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Not really another review

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Zaharom Nain refuses to pay good (or increasingly bad) ringgit to watch something that he has apparently already paid for as a taxpayer.

Tanda Putera director Shuhaimi Baba
Tanda Putera director Shuhaimi Baba

Perhaps when a cheap DVD of Tanda Putera is available, I’ll then borrow a friend’s copy of the copy, watch it if I have the time and the inclination, and write a review akin to the many reviews of pitiful Malay TV dramas I used to do as a young ‘un in the good old days.

After all, I don’t see any urgency in reviewing a movie that, from all the accounts that I’ve read so far, has tanked and has thus far met with critical disdain.

Indeed, reading some – well, all right, most – of the reviews you would think the reviewers were describing some horrid, disgusting, terminal disease instead of what evidently is a poorly-made, expensive dud.

So, no, this is not another review of Tanda Putera, as I refuse to pay good (or increasingly bad) ringgit to watch something that I’ve apparently already paid for as a taxpayer.

Indeed, for those still in the dark, Tanda Putera was primarily financed by grants from two government bodies (in turn funded by us taxpayers), National Film Corporation Malaysia (Finas) and MDec.

To the tune of about RM4m, give or take a few thousand ringgit. Not quite as much as the cost of the NFC cows, cars and condos, but certainly not chicken-feed either for us poor minions.

Be that as it may, perhaps what’s been more way interesting than this dud movie itself has been the comments and reactions of some of the people involved, from the much-maligned director, Shuhaimi Baba, to those wishing to turn this into a TV mini-series to be force-fed to us innocents.

Initially, before the movie was released, some claimed that it was a documentary. The director herself suggested that, this being a historical movie, her people had done extensive research on the period.

However, the veracity of the research itself was questioned by others, including Kua Kia Soong, author of a well-researched book on May 13, in a number of Malaysiakini articles.

Later, just as the movie was about to be released, the term ‘creative licence’ was highlighted, particularly by the director, as if to explain away any deviation in the movie from credible historical accounts.

In school we would have called this ‘trick lama’ or ‘trick basi’.

Nevertheless, taking into consideration that this is a movie that was reportedly shown free of charge before the 13th general election to university students on their campuses and to many Felda settlers, the publicity generated prior to its official public release was quite unprecedented.

Not all of that publicity was positive, of course. While all this negative publicity perhaps swore people off the movie, it was publicity nonetheless.

Unprecedented warning

Indeed, much publicity was generated when some in the opposition urged that it be boycotted, and others like the Penang chief minister `advised’ cinemas in the state not to screen it.

The latter was a silly move, of course, given that Malaysians nowadays – at least the ones who watch this type of movies – don’t need to be told what to do and are quite mature enough not to go rioting in the streets. This, after all is 2013, not 1969.

Of course it could be argued that the mindless masses, say the 47 per cent who didn’t vote for Pakatan Rakyat in GE13, would have watched the movie and acted otherwise. And that these were the ones Lim Guan Eng was concerned about.

But given the movie’s really poor showing at the box office thus far, it appears that it would have perhaps taken some kind of BR1M handout or another to entice this 47 per cent to watch Tanda Putera.

It was, after all, the month of Syawal, with duit raya being the order of the day. Even for the purported 3m Umno members.

Hence, coughing up RM7 and above to watch a movie must have been a no-no for those addicted to handouts.

Whatever the case, clearly incensed with such ‘advisories’, the director took surely the equally unprecedented step of issuing a warning: “If the cinemas cancel the screening without our permission or that of (Finas), their licences can be revoked” (Malaysiakini, 29 August 2013).

She even threatened legal action against those who had said nasty things about her product.

Bad move, I’m sure. You see, as Adam Adli, Haris Ibrahim, Annie Ooi, Wong Tack and many, many more decent citizens will tell you, Malaysians these days don’t take kindly to being threatened.

Indeed, even if you force the cinemas to screen the damn thing, it doesn’t mean people are going to automatically flock there.

And so it has come to pass. Measly takings for the first week, with audiences in single figures being reported for some shows in many venues. Really nasty reviews by normally amiable print, Net and broadcast journalists. And when not nasty, certainly angry ones.

As a seasoned director like Shuhaimi should know by now, nasty reviews are par for the course for any movie. After all, in a November 2012 forum in UiTM to publicise the movie, she reportedly told Malaysians not to be so touchy about the contents of the movie.

By the same token, surely she shouldn’t be so touchy now as to render her incapable of receiving critical comments and reviews?

Indeed, in this regard, I’m reminded of an incident many years ago in the newsroom of a local daily when a leader writer of the paper received a packet of human turd from an irate reader. The prima donna writer went around the newsroom whingeing away. Until that is, a senior editor yelled at him to grow up.

Similarly, surely a seasoned director like Shuhaimi Baba must know how to stoically take the rough with the smooth, the brickbats when the bouquets are in short supply?

After all, despite the brickbats, her political supporters – many, if not all, from Umno – surprise, surprise – are now talking about screening the movie via outdoor cinema in rural areas and even turning it into a mini-series. One MB has even gone so far as to screen the movie as a state event.

The Perkasa gang, as always, have had some things to say about the movie. As always, their comments have been instantly forgettable.

And hard on the heels of some minister saying that the movie should be seriously studied, one potentially – in another lifetime perhaps – world-class local university, led by its potentially world class dean has offered to ‘study’ the movie and churn out world-class articles on it.

While we wait with bated breath for all this to happen, perhaps, in paraphrasing a line made popular just after GE13, we could ask the director: Apa lagi anda mahu?

This article was first published in Malaysiakini.

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