Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad has something to say about interracial love & politics

By Nancy T. Lu
"When I made ‘Talentime,’” recalled visiting Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad, “I did not particularly intend the movie to be symbolical. But there it is: the Indians in Malaysia, who represent only about 10 percent of the total population, are without a voice just like the Indian boy Mahesh in my film.”

"Talentime” is a touching semi-autobiographical love story. The romance between Melur, a girl of Malay-British parentage, and Mahesh, an Indian lad who is challenged in hearing and speech, is pure and innocent. But it does not have parental approval. Differences in race, social class and culture are the possible reasons.

The film calls attention to interracial rivalry in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia. In one scene, a resentful Chinese boy tells his Malay classmate that he as a bumiputra or ethnic Malay does not have to work hard for he belongs to the race with special privilege.

The director observed: “The Malays, the biggest majority, are very greedy. They want 100 percent of the political power. The Chinese are very greedy, too. They seek to have 100 percent control of the economy.”

"Talentime,” which was shot in Ipoh, is the Malaysian filmmaker’s sixth and latest movie. “Chinese Eyes,” a 2004 production, was shown at an earlier film festival in Taipei.

Yasmin Ahmad’s feature films may not be mainstream cinema in Malaysia but having emerged as award-winning motion pictures at international film festivals, they enjoy an international following. She now has her fans in Taiwan. According to her, some people in Malaysia have seen “Talentime” for as many as eight times.

Of her cast, the director relies on her limited pool of talents. When looking around for actors and actresses for her film, she regards charisma as a major criterion. In fact, she is prepared to rewrite her script for such a discovery. Often enough, the acting of the character types in her movie contributes to truly hilarious situations, which save the film from becoming a total tearjerker.

If Yasmin Ahmad, the Malaysian director of “Talentime,” could not stop crying herself when she was writing the script about her “stupid past,” she certainly succeeded in making viewers of her film cry buckets during the first screening of her movie at the 2009Taipei Film Festival.

"Talentime” will be screened one more time at 7:30 p.m. on July 3 during the Taipei Film Festival at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei.
Not long after her return to Malaysia, Ahmad suffered a stroke and died three days later.

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