Time out with Mahen Bala
TELL US ABOUT THE FIRST CAMERA YOU OWNED.
One of my early cameras was a really simple digital camera that kept producing purple images. It obviously didn’t work very well but I learnt a great deal about the value of capturing and archiving memories.
DO YOU HAVE A NICKNAME AMONG YOUR CLOSE GROUP OF FRIENDS? Teasing by means of modifying one’s name was a common practice in national schools. “My hand” became quite popular among friends and even teachers. I still use it today to help people who have trouble pronouncing my name.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT ANTARCTICA?
People and their stories are at the very core of the work I produce as a documentarian. How odd it is to find myself in a place where there are no people, and the only traces of them left behind were of the brutally exhaustive whaling era. And Antarctica is the purest, most fragile place I’ve ever visited.
DOCUMENT MALAYSIAN CULTURES WHICH ARE FAST DISAPPEARING. WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO MAKE THESE FILMS?
It is a record of achievements, struggles, failures and flaws, a compendium of all the little things that make us human. In the shoes of a Malaysian, it’s about relationship between people, history, environment and the construct of identity. We spend hours watching documentaries and films on far flung exotic places and cultures, and yet we can’t be bothered to understand the life unfolding around us a little bit better.
The hardest question one can ever ask is, “Where to eat ah?”
WHICH MALAYSIAN IDIOSYNCRASY TICKLES YOU THE MOST?
The hardest question one can ever ask is “Where to eat ah?”, to which the most common answer is one that is seemingly helpful, but only makes matters worse, “Anything la”.
TOKYO ALWAYS AMAZED YOU. WHAT FASCINATES YOU MOST ABOUT JAPAN’S CAPITAL?
Tokyo is like a huge living history book that keeps revising and reinventing itself, so you never read the same chapter twice. It is a palimpsest of culture and ideologies, both conservative and extreme in equal measure.
YOU WERE INVOLVED IN A NEARFATAL ACCIDENT WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER. HOW DID IT CHANGE YOU? Honestly I could fill up an entire book with this, but I’ll keep it short.The biggest change was the power of being positive. Positivity isn’t about being happy at all times, nor is it about dismissing all that is negative. It is about acknowledging both the good and the bad, and then making a conscious, pragmatic decision to move forward.
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR HOLY GRAIL OF TRAIN JOURNEYS?
The holy grail of train journeys is to truly immerse yourself in the history and culture on whichever line you choose, to spend time at each station and see these places as more than just words on a map, or a fleeting Instagram post. With train rides, the journey itself is the destination.
WHAT IS THE BEST PICK-UP LINE YOU’VE USED ON SOMEONE? Never needed one.
WHAT IS THE MOST BIZARRE TALENT YOU HAVE THAT ONLY A FEW OF YOUR CLOSE FRIENDS OR LOVED ONES KNOW ABOUT?
I can read backwards fairly well, and I’ve discovered, that on average, if you added up all the digits on any number plate in Malaysia, the total would fall between 19 and 23. By bizarre I hope you meant pointless.
NAME THREE THINGS MAHEN BALA CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):
Fried anchovies, my family and silence (as in peace and quiet).