PETALING JAYA: Film director Tunku Mona Riza hopes that her film Redha will get a second run in cinemas so that Malaysians can find out about the reality of autism.
Redha has been chosen by Finas, the National Film Development Corporation, for potential nomination for an Oscar award in the Foreign Language Film category.
“(Redha) is a film about facing one’s surroundings (as a family dealing with autism), and shows the reality of society’s reaction to autism,” said Tunku Mona in a recent interview with FMT.
The film is about a couple dealing with the struggles of having a child who is autistic, and the sacrifices they have to make for the good of their child.
The movie stars Nam Ron, June Lojong, Nadiya Nissa, Remy Ishak, Ruminah Sidek, Susan Lankester, Izzy Reef and child actor Harith Haziq.
“Things begin to happen when they realise that the child is slightly different. The father goes into complete denial, while the mother accepts the child for who he is,” Tunku Mona explained.
“This is also a film about friendship. Support and friendship is very important for a family or person going through this. That’s the gist of the film.”
The title, Redha, came from the Bahasa Malaysia word which loosely means “acceptance”.
“If you accept your fate, whatever it is, wholeheartedly and sincerely, then you have gone through the process of redha,” Tunku Mona said. “That is a process that is very difficult to achieve. Not many people can accept. They only talk about it, but to truly accept is very tough.”
Redha opened in local cinemas on April 14, receiving acclaim for its realism on the issue of autism.
“Families with autistic children have said to me that the child actor had fooled them into thinking that he was actually autistic,” Tunku Mona noted.
She said that this level of representation required that she and her actor, Harith Haziq, dedicate their time to observing a family with autistic children.
“The character Daniel was mostly based on a boy named Wei Xiang, among others,” Tunku Mona said, and she had instructed her two actors, Izzy and Harith, to spend time observing Wei Xiang.
“So if, for example, Wei Xiang was walking in a mall and decided to sit down or roll on the floor – which he has done before – my child actors had to do the same thing, whether or not we were in a mall full of people,” she said.
Even when eating, Izzy and Harith had to follow suit if Wei Xiang suddenly decided to hit the table.
“I observed people around us when that happened. Once, a couple sitting two tables away looked at us and complained about how noisy and badly-behaved we were. Young couple, mind you. They asked a waiter to get them another table.
“We were even asked to leave a supermarket. It was a big one, one that naming would probably cause some trouble,” Tunku Mona said.
She said that Malaysians did not understand autism mainly because an autistic child or adult looks no different from any other person, unlike someone with Down Syndrome.
“The only thing that is different is how they behave. People think that the child is being rude because they make noises like this,” she said, making a sharp, guttural noise.
“They don’t have social manners or skills. Imagine a 12-year-old boy or girl eating with their legs up on the chair. What would you say? Imagine an autistic adult sitting like that. The parent might ask him or her to put their legs down. They’ll put their legs down, and then promptly put them back up. Over and over.
“As an observer, what would you think? For these people it could be for comfort, maybe it’s a sensory issue. That’s why this film was made. I was just like anyone of you at first, not understanding these issues.”
Tunku Mona said that she hoped that Malaysians would give Redha a second chance, to find out about autism, and hopefully be educated about the matter.
“I hope people will give the film a second chance. That’s all I ask, that they understand autism even if only a little. My film cannot fully educate, but at least people can get bits and pieces of information from it,” Tunku Mona said.
Tunku Mona noted that people who were previously ignorant about autism had written to her to say that the movie helped them properly understand what autism is.
“They say ‘we thought all this while, we thought our cousin was just weird. We didn’t know that our cousin fell under the autistic spectrum.’
“That’s what I’m looking for at the end of the day, nothing more, nothing less. I hope that with all these accolades and ours being selected to represent Malaysia, that the public will give it a second chance.”