How TV dramas and sepak takraw can help national unity

In my previous piece on national unity, I dealt with four important items that I hoped would have major structural and social changes in tackling this important issue.

To many, these suggestions may have seemed stupid, silly or just plain ridiculous. Well, it is more than stupid, silly or plain ridiculous to keep repeating the same programmes and activities without real structural changes in attitudes, narratives and experiential awakening.

Many of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) past activities were simply “lip service” and although Pakatan Harapan (PH) may be more serious, its approach is as lame as that of BN. At least my approach is fresh and untried. It has a zero failure rate.

I would like to make some suggestions on how we should approach national unity through arts and sports, specifically TV dramas and the potential impact of sports in uniting Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.

Malays may look at another race with enmity, disgust or loathing, but they will support Lee Chong Wei all the way to the Thomas Cup. The film “Ola Bola” showed how we rallied together as a nation to support the fate of our racially balanced football team.

I would like to deal firstly with the potential impact our TV dramas have on our society. The Malay drama, to me, has succeeded in segregating our people simply because of the fact that the stories, actors, writers and message are all about Malays and Islam.

We also have dramas by Chinese and Indians which concentrate on the issues of each community. Way to go RTM!

I never watched Malay dramas after growing up because I got tired of the simple themes: a Datuk falls in love with a girl, but she only wants to marry this dude who just got back from studying overseas, etc. Or, a guy finds religion and pledges eternal love of the spiritual kind to this girl who wears a tudung and is more pious than anyone I know.

I love watching TV shows with a historical context or a fantasy twist of alternate history, or with an alien invasion theme. My favourites are disaster movies that spin human dramas behind a tornado, tsunami or earthquake.

I also love the sports-comeback type of movies, or stories about students and idealist teachers.

I don’t think we have come close to any of these themes in our locally produced dramas.

The issue I want to deal with is the lack of non-Malay actors or actresses in these dramas. Why is that? Is the Malay problem only centred around Malay people?

How many Malays work and live in total and complete isolation from non-Malays? I remember the great P Ramlee films never had a single Chinese character, except for an Apek in “Sarjan Hassan” and in “Ali Baba Bujang Lapuk”.

Even “Upin Ipin” has stereotyped Chinese and Sikh characters as speaking in poor Malay. This won’t do anything for national unity. Why can’t RTM insist that future dramas have other actors and actresses who can speak fluent Malay?

Just audition for them and you will get many Indians, Chinese and Sikhs who speak excellent Malay. Why, I know five Chinese professors and associate professors at UCSI University who can play such roles! I can name four Indian senior lecturers who speak excellent Malay. I even know a Chinese teacher friend who speaks Kelantanese like a local.

We Malaysians should take heed of Singapore dramas and sitcoms. I love watching the drama series “Growing Up”. I learned many important things about the Chinese poor and their culture from that show. The whole Chinese culture opened up to me because the characters speak in English.

The late Yasmin Ahmad tried her best to bridge the racial gap in a few of her movies but her important tradition has been forgotten and left to die.

I love watching “Phua Chu Kang” and “Under One Roof”. Although the characters are mainly Chinese, an occasional Malay actor or actress does appear.

The fact that the Chinese character Phua Chu Kang is played by Gurmit Singh speaks volumes about Singapore’s attempts at national unity which are far better than Malaysia’s.

Why can’t RTM commission a whole Chinese- or Indian-context drama but in fluent Malay? If “Growing Up” can have low-income Chinese speaking the Queen’s English, why not a Chinese or an Indian drama in Malay?

Impossible? Get better story writers and scriptwriters. Bring the “Ola Bola” director into the picture.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo should give funding to produce this kind of drama series that will help open our eyes, for the first time, to the different races’ concerns in society, politics and culture.

What better way to do this than to sit back and absorb a half hour of real change in national unity every week? Please stop this nonsense of dramas where the Datuk falls in love with the tudung-wearing kampung girl. Let’s get to the real crux of our intra-racial social woes.

Sports vs racism

With respect to sports, I may not have too much say about it because I don’t consider watching football, badminton or track events a good use of my time. Don’t get me wrong – I played football and sepak takraw. I was so-so at football but I am very good at sepak takraw.

In Clint Eastwood’s movie “Invictus”, I was astounded to see how Nelson Mandela used the apartheid rugby team to unite South Africa across divisive racial lines.

I never knew that sports could be such a strong political tool to accomplish what 17 years of school and university education fails to do. Incredible. The story was based on real events.

Another story based on real events dealing with race issues was the movie “Remember the Titans”.

The only local movie we can be proud of that scratches the surface of race relations is “Ola Bola”.

I would recommend that our young youth and sports minister make sure that all our badminton, football, hockey, bowling and archery teams represent all races. Some may disagree with me and say that we must choose the best from the best and one particular race may be better than another. Sports is about winning, right? Wrong.

Sports is about the strength of our body and spirit in overcoming the challenges we face in our lives. Racism is the most dangerous challenge next to religious extremism. If sports is purely about winning a game or a match, have we contemplated what we would lose in the long run?

If taxpayers’ money is sponsoring national teams, I want to win more than a cup or title. I want to win the bigger war against racism.

Take basketball and takraw. If we go to any playground, we will see that the basketball court is controlled by the Chinese boys and the takraw court by the Malays.

When I was at SMJK Hua Lian, I started the first ever multiracial sepak takraw team. We had three Chinese boys and and six Malay boys in the three regu. Why did I do that? Well, there were only six Malay boys in the 2,000-strong school! I had no choice.

We played at three schools around Taping and Batu Kurau. Needless to say, we lost all the sets and of course the games. But I was proud to be a member of a losing multiracial team.

We stood fast against the strength and skills of the other teams and we never bothered ourselves over the racist taunts of the spectators. We held our heads high and walked off the court in the best tradition of the Malay adab of shaking hands with all the opponents.

Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman should seriously make a policy that these two games of basketball and takraw comprise all races. This will start a tradition of winning the war against racial polarisation instead of satisfying our own egos with meagre wins of a cup here or a trophy there.

We have failed at achieving national unity after six decades of independence. We Malaysians must send a strong signal to the new government that the old rules and programmes are no longer valid. Get rid of them.

Let’s tread a path together on new and fresh ways of dealing with this cancerous problem with out-of-the-box thinking and rediscover the real prize of winning the bigger picture rather than achieving an ephemeral sense of personal triumph.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.