with the scissors is Sheila (Lisa Surihani), Amy’s mother. One would have thought that it is a sensible move, partaking as it did after the age old maxim of ‘never take sweets from strangers’. Of course, as it turns out, Arman is not just any old stranger. He’s not old to begin with, but he’s definitely no stranger. As it turns out, he is Amy’s father, and Shiela’s former lover. This throws more than just a spanner into the plans of the major and minor characters, which included Arman’s mother (Kartina Aziz), Arman’s fiance Farina (Shasha Zurazie) and Haris (Bront Palarae), an honest man with an honest love for Sheila.
For the most part, the above is nothing more than a superficial elaboration of the storyline, a factor whose complexity has been highlighted and praised in many reviews I’ve seen of the film. For my part, I believe that there are certain elements that did help to raise this film beyond the usual fares I’ve seen (though it must be known that I pick and choose the fares I did see). I must give credit to the first-time filmmaker that is Hashim Rejab. The story did have enough twists and turns that would satisfy its target audience, and it is braver than most for attempting to push certain things. An autistic main character, a strong-minded six year old, Lisa Surihani as a mother, and even a character like Haris; other films would have played up the jealousy and/or the faux machoisma many males in such positions appear to suffer from. Bront Palarae, however, deigned a maturity that is both surprising and impressive. Though his is a supporting role, and somewhat subconsciously misparaphrase Kevin Keegan, he went up in my estimation when he did that.
However, while credit should be given for the attempt, that is all that remains: an attempt. The attempt by Lisa Surihani to play the role of a mother, for example, is not one I shall remember for a while. I do not doubt that she tried hard, but the simple fact of the matter is that the role has been miscast. I understand that they are trying to, perhaps in some way, display the after effects of being involved with someone at a young age, but in the film, I cannot, at any single point of the film, take her seriously as a mother. She looked like she could have easily been one of my own students, and her portrayal of Sheila betrays this. It is a role that is precious, and perhaps should have been done with greater subtlety, but instead she resorts to tears. We have to resort to Mia Sara Nasuha to come to the rescue with her “Mama, Mama…janganlah nangis.” I am not saying that it is her fault, but I am saying that I can think of actors better suited to the role.
The same goes for Shaheizy Sam. As much as I respect his attempt, I don’t find myself being drawn into his character. There are, in fact, a number of reasons for this, and we do end up seeing several different kinds of Armans. That happens for a reason, one which, like certain reviewers for The Star, I shall not reveal for the sake of ruining your enjoyment. His portrayal does tug at your heart at times, which I attribute to his skill, but given the treatment his character was given, I don’t know how seriously I should take him. This I would clearly attribute to the direction of the film. Simply put, I feel that with the film’s ending, his was a character that could have been someone different, but the feeling that he was played like a fool by many different characters in the film. While that may have been done as an attempt to garner sympathy for him, it runs the risk of undermining the character, and I fear that is what has happened in this case.
Ultimately, as a result of that, I don’t know how to take the film, whether as a serious film that has several potentially strong characters, or as a film that simply played around with the elements of a typical TV3 drama. You rearrange the furniture in your rooms, but it’s still the same room. I have no problems with that, but to portray it as an entirely different room would be a farcical.
Perhaps, then, the trick to enjoy this film is to watch it more than once. If I did, then I can truly claim to have seen the film ‘Sekali Lagi’.
Fikri thinks Maya Karin would have been an interesting choice for the lead. Then again, he thinks Maya Karin would be an interesting choice for anything. Mia Sara Nasuha won the Best Child Actor award at the 24th Malaysian Film Festival.