By Yasmin Ahmad
We the rakyat, as represented by the Censorship Board, are being spared of Yasmin Ahmad’s new film Sepet, which features – god forbid! – interracial romance. It does not seem to matter that every year, we the rakyat have also seen many of Yasmin Ahmad’s famously muhibbah Petronas advertisements on TV, with their interracial teenage romance and interracial neighbourliness.
Following her previous film Rabun, about the love between an elderly Malay couple, Yasmin, the romantic with an edge, have decided to make Sepet. Here’s the cute synopsis from the website: “19-year old Ah Loong is in charge of a stall selling pirated vcd’s. Contrary to what you might expect someone of his social standing to be, Ah Loong is an incurable romantic with an unlikely hobby – he loves to read and write poetry. Quite content to carry on being the Romeo of the slums, Ah Loong’s life takes a sudden turn one day when a 16-year old Malay schoolgirl arrives at his stall in search of Wong Kar-Wai’s films.”
Sepet won the Best ASEAN Feature at the recent Malaysian Video Awards, and has been invited to the San Francisco International Film Festival, Barcelona Asian Film Festival, and Creteil International Women Directors Festival. But our National Censorship Board has imposed nine cuts on the film. If the filmmakers fail to cooperate, the film will be banned.
The following is an account, in Yasmin’s own words, of what happened during the appeal with the censors. – ed.
There were, if my memory serves me, 12 people in that viewing theatre.
Somewhere in the middle of “Sepet”, Jins Shamsuddin, a panel member who was nodding off at the back, was rudely awakened by the thud-thud-crash of his own songkok falling on the wooden floor. He bolted up, his severely thinning hair sticking out in all directions, looked around in slow-motion like a camel, picked up his songkok, slumped back into his seat, and went back to sleep.
As soon as the screening was over, the only woman in the appeal panel stood up, teary-eyed, and said, “Puan Yasmin, I enjoyed that film very much. Thank you both for making it. Congratulations.”
My producer and I muttered under our breath, “Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah.” Next in line was a Chinese man in his 50’s.
“That’s not a Malay movie or a Chinese movie or an Indian movie,” he declared, ”That’s a Malaysian movie.”
Rosnah and I heaved a big sigh of relief. Clearly, we were counting our chickens before they were hatched, because from then onwards, it went downhill.
“Why didn’t you bring up the issue of religion?”
“Why didn’t she try to convert him? The Malays would have liked that.”
“Why did you make her walk into a Chinese restaurant where non-halal food was probably served?” “If she’s supposed to be liberal, why did you make her wear baju kurung all the time?”
“A long time ago, the Malay people had two bad habits. The men liked to lie down on the floor wearing only sarongs, exposing their tummies, while the women liked to waste time picking lice from each other’s hair. Are you trying to revive these old habits?”
And of course, their coup de grace, articulated by someone called Abdul Aziz:
“We represent the rakyat (the people). We showed your film to some members of the rakyat, and I’m afraid the verdict was not favourable. They want your film stopped.”
To which I replied, “My mother always tells me that my rezeki (my lot in life) is in the hands of Allah, and not in the hands of people like you or anyone else.”
And on that note, Rosnah and I thanked them, and bade our farewell. The final verdict has YET to be made.
The above is taken from Yasmin’s blog at: yasminthestoryteller.blogspot.com.
First Published: 22.12.2004 on Kakiseni