Malaysian masala

Although lo­cally-made In­dian movies are not a dime a dozen, there have been in­roads made into the scene.

The Star Malaysia - - MOVIES - By GRACE CHEN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

TO trace the colour­ful trail of Malaysian made In­dian movies, we must go back to the 1960s. One could con­sider Rathapei (Bloody Lust) as the first In­dian film made by a lo­cal pro­duc­tion as it had been done by a dance troupe who recorded their per­for­mance on stage while tour­ing In­dia.

Two more projects would fol­low suit in the 1970s. One was by Felix An­thony, a pro­ducer from Ipoh with Thun Ban­gal Urangu Vathillai (Wor­ries Don’t Stop) and Anbe En Anbe (My Love).

One was a dis­as­ter. The other two never saw light of day due to lack of fund­ing.

So, credit for the first lo­cally-made In­dian movie to be­come a suc­cess has to go to Pan­chacharam Nal­liah, bet­ter known as Pan­sha, who di­rected Naan Oru Malaysian (I Am Malaysian) in 1991.

Pan­sha, an es­tab­lished film dis­trib­u­tor who then shot to fame in Adutha Veedu, a TV3 Tamil drama about hos­tile neigh­bours in 1984, re­calls what spurred him on.

“Dur­ing the 80s, many pro­duc­tion houses from In­dia did their film­ing in Malaysia. Ev­ery time they came, there was a lot of talk about col­lab­o­ra­tions with Malaysian artistes to en­cour­age the film in­dus­try. But as soon as they fin­ished pro­duc­tion, these peo­ple went back and noth­ing more was heard. So, I de­cided to do some­thing about it by mak­ing my own film,” says Pan­sha who wrote, di­rected and played the hero in the movie.

Naan Oru Malaysian made its run in three lo­ca­tions and raked in RM150,000. Pan­sha rec­ol­lects that it played to full house in Kuala Lumpur’s Fed­eral Cinema dur­ing its week-long run and even reck­oned that it would have done bet­ter if not for the tur­moil be­tween two bick­er­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties who had forced the au­thor­i­ties to cor­don off the town area which af­fected at­ten­dance at the Coli­seum The­atre in Jalan Tuanku Ab­dul Rah­man, KL. But in all, the man has no re­grets.

In 2005, Deepak Menon made Chem­man Chaalai (The Gravel Road), a Tamil film with English sub­ti­tles. The film was shown at a num­ber of film fes­ti­vals across the world in­clud­ing the In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val Rot­ter­dam, San Fran­cisco In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Pu­san In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Korea, Nantes Fes­ti­val 3 Con­ti­nents, France and the Fukuoka In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Ja­pan. A few years later, he re­leased an­other film, Cha­lang­gai (Danc­ing Bells). These were not your av­er­age Tamil movies, but rather sto­ries por­tray­ing the daily life of peo­ple as hu­manly and re­al­is­ti­cally as pos­si­ble, and met with a promis­ing re­cep­tion. How­ever be­cause they were made in dig­i­tal for­mat (which is not yet a recog­nised medium), the movies were not clas­si­fied as lo­cally made films.

What made Naan Oru Malaysian dif­fer­ent for Deepak’s films was that it was shot on 35mm film. Ac­cord­ing to Pan­sha, the di­rec­tor and pro­ducer of Naan Oru Malaysian from Ber­jaya Film Pro­duc­tion, shoot­ing on film is a gi­ant step for the in­dus­try in terms of cost as it re­quires a huge bud­get. A can of film which has a screen­ing time of five min­utes can cost RM500. So, a full length movie span­ning two and half hours can take up to 100 cans. In truth, this means that last year’s pro­duc­tion of Ap­palam was in­deed only the sec­ond Malaysian-made In­dian movie af­ter Naan Oru Malaysian to be shot on 35mm film.

Malay di­rec­tor Afdlin Shauki’s Ap­palam was pro­duced by Tayan­gan Ung­gul, a sis­ter com­pany of Astro, and re­leased with much hype

from the me­dia.

In­ter­est­ingly, Gana Pra­gasam, the ac­tor who played the hero in this movie was also the first pro­ducer to come up with the Tamil VCD.

Hello, Yaare Pe­serathe (Who Is There?), a com­edy about prank calls, was first re­leased as an au­dio cas­sette in 1999, be­fore it was adapted into a two-hour VCD movie.

“There was no In­dian movie VCDs back then ex­cept for the Kol­ly­wood imports. I wanted to cre­ate a new mar­ket,” re­calls Gana.

The start was not en­cour­ag­ing. When he bandied the idea to lo­cal pro­duc­ers, one told him point blank that no one would want to see his face.

Un­per­turbed, Gana went ahead. A stall at Batu Caves, Se­lan­gor, set up dur­ing the Thai­pusam fes­ti­val, be­came his first sales out­let. Eleven VCDs and RM2.5mil later, this pro­lific pro­ducer, di­rec­tor, script writer and ac­tor is best known among Tamil movie fans as the lo­cal com­edy king. His lat­est project, Bu­dak

Estet, an an­i­ma­tion is due for re­lease in 2012 as a 26-episode TV se­rial.

Hav­ing forged his own path into show­biz, the former Toshiba copier technician is also the in­dus­try’s most fiery ad­vo­cate.

In a let­ter to Astro in Au­gust this year, Gana who is also pres­i­dent of Malaysian In­dian Art Ac­tivist As­so­ci­a­tion, voiced that the cur­rent prac­tice of the broad­cast­ing sta­tion in pro­duc­ing lo­cal In­dian con­tent on an in-house ba­sis was no help in en­cour­ag­ing the in­dus­try to progress.

“Al­lo­ca­tions to pro­duce doc­u­men­taries and 26-episode dra­mas should be given to pri­vate pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies to help the in­dus­try ex­pand. Lo­cal sta­tions should have at least one Tamil chan­nel air­ing 100% lo­cally pro­duced con­tent,” he says.

The National Film De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion Malaysia (Finas), he added, should also play its part by al­lo­cat­ing grants to de­serv­ing com­pa­nies.

So is the In­dian movie scene in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion? A per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion at a DVD store in Brick­fields, KL, shows that it is still pro­gress­ing at a healthy rate. This year alone sees two film re­leases.

One is Garu­uda, di­rected by M. Subash. Re­leased in Au­gust. It fea­tures ac­tor M. Su­urya in his first star­ring role. In this ac­tion-packed movie, the fight chore­og­ra­pher is none other than national taekwando champ, Sel­va­muthu Ra­masamy, who made head­lines in the 1989 and 1991 SEA Games with his gold medals.

An­other is Anusthanaa a thriller star­ring Anaan­tha the THR Raaga DJ, and Haani Shivraj. Shot in Kam­par (Perak), Fraser’s Hill (Pahang) and Kuala Lumpur, it prom­ises plenty of sus­pense and drama and should be re­leased at the end of the year.

An­other new movie, an­tic­i­pated for the Deep­avali sea­son ac­cord­ing to Pan­cha, is

Vi­laiyaatu Pasanga (The Tuff Nuts) di­rected by Vi­mala Peru­mal

Be­ing Malaysian-made, the lo­cal In­dian movie nat­u­rally has a muhib­bah feel.

For ex­am­ple, in Sin­gakot­tai, a GV Me­dia VCD pro­duc­tion of a com­edy about a royal court that has iso­lated it­self from the modern world, the king re­ceives a let­ter from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall! Au­di­ences are quick to recog­nise the palace as the Sul­tan Ab­dul Sa­mad build­ing in front of Dataran Merdeka.

In Un­der­cover Ras­cals, star­ring C. Ku­mare­san of Gerak Khas fame and Jas­mine Micheal, the hero’s best friend falls for a Chi­nese girl, lend­ing a unique touch to the song-and-dance rou­tine.

So, since we are brew­ing our own pro­duc­tions would it be pos­si­ble for an In­dian movie to go with­out the song and dance for once?

Subash, who di­rected Pen­sil, a story of a dis­abled boy’s un­con­di­tional love for his drunk­ard fa­ther which was shown over Vaanavil in 2005, gives a ready nod.

How­ever, he points out that one of the tri­als of mak­ing Pen­sil was a re­jec­tion slip by a sta­tion be­cause there was no song and dance. But af­ter sink­ing more than RM25,000 of his and his part­ner’s hard earned sav­ings into the mak­ing of the film, they were not go­ing to let go.

The per­se­ver­ance paid off be­cause when it fi­nally made it on Vaanavil, the re­sponse from the me­dia was huge.

“I got peo­ple call­ing to ask how they could help the boy in the movie and I had to tell them that it was a fic­tional char­ac­ter,” says Subash, who played the lead role. (In 2008, Pen­sil was made into a Malay film and screened at cine­mas, with Subash repris­ing his role as the lead char­ac­ter.)

But one thing that no In­dian movie can miss is the love story and one of my favourite love scenes is in Un­der­cover Ras­cals.

This is where the hero en­ters into the line of fire with his Mit­subishi Evo­lu­tion IV to res­cue the damsel in dis­tress. See­ing the bad­die go for his gun, hero swings hero­ine to safety and in that split sec­ond, their eyes meet and they fall in love. How dra­matic!

Mean­while, plots con­tinue to sim­mer and boil, en­velop­ing every­thing in an aroma of drama and sus­pense.

Only this time, the cook­ing is hap­pen­ing right in our own back­yard.

As for what’s in store for the fu­ture, trends show that the dream of “mak­ing it big in In­dia” re­mains pop­u­lar. But there are those who pre­fer to break away from the pack.

Cur­rently, Gana is col­lab­o­rat­ing with part­ners from Bangladesh for For­eigner, a movie chron­i­cling the life of a mi­grant worker abroad.

“Com­pare the Malaysian pop­u­la­tion of 28 mil­lion, Bangladesh has 180 mil­lion. You can do the math from here, I guess,” con­cludes Gana.

He’s the man: M. Su­urya, a new­comer to the sil­ver screen, plays the quin­tes­sen­tial In­dian hero. The ac­tor, who is di­rec­tor M. Subash’s cousin, helped to pro­duce Pen­sil in 2005.

The busi­ness of play­ing hide and seek be­hind trees was very ev­i­dent in the first lo­cally pro­duced In­dian movie, star­ring Pan­sha (left). Su­urya in his first star­ring role in Garu­uda, which was re­lased this year.

Haani Shivraj and Gana Pra­gasam in Ap­palam, di­rected by Afdlin Shauki. Pan­sha (mid­dle) with well-known lo­cal ac­tor Ramesh (right) in a scene from Naan Oru Malaysian. Sin­gakot­tai is a com­edy about a her­mit king whose seclu­sion would bring about the...

M. Subash in Pen­sil, about a dis­abled boy’s un­con­di­tional love for his drunk­ard fa­ther. The suc­cess of the film shows that an In­dian movie can do with­out the song-and-dance for­mula.

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