KUALA LUMPUR: Local movies should be scrutinised for the excessive usage of colloquial Bahasa Malaysia (BM), says the director of last year’s Best Film at the Malaysian Film Festival (FFM).
Liew Seng Tat, whose movie Lelaki Harapan Dunia took the top prize last year, was responding to comments that the FFM must preserve Bahasa Malaysia as it is part of the national identity.
“From what we have seen, in most of the gangster films in Bahasa Malaysia, the characters are speaking in Bahasa pasar (colloquial BM). That is not right at all.
“You are actually making fun of the language rather than safeguarding it,” he told FMT.
Yesterday, Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM) President Yusof Haslam said it was crucial to preserve BM as it is part of the national identity.
Yusof had made the comments at a forum in defending the move to have separate categories for BM and non-BM Malaysian movies for the Malaysian Film Festival (FFM), and especially for placing Ola Bola and Jagat under the non-BM movie category.
Liew, who also won for Best Director last year, said that it is very technical to cherry pick on the language used in local films, as it limits creativity in film-making, considering that Malaysia has people who have different mother tongues, not to mention the different dialects when it comes to how people speak in different parts of the country.
“We are very multi-cultural in Malaysia. Many expressions in the film should reflect our society, specifically on the languages we speak here. But if you want to apply it to the whole cinema, it’s not quite right. It’s very limiting.
“Unless we are making a nationalistic or a propaganda film, then it’s fine to justify so. But other than that, cinema should be free to express the story in a natural way.”
Liew also commented on the disqualification of Ola Bola from the Best Film category in the FFM, as it was deemed not to have met the newly-imposed rule of “70% of dialogue in BM requirement”.
“I oppose that. If you look at the overall film, it is the most muhibah (diverse) Malaysian film. So if this cannot represent Malaysia, then something is not right.”
Many critics of the segregation had also pointed out that it was unnecessary as Ola Bola contained at least 50-60% of BM.
Meanwhile, Liew also reminisced about Lelaki Harapan Dunia’s release in 2014.
As a Malaysian Chinese directing a Malay film, Liew received backlash from some quarters, labelling him as being “anti-Malay”.
“A small segment of the audience at the movie’s premiere were not happy with what they watched.
“That’s why, I got told off by some people after that, with the critics saying I don’t have a right to do a Malay film because I’m not Malay,” Liew said, adding that the movie had managed to create a platform to discuss religion and cultural sensitivities.
“There were criticisms of me being racist, but people started to voice up, saying that they didn’t see it as inappropriate or racist in any way.
“Cherry picking like that is wrong. That’s not what the story is about. It is a story featuring the ‘Angkat Rumah’ tradition of the Malays That is why the whole movie was in BM,” Liew said.
The cow-slaughtering scene, which was meant to depict a communal celebration of Hari Raya Korban, was also grilled by a small group of people because it was misinterpreted as being offensive.
“It had no intention to make fun of any religion. So, when such criticism surfaced, many Muslims actually voiced out and said, ‘hey, there’s actually nothing wrong with this. It is exactly how it is in kampungs’.
“So, this kind of open dialogue is really needed because of what is happening to the FFM currently.
“I’m glad that people are beginning to talk about it because most people just ignore it and think there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Aside from Best Film and Best Director, Liew’s Lelaki Harapan Dunia, produced by Everythings Film Sdn Bhd, also garnered Best Child Actor (Rykarl Iskandar) and the Best Original story awards last year.
He also said that the experience of making the film was rewarding as different races were working alongside one another to produce a Malaysian film.
“Here’s something I learnt from making Lelaki Harapan Dunia and the reaction afterwards… when you put out your work for all to see, there’s bound to be criticism, whether good or bad.
“But what I wanted is the dialogue and the feedback, so I can look back at my work and learn more things from there.”