Continuing in the great adventure that is his research, Fikri Jermadi shall now write about the landmark film… ‘Bohsia’!
Well, OK, so perhaps it was not that big of a landmark, but all the same, it remains one of the most popular films over the past five years or so, spawning its own financially successful sequel. Watching this film also makes me more aware of the lineage that would eventually lead to surefire landmark films like ‘KL Gangster’ and ‘KL Gangster 2’, so it’s useful in that sense.
Actually, further research should be conducted on the films of Syamsul Yusof. If I don’t get there first, somebody certainly should, for the representation of genders in his film is one that is interesting to me. The fact that he has been consistently successful with most of his films is also a point worth noting; as much as we wish to look at only the ‘good’ films, the popular ones are clear indications of a strong link made with the audience. Which says something.
That something might be a bit clearer in other films, though. The language utilised in this film is one that could only be described as rough and ready, at best. Quite frankly, I struggled greatly to see through a lot of the flowers placed between the words. I have to admit that this may well be a generational issue; not that I am all that old, mind you, for 30s are indeed the new 20s (feel free to dispute me on that), but the fact remains that it could very well be the way youngsters speak these days…
…or does it? We often speak of how films have the ability to reflect at least aspects of a certain society back upon itself, but I also wonder about its power to shift and shape a certain culture, at least in parts. Do we speak like this because of films, or do films merely reflect this way we speak? Is it both, or maybe neither? Maybe that is an issue to be considered, but the fact remains a more critical approach is to be taken.
Going beyond the popularity of these films, a more academic angle may help to shed plenty of light on certain things. The main character in this film, Muz (Syamsul Yusof), is from the wrong side of tracks. While the rural/urban divide does not manifest itself all that clearly on screen, there still remains an idealistic notion of how love could possibly transcend barriers in class. He is a young man whose identity is shaped by the machine he rides, the motorcycle he owns. More interestingly, he is also a mechanic.
Many young Malaysians identify themselves with their primary mode of transportation; this machine that represents freedom suggests a certain autonomy in his character. His vocation also points to this self-sufficiency; he may not be all that rich, but he is able to fix that which defines him. How many of us can say that about ourselves?
The strange object of his affection (I will get to this) is someone he met online, Aisyah (Diana Danielle). She is from a more comfortable background, one that is certainly contrasted with the rest of the cast members. She speaks with more confidence, and is more certain of herself (until it comes to dating men, pointing to a so-called lack society seems keen to emphasise). So much so that it is Muz who is intimidated by her presence; seeing her for the first time after setting up their date online, he takes a few moments to process it before running away on his motorbike.
Perhaps I am placing a little more emphasis on this than I should, but I think it’s significant that Aisyah’s mode of transportation is a sedan, one that is considered more luxurious than most. In one scene, she accidentally reverses into Muz’s then-girlfriend, Tasya (Nabila Huda). She’s arguably the definition of a chick from the streets, as evidenced by the immature levels of shouting in the opening scenes). Of course, she went completely ballistic. Here, again, a clear juxtaposition of their characters is crystallised. As Aisyah drives away, flustered by that encounter, her friend externalises the unspoken, “Orang macam ni memang setan!”
Going beyond the gender and class formations, what is this film like, though? On the whole, I found certain parts to be quite difficult to watch. Tasya, along with her frenemy Amy (Salina Saibi), have a very difficult past, and in many respects most of the characters are portrayed as victim heroes without the ‘hero’ part. They imagine themselves to be the winners of their own stories, kings of their own worlds. Confronted by the reality that is a reverse of that, they fail to sufficiently negotiate this, allowing these fears to manifest itself as forms of faux machismo masking their insecurities. Acai (Shaheizy Sam), Amy’s boyfriend, is a perfect example of this, as someone who does not take kindly to being challenged either on or off the bike.
For me at least, the film presents an interesting dichotomy of different worlds, an internal clash of civilisations that is worthy of a second look from different angles. We also get to see actors like Aaron Aziz and Nasir Bilal Khan in more minor but important roles, representing different ends of the spectrum that is Asia’s brand of patriarchy.
At the very least, while it does not necessarily break new ground, ‘Bohsia’ represents a step forward in Malaysian cinema. The title is certainly provocative. It was not quite the recent past, but we are still not that far removed from the days when words had to be censored in titles. Right, Mr U-Wei Haji Saari? Maybe that means I am that old, but I suppose this is the generation game that will determine how you yourself receive this film.
Fikri loves his Golden Warrior.
Featured image credit: Zero Motorcycles