Celebrating Jagat’s success at the 28th Malaysian Film Festival, Sheril A. Bustaman highlights the film’s importance in history.
On Saturday 3rd September 2016, Jagat won the Best Malaysian Film award at the 28th Malaysian Film Festival. In case you didn’t already know, let me tell you why I think this is so important to the Malaysian film industry and to Malaysians in general.
Jagat is a film that took over 10 years to make, on a limited budget and with limited resources. I can understand why the Malaysian film industry would not fund a film like Jagat. In an industry where the winning formulae for local films seems to involve mat rempits, pontianaks, abused women falling for their abusers (based on adapted novels) and the like, there is no room for a socio-realism film like Jagat. This however, does not make it correct or acceptable.
I don’t remember who I watched Jagat with. I do, however, remember watching the film. I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable by all the hard truths that Jagat was so seamlessly delivering on the screen. I remember my heart breaking when the MJ costume was ruined. I remember tearing up when the father lamented how he is trying to give his child the best education possible because that’s his only way out over a glass of beer. I remember the stark contrast between a father’s hope and the coarseness in the way he talks to his child. I remember thinking how tough love sometimes breaks us, instead of strengthening us. I remember taking away the lesson of how some things come to be by circumstance, but the circumstances tend to repeat themselves, thus becoming a cycle and a part of the social structure today.
I watched it many months ago, once – and I remember all of this till today.
And that’s essentially what a good film does. It stays with you, outliving its screening dates, reviews and awards. Many years later, it is still able to come to your mind, fresh as the day you sat down to watch it.
It hurt me greatly when Jagat was removed from the Best Film category, on the basis of it not fulfilled a “70% Bahasa Malaysia” criteria. It felt like the industry was trying to invalidate it as a Malaysian film, and that is terrible on so many levels – the biggest one being the fact that a Malaysian identity can encompass so many things that go beyond just the national language. Jagat felt more like a Malaysian film to me more than any other local film I have ever seen, just because it was a film made about Malaysians, by Malaysians. So when the compromise (and don’t kid yourselves, for that’s what it was) was achieved and the nomination returned, my entire support was rooted into Jagat winning Best Malaysian Film.
And then it did.
The underdog film that people did not believe in for years, and didn’t want to have anything to do with, won the Best Malaysian Film award. Opening up the belief to other filmmakers that, yes, you can make a film different from the generic formulae, despite naysayers telling you that this isn’t a film that will be well received. It isn’t a film that people want to see, and win. This win shows Malaysians that the potential for Malaysian cinema is out there, undiscovered. It is possibly silenced, but it’s still out there, and it is an untapped goldmine of stories yet to be told and put on the silver screen. There is more to the Malaysian narrative than just abused women and love triangles. There is more to gangsterism than just fancy special effects and sound design. There are backstories, there are layers. And it is wonderful. It is magical. And we’re living in a time where the stories like this can thrive over the generic, and come out triumphant.
This is why Shanjey Kumar Perumal is personally my new Malaysian film hero. Because by defying the odds, and working with what he had, in pursuit of delivering the story, he has broken barriers and opened up the Malaysian film industry to so many new possibilities. Whether he intended to or not, whether it is recognized by the masses or not, this is the case as it stands in today’s society.
This is why the Jagat win is so important, because it shows you that being Malaysian sometimes doesn’t mean conforming, tolerating, adapting. It also means being different. That is not only okay, it is now celebrated.
And it’s about damn time.
Published in the sixth issue of CQ Magazine. First published on Facebook in September 2016. Sheril A. Bustaman is the editor in chief of G-Blog, an online platform for constructive discourse on gender in Malaysia. Read what Hassan Muthalib wrote of the film here.
Feature image credit: Linkology