A moment near the Causeway

Last Sunday, somewhere at the northern tip of Singapore (in Causeway Point), I had a little cinematic awakening. Perhaps it was the out-of-town feeling or the physical proximity to the Causeway, it made me very close to the subject matter of the film I was watching - 'Talentime'. 

Directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad, 'Talentime' brought the complexities and issues our Malaysian neighbours face to a place close to my heart. Writing about this film bends the rules of my blog but it is necessary because it sheds light on what we could be achieving in our own films. 

Is it her age or is it Malaysia's racial fabric that makes the drama so gripping? I know for sure racial harmony is a less within reach up north. Like Kahoe in 'Talentime', the Chinese forever hold on to some kind of Bumiputra-driven grudge. Between religions, there are lots of spoken and unspoken boundaries when it comes to courting and romance. These racial undercurrents are richly explored in Yasmin's repertoire of films. 

But in Singapore, race and religion have been scarcely dealt with in films. There is a difference between being a 'melting pot' city and just a 'fruitcake' as I would call it. I am only focussing on the core races because the expat or foreign-worker-type mixed relationships may be more transient, or they may have grown from exotic pursuits and desires. Do we really mix well? I find it hard to answer that question. being part of the majority race, it takes a while for me to notice that the delivery men and drivers are often Malay and Indians never really make it to Channel 5's stable of TV personalities. The last was Darryl David back in the 90s. My other question is do we talk about it? Or do we all just avoid these topics because the SFC film grants do not support films with sensitive issues? Up north, I know many have something to say and for some, film just happens to be the preferred medium. Here, it seems many just want to make a film and then think of what to say as a second step! 
Apparently, Yasmin started her film journey late, after spending the bulk of her time in advertising. Sometimes, as budding filmmaker myself, I don't know if age will kick me off the shelf or actually enrichen my understanding of the world and lead me to make that award-winning film when I turn 50. Yasmin has turned 51 but she has not won a major award and never will. However, what she left behind are priceless vignettes that teach us a thing or two about relationships in this part of the world - something that I assume comes with a maturity cultivated over time. 

I saw a video of Yasmin circulating on Facebook earlier this week. Coincidentally, it was straight after I had watched 'Talentime'. She mentioned one of the guiding aims in filmmaking for her is to be able to mix sambal and a host of other spices to make 'clear soup'. Looking at her films, I am sure she meant clear soup that is still burning and spicy. For her previous films, I find this quite contradictory because her characters and scenes often look hammed up. The difference with Talentime is this time, on top of the same dramatic excesses, there was something really burning inside for me. I have been working on a script on and off but have often been losing that 'axe to grind' as life distracts me in many ways. This has thrown that axe back to me. Hopefully, for many others here too - who have been wanting to say something but have been too afraid to.

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