PETALING JAYA: Pioneer Malay filmmaker Krishnan Lakshmanan excitedly gushed, “I made it, I feel great”, as he turned 100 years old today.
The spry gentleman said reaching his centenary with his health and wits mostly intact was a privilege.
Krishnan said: “I eat well, sleep like a baby, and wake up every morning grateful to be alive. But I’m a bit worried that I may be in better shape than the health of Malaysia is.”
He was referring to the surging cost of living, a polarised society and political instability. While he felt disheartened by the setbacks in Malaysia, he expressed hope for the future.
Krishnan was speaking to FMT by phone from Chiang Mai where he has been living for more than a decade with his second wife Rukhmanee, a Thai national and former cosmetic clinic nurse.
When told he looked at least 20 years younger, he said his wife kept him young and that he was thankful to her for making each day worth living for. “I have lived a wholesome life and I wish to live for many more years,” he said.
Krishnan said his centennial party this evening at a hotel will be an endearing moment filled with gratitude to the “people I love”.
He said he missed celebrating his birthday and Deepavali with the less fortunate in Malaysia.
The philanthropist had for more than 30 years touched the lives of the needy, especially children in shelters in the Klang Valley, on special occasions.
In Kuala Lumpur today, the Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Indian Culture Centre in Brickfields will honour Madras-born Krishnan who was a second lieutenant in the Indian army in the 1940s.
The tribute to him coincides with the 79th anniversary today of Azad Hind, a Chandra Bose-led Indian provisional government established in Japanese-occupied Singapore during World War II.
The story of the acclaimed director and screenwriter would make a great movie, too.
He had a front-row seat in the 1940s when film directors from India were making movies that carried plenty of singing and dancing scenes.
After learning the trade and techniques from the Indians at a small studio in Ampas Road, Singapore, Krishnan and other local film directors like KM Bashker soon held sway.
Krishnan went on to write, produce and direct more than 30 movies with themes that explored the early idealism of Malaya. By using the transformative power of film, he helped build a national sentiment that connected the people to a common sense of purpose and pride.
He recalled that he took chances and brought bold narratives to the screen to press home the concept that ideas, morals and spiritual values were more worthy than material objects.
His works inspired numerous luminaries who are now in the Malaysian movie industry’s hall of fame as actors, directors, producers and screenwriters.
They included P Ramlee, Rosnani Jamil, Kasma Booty, Maria Menado, Roomai Noor, Siput Sarawak, Mustapha Maarof, Abdullah Chik, M Amin, Nordin Ahmad, Wahid Satay, Hussein Hassan, Omar Rojik and Mahmud Jun.
Krishnan’s first film in 1950, “Bakti”, which he directed and wrote, made Ramlee an instant celebrity.
To Krishnan, who directed Ramlee’s first four movies, the actor was an ideal Malay hero blessed with acting brilliance and a baritone, velvet voice that is still heard on Malaysian radio.
He said Ramlee’s pictures tapped straight into the national psyche and everybody loved him. “They still do.”
From songs, dances and romantic films that followed a ‘will-they-won’t they’ trope, Krishnan broke new ground by unleashing terror of the unknown through horror films.
Films like “Orang Lichin” (1957), “Orang Minyak” (1958) and “Serangan Orang Minyak” (1959) paved the path for scary movies.
As an industry leader, he also gained the respect of Indian movie greats like MG Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan and Raj Kapoor.
Kollywood and Bollywood saw Krishnan, a forerunner in bringing Indian cinema expertise to the Malay film industry, as a vital cog in the cultural link between Malaysia and India.
Krishnan was also a sifu in Malaysian advertising and music.
After forming Gaya Filem Berhad in 1970, he convinced the government to ban foreign-produced commercials, allowing local companies to create their own advertisements.
In 1980, he set up Gaya Music Studio, the first 16-track entity, to help grow local music. Two years later, he launched the first motion picture colour laboratory in the country, and in 1984 he was made chairman of Cathay Organisation Malaysia.
He received numerous prizes and several federal and state awards including the title of Tan Sri for his pioneering and innovative ventures while with Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris Studio in Singapore and Merdeka Studio in Kuala Lumpur.
GOAT (greatest of all time) gets thrown around a lot, but it is important to preserve its meaning so that it can be applied suitably to people like Krishnan.
Cue national clap. Roll credits.