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Tanda Putera treads on thin ice

 | August 23, 2012

A MIC leader point outs that the movie on May 13 will open the scope for directors to explore other sensitive topics like the Kampung Medan violence and the exploits of Chin Peng.

PETALING JAYA: More than four decades ago, the nation was rocked by communal violence and since then the tragic episode is often raised by politicians to strike fear in the hearts of Malaysians.

While the official version pinned the blame on DAP for being the catalyst, there were also those who pointed the finger at Umno, accusing its leaders of masterminding the bloodletting.

The number of fatalities was also uncertain, with the government charged with downplaying the figures.

Now, a movie on the racial riot was set to hit the screens, and this had sparked off a raging debate.

The director of Tanda Putera, Suhaimi Baba, denied that the movie had a political agenda, despite it being partially funded by the government. She also claimed that the script was historically accurate.

Weighing in on the issue, MIC publicity and communication chief S Vell Paari said while art should not be curtailed, a movie on the May 13, 1969 riots was akin to treading on thin ice.

He also warned that if the script appeared bias towards any particular party or race, then it could lead to an electoral backlash for Barisan Nasional in the next polls.

“In countries like US and India, movies on sensitive subjects are quite normal such as those which touch on slavery, the Klu Klux Klan, racial riots and segregation.

“In India, movies criticise the police and politicians as well as raise issues like corruption among the ruling elite and espouse the need for an uprising be it through the ballot or bullet,” he said.

But the situation, he added, was different in Malaysia.

“Our directors do not dabble in such matters because of the fear of political and legal reprisals and such a movie, even if produced, would not pass through the censorship board,” he added.

Conflicting versions

Furthermore, Vell Paari said there were conflicting versions as to what transpired on May 13, and this rendered the director’s claim of it being historically accurate open to dispute.

The MIC central working committee member also wondered if Malaysians were matured enough to handle such scripts.

“This is because the spectre of May 13 has always been used as a ‘spook tool’ by certain quarters while those who utter remarks deemed racially sensitive are thrown behind bars.

“However, there are also those who appear to enjoy immunity when it comes to spewing racist remarks or making open threats of racial violence,” he added.

The point was, he said, race-relations in Malaysia was still a delicate issue and a movie like Tanda Putera, if not handled with care and professionalism, could be counter-productive.

“Suhaimi Baba is an experienced and acclaimed director, so I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But the problem here is more complex than a director’s movie-making skills,” he said.

Vell Paari suggested that the movie be released after the general election in order to dispel the notion that Tanda Putera was designed to shore up Malay support for the ruling coalition.

The movie, which was initially slated for a September release, had been postponed to November following the debate it generated.

Meanwhile, Vell Paari also noted that Tanda Putera would set the precedent for directors to explore other sensitive topics and the censorship board must not practise double standard.

He said there could be movies made on the Kampung Medan violence in 2001, the Hindraf rally in 2007 or even on the exploits of former Communist Party of Malaya leader Chin Peng.

“Chin Peng and CPM are still considered foul words in the government’s dictionary but there are those who call him an independence fighter for waging war against the British.

“Just like Che Guevara and Osama bin Laden, there are always two sides to the coin,” he added.


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