M for Malaysia: A story of hope, unity and reconciliation

Dr Mahathir and Siti Hasmah posing with souvenirs received during the M for Malaysia Gala.

As soon as Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali stepped foot on the red carpet at Pavilion KL’s Golden Screen Cinema, a raucous roar rose up from the assembled crowd of Malaysians.

Cameras clicked and flashes lit up unceasingly as the couple slowly made their way to their seats, smiling and waving at the cheering crowd gathered for the M for Malaysia Gala Premiere.

Whatever you think about his politics, there is no denying that this elderly gentleman is really one of Asia’s most powerful political grandmasters.

The 14th General Election of 2018 will forever go down in Malaysian history as an unprecedented moment, when Mahathir and his allies toppled the entrenched Barisan National regime and initiated the country’s first ever change of government since independence.

What is this film about that is so important that the Prime Minister himself has come to see its premiere?

M for Malaysia is a documentary that allows viewers to witness the key events that led up to the momentous occasion.

A large crowd welcomes Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah at Golden Screen Cinema, Pavilion KL.

Directed by the premier’s granddaughter, Ineza Roussille, and Dian Lee, the film is the product of Roussille’s realisation during the run-up to May 9 that whoever emerged the winner of the election, it was still something worth recording on video.

So, from over 10 hours of footage taken by following Mahathir around on the campaign trail, a film was crafted and enhanced with interviews with Siti Hasmah, politicians, activists and academics.

M for Malaysia commemorates the strength and tenacity of Malaysians and is the first locally-made documentary to be screened in theatres nationwide. Ticket sales began on the premiere day, Sept 10 and are available in selected cinemas.

The documentary is since making the rounds in international circles, with it premièring at the CAAMfest in San Francisco, DocEdge in New Zealand and this October, at the Busan International Film Festival, the largest film festival in Asia.

Interestingly enough, the documentary is scored by Los Angeles-based composer Rendra Zawawi while Malaysian singer, Yuna, is featured on the original theme song entitled “Bermula Kita”.

The film is a well-made documentary explaining the backstory to the unexpected turn of events in 2018 and giving context to the Malaysian political scene.

Dr Mahathir answers questions from the press.

For a foreigner with no understanding of Malaysian politics, this film serves as a good commentary which is easy to digest and understand.

While much of the film props Mahathir as the last hope for Malaysia, it also makes it a point to highlight that the long-time politician has a dark side, as the victims of his political machinations might attest to.

A segment dedicated to Anwar Ibrahim’s ordeal under Mahathir’s administration is particularly harrowing.

Present deputy prime minister and wife of Anwar, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail makes no secret that the amount of suffering her family was put through was immense.

The same goes for Lim Guan Eng who was locked up as a result of Mahathir’s use of the Internal Security Act during Operasi Lalang.

However, the animosity that both of them had for Mahathir had to be put aside when they realised that it was only him that stood a chance of posing a serious threat to former prime minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional government.

The documentary mostly follows Mahathir on the campaign trail pre-election and shows the genuinely sweet relationship the man has with his wife.

If there is any complaint to be made about M for Malaysia, it is that it would actually have been good to get some comments from members of the former Barisan Nasional government for the sake of balance.

This would have especially been appropriate during the segment covering Pakatan Harapan’s realisation that victory was within reach.

The presumably contrasting muted and stunned response in Barisan Nasional’s war room would certainly have made for some interesting viewing.