Janganlah Stress, It’s Only Cameronian

These awards have in the past received criticism from some bitter and twisted quarters – allegations of nepotism, cronyism, corruption, lavish waste – and accusations of being nothing more than a back slapping, back stabbing orgy of arts industry indulgence. So I thought perhaps I should start my review of the evening by suggesting that the Malaysian parliament should implement the reformist elements of the 9th Malaysia Plan upon Kakiseni in a hope that the allegations of nepotism, cronyism, corruption and lavish waste could also be eliminated from Kakiseni as it is so clearly being done in all other areas of this great and robust democracy.

Indeed perhaps we should take heart in the fact that the 4th Annual BOH Cameronian Arts Awards 2005 ceremony itself (5 May 2006) appeared to last considerably longer than the parliamentary debate on the 9th Malaysia Plan, or at least felt like it, even though the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur had kindly cushioned the seats. This length perhaps reflects the clumsy, but nonetheless earnest, attempts by the arts community to tidy up its own affairs in a civilised, albeit somewhat lengthy, fashion.

Thirty-six of 39 judged awards were bestowed alongside a number of important lifetime, new talent, cross-cultural, community arts and design awards. As for the ceremony and the awards, it was by and large a spirited and collegial night – made all the more collegial and supportive in fact by some unexpected turns of event.

For the awards this year were tempered somewhat by a number of controversies, not the least of which was the sad announcement mid-ceremony that Amir Muhammad’s Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist) is to be arbitrarily banned in Malaysia, the very place the film is so clearly about. This caused the crowd to boo and jeer. Then of course there was the controversy over the decision by the judges not to award any gongs in the theatre category to all three awards for Best Original Script – Bahasa Malaysia, English or Chinese. The decision by the judges, and not, I should add, Kakiseni, upset many and perhaps with some due reason. How can you in all honesty then go on to award gongs to Best Production or Best Group Performance if the nominated scripts were not deemed worthy? In presenting the award for Best Actor in a Leading role, Zahim Albakri, who had won in this category last year, gave a most gracious and moving defence of the importance of supporting writers for the sake of the theatre and his speech was done with considerable humility and concern, if not also with a tinge of anger.

This decision had also left the awards without a co-host for the night, as Jit Murad, a double nominee for Best Original Script in English (for Jit Happens and Separation 40, co-written with Singaporean Haresh Sharma) pulled out when Kakiseni informed him of the judges’ decision. His reaction is perfectly understandable, at least from my perspective, and it is to the credit of the organisers that they at the last minute managed to partner the vivacious and charismatic MC Izyln Ramli with the stylish panache and politically charged good humour of Shanon Shah.

Both presenters did a sterling job throughout the evening and kept the pace light and breezy, but nonetheless they peppered their commentary with lovely and nicely charged segues to contemporary Malaysian political, cultural and social references, and kept us all suitably amused. Shanon Shah proved that old adage that a week is a long time in both politics and show biz – he travelled career wise from the previous Friday winning Best Male Vocalist at the Malaysian Music Industry Awards to hosting the BOH Cameronian Awards some seven days later. In the process, he further proved the worth of the former achievement and affirmed that he is a rising star of both substance and great talent. It would be difficult to fill Jit Murad’s shoes, so Shanon filled his own shoes admirably and in his own inimitable style.

Another recurring theme throughout the night were the proud displays of resistance in both performance and in witty repartee against the PAS led proscription on traditional Malay culture in Kelantan. It began with the opening number, a beautiful and haunting “Buka Panggung” performance of the banned in Kelantan Mak Yong dance, performed by the talented students of the Akademi Seni Kebangsaan, and it culminated in the moving tribute to the now deceased but much remembered master of the Wayang Kulit, Dalang Dollah Baju Merah, who was posthumously awarded the BOH Cameronian Lifetime Achievement Award.

I am now going to bestow some of my own awards on a few assorted highlights of the night. A full narrative history of the night may just come in at 40,000 words – lengthy as it was! There is an entire chapter to be written on the brave and desperate attempts to get the audience to actually seat themselves for the show and abandon the air kissing that had turned the pre-show party in the lobby into an episode of Absolutely Fabulous. So without any further ado, let me inaugurate the 1st Mat Salleh Awards for Achievements at a BOH Cameronian Spectacular!

Best Original Musical Number

”Negara Lu” (composed by Hardesh Singh; lyrics by Jerome Kugan) – it was in fact the only original musical number of the night, but it was a rollickingly good show tune and even managed to poke mild fun at the Gubra controversy and an assorted array of topical issues (“Janganlah stress, it’s only Cameronian!”). It was a great performance piece too for the talents of Mia Palencia, Tony Eusoff, Bhavani Logeswaran and Evelyn Toh – all nominees of the Best Solo Performance – Voice award (though the gong eventually went to Tan Soo Suan, who wasn’t available to rehearse the song with the rest). The song and performance added a lyrical and musical dimension to the nights overall theme – “Your Malaysia!” – and climaxes with a recognition that to make it here you may also need to make it in Singapore – so bridge building!

Most Promising New Talents

The winner is the entire troupe of dancers from the Akademi Seni Kebangsaan. Superb!

Most Gracious Acceptance Speech

The award is tied (see, I can hand out two awards in one category – my own small contribution to making up for the real judges’ failure in not handing out any awards in three categories perhaps?). They go to the aforementioned Zahim Albakri and to the elegant winner of Best Actor in a Leading Role, Jo Kukathas, awarded for her performance in Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca. Ms Kukathas managed to weave the spirit of the play she had won for into a nicely crafted and heartfelt tribute to those who had managed to get the production onto the stage, including director Rey Buono, whom she credits for creating a good theatre programme at Sunway College. She also mentioned her late mother, who passed away mid-rehearsals last year, in a moving and sensitive way.

Most Dignified Acceptance Speech

Eddin Khoo for his heartfelt and personal acceptance of the Lifetime Achievement Award that recognised the great cultural legacy of Dalang Dollah Baju Merah. He also reminded us all again, if we didn’t already know, just how important it is to save the great cultural legacies that give shape and substance to this nation. Thank you.

Most Over-The-Top and Delightful Acceptance Speech

Shantini Venugopal who accepted the award literally jumping up and down on behalf of the group ‘Jumping Jellybeans’ for their combined win as Best Community Arts or Arts Education Project, sponsored by British Council with a trip to the UK. If this wonderfully enthused woman imparts half as much energy and passion into her work with this nation’s special children as she did into her acceptance speech, then those children are indeed made truly fortunate! It was a bravura performance in sheer delight and happiness.

The Award for the Most Acceptance Speeches

Well I lost count – but the team from Inner Space, an offshoot of the Temple of Fine Arts, won so many awards for their production of Inside Out over so many categories – dance, music and audience choice – that I think the night would have moved more quickly if they had just remained on stage in humble anticipation. Their speeches though were lovely, and well, any group that gets to thank a guru (the late Swami Shanthanand Saraswathi) so often has somebody’s God on their side! Congratulations!

Quirkiest Presenter of the Night

Jerome Kugan gets a Matt Salleh awarded to him for his quirky and goofy rendition of split personalities in the presentation of a couple of pewter gongs! Was that your script Jerome, or Pang’s, or were you just ad-libbing? [It’s both, but he much improved my corny last minute script. – ed.] Seamless chaos so held together by grit, sweat and fire! Is this what poets do when they are moonlighting? Magnificent!

Straightest ‘Camp’ Presenter of the Night

Gavin Yap. Stop trying so hard and just let the real camp come out!

Campest Presenter of the Night

Well this was a very difficult award to judge and in the spirit of the non-awards over at Boh re scripts I think I must just withhold it on the grounds that the competition was just too tough. Maybe in recognition of a potential gay icon we should just give it to Tiara Jacquelina, but I am holding out for her on another award. So, NO – this Matt Salleh says that there was no award to be given this year for Campest Presenter of the Night, but thank you Gavin for trying!

Most Intellectually Challenged Presenters of the Night

Introduced to us as the ‘ebony and ivory’ of Malaysian intellectuals, the two presenters that had the most trouble engaging with their audience were my fellow academics Sharaad Kuttan and Ray Langenbach. Why? Well they came out on stage and did what most intellectuals always do – they lowered the tone of the night. They ruined whatever accumulated glitz and glamour that may have been accrued by being the presenters that had to announce the horrid news about Amir Muhammad’s film being banned. While we all wanted to know, of course, did we need to know so mid way through the night? Luckily the boos and jeers weren’t meant for them – such anti-intellectual behaviour being unknown amongst the arts community here of course! At least they looked suitably crumpled in a way only an intellectual can achieve with any true conviction. So the Matt Salleh Award for crumpled intellectualism and ersatz behaviour has to go to Sharaad and Ray for their magnificent cross over attempt at award show Vegas-ness from their otherwise boringly important academic and creative lives. Go guys! If l died suddenly can you both speak at my funeral?

The Malaysia Boleh Award

It is horrible to steal this award away from those fabulous dance, music and theatre companies – but steal it I will – the Malaysia Boleh! moment of course goes to Tiara Jacquelina – the most crowned Tiara I have ever have had the pleasure of passing by. Not only did she again radiate all that is the promise of Malaysian cinema and theatre, she did so with her senatorial husband in toe, and frankly when you are beautiful, talented and you have married well, you have the right to have everyone call you a Malaysia Boleh moment. Tiara, if you could just stand up and defend the recent assaults from the government on filmmakers and artists and other ordinary citizens then you would of course become eligible for a lifetime achievement award – it is in your grasp. You go girl!

Most Beautiful Celebrity Audience Members

Female:  Sharifah Amani
Male: Stephen Rahman Hughes

Best Dressed

Female: Jo Kukathas – elegant and stylish and so much more than just a Malaysia Boleh moment!
Male: Pang Khee Teik – the Ah Beng Returns uniform with that wicked and non-politically correct tattoo on your chest “Kiss the Kafir” making a statement that of course went beyond fashion. Such politics, such shorts and such commitment – and such a chest too – enough Kakikronism! [Benjamin, you look wicked too with that Colonialist Returns outfit. – ed]

Best Muhibbah Moment

The constant win win win of the dancers and musicians for Indian culture is good news – important that brilliance is recognised and allowed to shine.

Saddest Moment

This award has to go to the announcement by those erstwhile intellectuals, Sharaad and Ray, of the banning of Amir Muhammad’s film. The announcement took place while the film and its filmmaker were simultaneously being feted by the global film world in places as far away from Mandarin Oriental KL as Los Angeles and Toronto. It had of course previously honoured your nation and its history at such festivals as Berlin and Singapore and appears to be getting ready to grace the screen in London too. The fact that the film had been passed without cuts by the Censorship Board only to be ripped from the screens on the eve of its local premiere by the shadowy moral and political guardians from the Home Affairs Ministry, left the audience audibly outraged last Friday night when the announcement was made.

Other nominees in this category included the waiter who announced that the beer had run out at the closing party.

Best Crony Moment

Goes to the delightful end of show video that poked fun at all those allegations – “The Kakikroni Awards”. It did not shy away from humorously rewarding excellence for the sake of excellence itself. Thank everyone’s God for that! It also reminded everyone that the arts scene is small in numbers and that the allegations themselves are perhaps a tad too incestuous.

Best Canape at the After Show Party

There appeared to be a heavy surplus of Salmon – and frankly why would one complain – after all there is no such thing as too much salmon – smoked or otherwise.

Best After Show Party Moment

The sight of so many poor Kakiseni scribes all enjoying the free flow of Heinekin, Salmon and the chance to stagger clumsily and rhythmically to the dulcet tones of the DJ while the A-list stood by and watched! And then of course the rush to get to taxis so that we could all be seen, with our pewter statuettes lining the bar, at Frangipani. The night was, after all, so KL.

Detractors in tow, I say bring on the 5th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards and do it again in style! Times like these need a touch of glamour and an opportunity for the arts community to rail against both perceived and real injustice while still celebrating with panache their magnificent achievements. It may be longwinded but at least the results are live and available for all to see.

First Published: 11.05.2006 on Kakiseni

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