Fikri Jermadi figured that it’s about time he puts his thoughts down about why this film is an up for many.
I figured that since I’m doing a kind of preview for the films nominated for the 26th Malaysian Film Festival, I might as well do proper reviews of the films I have seen. I thought I might have done this a lot earlier, but for some reason, I have not, so here we go with the first one.
‘Istanbul Aku Datang!’, as you can tell from everything else about this film, is a bright and cheery proposition that promises a solid 90 minutes worth of fun. At least, if you’re into that kind of stuff. When I say everything else, I mean the trailer, poster, and even selection of cast members to play out the leading roles. Throw in an exotic location in Istanbul, Turkey, and you have a new twist on a fairly formulaic story.
Dian (Lisa Surihani) is a girl who is so in love with her boyfriend, Azad (Tomok), that she is willing to go all the way to Istanbul (where he is studying medicine), and hope that her plan works out. Her plan? To ‘encourage’ her boyfriend to propose to her, because she is “not the waiting type” (her words, not mine).
A girlfriend (or boyfriend) visiting her (or his) partner overseas somewhere will stay together with them for the duration of their stay. This is usually the standard for a number of people involved in such relationships, but officially speaking at least, it is not something that is well accepted in Islam. It is not surprise, therefore, that Azad, though seemingly pleasantly surprised by her presence, suggested that she find another place to stay at.
Given that she has signed up for the Turkish language course at the same university, she will definitely need a place for the next few months, so she went out, trekked throughout the city on her own, and found a place with the help of a kind local (Mert Yavuzcan). Of course, not everything is at it seems, and it turns out that another Malaysian, Harris (Beto Kusyairy) is also renting the same unit! With no money and not wanting her boyfriend to get mad, Dian decided to keep this a secret, but of course, as the story progresses all sorts of pretensions fall down, giving us quite a treat.
I mean, that’s how the most interesting of stories go, right? The bigger the disaster, the better the potential for it to be adapted into a film of some sort. Speaking of which, around the time of this film’s release in the latter part of 2012, quite a number of people drew comparisons to a number of other films. For my part, while the basic premise is not a new one, there are enough characteristics that make this film a unique experience.
In this case, I attribute that to the production team. The director Bernard Chauly and writer, Rafidah Abdullah, have written bright and preppy films centering on the exploits of female characters as they put themselves about in the story. ‘Gol & Gincu’, for example, explored young girls finding their own voice and identity within a sporting context, while ‘Pisau Cukur’ also featured dynamic characterisations. Their stories tend to be fluid in that sense, and I note a similar feel to this film.
If anything, the complaint is that the female character is too strong. Dian, as portrayed by Lisa Surihani, is an immensely likeable character that it’s different to move away from her radiance. More to the point, it also affected somewhat the aura of the other characters. Her boyfriend, Azad, comes off looking a lot weaker in comparison, even though he almost literally has the upper hand and the final say in determining how their relationship plays out (at least initially).
The accidental housemate, however, is a lot more assured of himself. I have to note that Beto Khusyairy’s casting in this film is one that pleased me to no end. As an actor, he has largely appeared in supporting roles (and as leads in smaller films such as ‘Hujan Panas’). To my knowledge, this marked the first time he takes center stage as one of the lead characters, and I think it is a chance he has grabbed with both hands. Of course, it doesn’t quite match up, somehow, to Lisa’s level of performance, but it remains a landmark performance all the same; I’d like to think that he has parlayed this into his next film, ‘CEO’, which was released to some acclaim in the middle of this year.
Coming back to the feel, then, the cinematography by Harris Abdullah was also pleasant on the eye, with the bright and vivid colours in some scenes adding even more to this film’s charm. I felt that shooting in a country that’s not your own is a challenge in its own right, and noticed a couple of potentially complex shooting set ups, with a number of Steadycam shots to boot as well. Apparently they were working with a number of Turkish crew members, and while this is no bad thing, being far away from familiar contexts is always a challenge for many people. It’s no different to filmmakers, and I feel that this is a challenge the production team has met well.
To a certain extent, I was attracted to the way the story was told. Given the target market of this film, a strong element that was somewhat Islamic in a way was played out in a simple form. It is not the main thing of the film per se, which allowed for greater access to others, but I could detect the discord between more modern values and traditional ideals as well.
We can transplant a bit of that argument into the more national-based aspects as well. The experience of any Malaysian abroad, especially those involved in their studies, is amplified in a number of ways here, and I think they’re easy to relate to. The Maggi mee, for example, became a point of conflict between Harris and Dian at a point of the film; the simple fact is you don’t, under any circumstances whatsoever, mess with the Maggi supply of a Malaysian student studying overseas.
All this worked out fairly well, given that Nestle was one of the supporting companies on this production. Speaking of which, the Turkish authorities was involved in this as well, which suggests of a strong emphasis on displaying the city as a potential tourist attraction to the film’s audience. A number of other governments and authorities around the world has woken up to the potential of film as a promotional tool. I am aware of Seoul aggressively offering a tax rebate on productions shot within its city limits, for example, which has allowed for many companies to take advantage by going there, cramming in the hours in a packed shooting schedule with a smaller crew. In the promotion, though, it is merely understood by many as “Oh, diaorang buat filem tu kat Korea! Mesti best!” I felt a similar undercurrent for this film as well amongst the general public when it was released.
One other thing: at around the same time, I remember reading an interview with one of the film’s primary movers (probably Lisa herself), stating that the film is one of the few to be granted enough access to shoot inside some of Turkey’s landmarks. This is a condition not granted even to big budget Hollywood films such as ‘Skyfall’, which was also shot in Turkey. Of course, she didn’t really mention how ‘Istanbul Aku Datang!’ probably has a lower pyrotechnics and stunt budget in comparison to any James Bond film (even from five decades ago), but it does not make this an unwelcome little addition to such big budget mainstream films.
In reality and reelity, this (and the Maggi above) becomes something more significant. I think as a whole, I can use that very sentence for this film as well. We rarely get such films produced on a regular enough basis. I find this to be an interesting, fun and unique addition to what can become a staid landscape of Malaysian cinematic expressions at the best of times.
Fikri hopes that more of such films will consider venturing beyond our own borders. This film was nominated in the Best Actress (Lisa Surihani), Best Cinematography (Harris Hue Abdullah), Best Editing (Wong Hui Lynn) and Best Original Theme Song (Tomok and Rafidah Abdullah) categories at the 26th Malaysian Film Festival.
Featured image credit: Snax Xpress