Those were the days when satire was a source of laughter, not a charge under the Sedition Act
KUALA LUMPUR: There was a time when Malaysians were obsessed with the local humour magazine Gila-Gila, that literally meant mad in English.
Generations of Malaysians would recall the contagious laughter and the hilarious characters and plots that the magazine provided its readers.
Nearly every barbershop and clinic in the country had the magazines available to provide entertainment for the waiting customers and patients.
As humour is universal, everyone, regardless of their race or background, could laugh along to Gila-Gila’s views on a wide array of cultural, social and political issues of the day.
Now, 37 years since the magazine’s inception, Gila-Gila Galeri lives again: Petronas is celebrating the magazine’s achievements in a special exhibition called Lagi-lagi Gila-Gila (More of Gila-Gila) at the gallery in Suria KLCC, featuring more than 200 pieces of the magazine’s iconic and original cartoons, many from the magazine’s golden era of the late 1970s.
The Intelligent Side of Gila-Gila
The exhibition curator, Badrolhisam M. Tahir said Gila-Gila offered its readers more than just typical hyperbole or farce: “they use satire to talk about Malaysian society. This gives a different level of appreciation towards the cartoons,” he said.
The magazine lampooned everyone and everything: be it influential individuals like George Soros or everyday Malaysian grievances such as roadblocks.
Such satirical presentation exposed even the uninitiated readers on a plethora of heavy issues such as international financial crises, social illnesses, bribery, the environment, relationships and racial harmony.
“Gila-Gila, from the start, has tried to map the culture of Malaysians, taking an altogether different approach from other entertainment magazines at the time, such as Varia Pop and URTV,” said Badrolhisam.
Badrolhisam said sections in Gila-Gila such as ‘Cili Api’ and ‘Panaurama’ by Gila-Gila founder Jaafar Taib, delivered the latter’s views on global issues.
One of those displayed at the exhibition depicted business magnate George Soros as a pirate on board a ship trying to enter Malaysia. He cancelled his attempt upon realising that his real life adversary Dr Mahathir Mohamad was still around to defend the RinGila-Gilait.
In Serkop: Hari Itu Nak Jadi Sejarah – Kisah Seorang Pejuang, writer Aidiladeeja used a fictional figure from the era of Mat Kilau to criticise the heavy Western practices absorbed by modern Malays. Mat Kilau (1847-1970) was a Malay warrior who fought against the British imperial rule in Pahang in the late 1890s.
In the segment Tong Kosong, artist Zainal Buang Hussein produced comic strips that criticised certain practices of the Malay community, urging for change.
Gila-Gila’s mascot, Professor Serba Tahu (Professor Know-it-all) gives old Malay sayings a new spin under the Falsampah Gila-Gila section. His modification of old Malay proverbs were often cynical yet accurately lampoons current social issues.
Pak Sako and Samad Ismail
Two big names who unleashed their creativity in Gila-Gila were national laureates Pak Sako and Tan Sri A Samad Ismail.
According to Professor Dr Muliyadi Mahamood from the Faculty of Arts and Design, Mara University of Technology, “Gila-Gila is the only (local) humour magazine that has attracted many big names as guest writers”.
Pak Sako or Ishak Haji Muhammad wrote the column Pepatah-Petitih, using Malay proverbs to describe the social ills of current times. “Most of the content is still relevant today. The issues remain the same, the concerns about them still relatively similar,” said Muliyadi.
At the end of his article, Pak Sako would insert a proverb of his creation and relate it to older sayings, calling them Kata Orang Tua-tua, Kata Orang Muda-muda(Sayings of the Old, Sayings of the Young).
A Samad Ismail took over after Pak Sako and used monologues in his writings, portraying conversations between himself and other fictional characters.
Interacting with the Audience
Gila-Gila always engaged with its readers, who shared their views through letters and by contributing ideas to be published in Sudut Kerastangan Gila-Gila where the cartoonists would bring to life the readers’ ideas.
Jaafar said Gila-Gila cartoonists worked to ensure that readers could easily relate to the content.
Jaafar himself holds on to several principles when it comes to creating cartoons, and his were derived from an advice from one of the most prominent Malay cartoonist the late Rejab bin Had (Rejabhad).
“The words of Rejabhad that I hold on until today is that a cartoon must do three thing: teach, entertain and raise awareness,” he said.
The Lagi-lagi Gila-Gila exhibition also includes Jungle Jokes by Jaafar Taib; Perwira Mat Gila by Rejabhad; From Taiping With Love by Rasyid Asmawi; and Lagak A. Mamud by Fatah Ngah. The exhibition, at Galeri Petronas in Suria KLCC, will be open until July 15.