Friday, December 27, 2013

Verisimilitude, People! – Ayat-ayat Cinta


"Out of all the jails in all the stations in all the cities of all the governorates of Egypt…he happens to be stuck with a dude who can not only speak Indonesian, but also philosophise to the point where Fahri himself, an educated young man who is no idiot, would listen. This is where my interest in the film became more distracted, and I ended up laughing out loud at parts I’m not supposed to laugh at."

An excerpt from a review of the film 'Ayat-ayat Cinta' I wrote for Thoughts on Films.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Muslim On Christmas Day


My friend Cheryl had said church performance. “My church’s first performance,” her SMS beamed at me. I eventually accepted her invitation, thinking it sounds more fun than doing household chores.

Soon enough, I got thinking a bit more. What exactly is a church performance? A performance about a church? A performance at church? Performance by a church? All three? Neither of them? As I walked into the AYA Center at USJ Summit for the ACTS Church’s performance, I still did not know what to expect.

Then again, this wasn’t any day of the year. This is Christmas Day, the holiest and most commercial of dates on the Christian Calendar. Add in the fact that it’s Sunday, Christianity’s holiest day of the week (with a replacement holiday on Monday), and it’s no wonder people are feeling jovial. Smiles were widely beamed, greetings are happily exchanged, the place was brightly lit…and there was a lot of people there.

In fact, that’s the first thing that struck me. What are all these people doing here? I thought to myself as I was ushered to my seat by someone named Rachel. Shouldn't they be at home opening presents, pulling crackers and eating stuffed turkey?

Of course, I’m comparing it to Hari Raya, when the unwritten law in the unwritten book dictates that the first day to be spent with the family. Yes, we go to the mosque in the morning for Hari Raya prayers, but after that we’d rush home to be with our family and eat ketupat and lemang with rendang (then again, we’d have fasted a month by then, so you could understand). After all, It’s not as if there’s any shows being put on at mosques anyway. Islam does not have widespread youth cell groups putting up performances like this one by the ACTS Church.

Then again, try telling someone that you’re part of an Islamic cell group, and they’d probably think you’re a terrorist.

But yes. No cell groups, no shows. Go to the mosque, and pray. Anything else, leave it to the second day.

And the third.

And the fourth.

And therein lies part of the answer to the riddle. Muslims celebrate not only one but two Hari Rayas (Aidilfitri and Aidiladha, with the former technically lasting a month). Christmas Day is Christmas…Day. It happens only once a year, given that it’s primarily a celebration of Jesus’ birthday (it’s not as if he was born everyday for a month). With this in mind, I can understand people trying to pack a million and one things into this magical 24 hours.

The other part of the answer is that people are already with their families. Mothers brought their babies, guys brought their girls, friends brought their other friends (like me). They all came in their droves, so much so that there were hardly any seats left. I guess you could say the church is their family.

But that still doesn't answer the question. What is a church performance, especially one performed on Christmas Day?

“It’s a musical play,” answered Rachel, giving me an ACTS Church welcome pack (I got two by the end. I guess they really wanted me to feel welcome). “Just expect a Broadway-like musical performance.”

The programme began with sing-alongs of Christmas songs. The words were projected unto a screen, so those who don’t know the lyrics have no excuses. I sang along, quietly hoping that I won’t be blacklisted by the government or something like that. Then Sandra Chin, the church’s associate pastor, came up to say a few words. She talked about how blessed they feel are to be together on this special day, and how His love (God Himself? Jesus? The not-as-popular Holy Spirit? All three?) is with them as well. I half-expect her to launch into Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is All Around’ (“I feel it in my fingers…I feel it in my toes…”). Instead, she led another round of sing-alongs, giving me only half of that which I had half-expected.

The main show itself is called The Boy Who Sang The Right Song. It is about a young man, Joe, who wanted to join The Big Christmas Show (read: Malaysian Idol. Andrew Tan of the 2004 edition of Malaysian Idol adds the authenticity with a cameo). However, he was upstaged by Brad Guy, a suave, ultra confident, super egotistic man’s man, woman’s man, man about town. Joe loses hope in Christmas and despairs, eventually taken in by a street gang, who accepted him “because he’s a freak.” However, after meeting a wise man, he has a change of heart, and sets out to stop Brad Guy, who is secretly plans to rechristen Christmas Day to Brad Day.

The performance itself was very entertaining, well-written and directed by Jason Ding. The biggest quality, I feel, is the fact that it’s not afraid to poke fun at itself and Christmas in general (“Christmas Day, Christmas Day, Just another day!” to the tune of “Jingle Bells”). I sat there watching, laughing, smiling, and generally having a good time.

It struck me, however, at how similar the message is to a Hari Raya production. Both seek to remind people about the meaning of their respective holy days, that it is bigger than just Christmas presents and duit rayas. However, while this Christmas show is an upbeat musical, a typical Hari Raya production would probably be more melodramatic, showing an old grandmother all alone by herself in her house, as her children did not balik kampung for Hari Raya (or something heart wrenching like that).

After the show, Pastor Kenneth Chin led a round of prayers (“Now rise, my Christians!” So I remained seated). It was the only part of the morning that I felt uncomfortable with, though I felt it was a social reaction as much as anything else (Put yourself in my shoes: everybody else is standing, and you’re the only one sitting down).

Actually, I lied: there was one kid who also sat down. He looked at me intensely, his eyes almost asking: what are you doing here?

I smiled at him. I’m having a good time.

And I’ll probably see you next year.

Fikri Jermadi will next be checking out a barmitzfah.

*First published for THINK Online...I can't even remember when. Around the mid 2000s, that's for sure.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Subjective Objective - Rights of the Dead


"If ever such a split is to be detected, I believe the first half represents the colder and harder facts of the situation, while the second half delves deeper into the more emotional aspects of the aftermath. This where we are treated to interviews with the deceased’s family and wife and son. It is an interesting choice to have presented this as such. The climax, then, is not so much the responses we were looking for on a national scale, but the unanswered questions raised on a deeper level." 

An excerpt from a review of Rights of the Dead I did for Thoughts on Films.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Big Bang - The Silent Riot


"Can we, however, substitute the word ‘political’ for ‘historical’ in this context? Maybe, maybe not. Then again, can we truly separate politics and history as we know them? Again, the answer is less clear than some want it to be. In the context of this film, I did not really think about this until near the end, where the final part of the voice over narration (in terms of tone as well as the words delivered) might help you make your mind up, should you need to."

An excerpt from a review of The Silent Riot I did for Thoughts on Films.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Helping Hands


Al Gore and Honda have in common. "I have no intention of being a candidate,” said the real American president. His documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth', had just won the Academy Award. He seems sincere in his concerns for the environment, and genuine in his effort to spread that concern. Not that it helped to it helped to douse the fire; in fact, his popularity further fanned the speculation that he'll use it as a springboard for another presidential run. “Anyone who checks the political traps in any of the 50 states will find there's no evidence of a renewed campaign,” he insisted.

Honda clearly share the same ideology. This season, their Formula 1 team will not be wearing any corporate badges; instead, the car will be covered with a picture of the earth. The 'My Earth Dream' programme is a radical concept that aims to raise awareness about global warming. Anyone who makes a donation to charitable trusts via the website can have their name printed on the car. It's a radical concept, since such space is usually used by teams to bring in money. Generally speaking, the bigger the budget, the more competitive a team becomes. Honda basically gave up millions of dollars and speed just to raise awareness.

Suddenly, almost effortlessly, I begin to notice others who got in on the act. Mobile phone operators, alcohol companies, even tobacco conglomerates. Even American Idol got in the act, their Idol Gives Back episode raising 60 million dollars (and counting) for children charities in the United States and Africa.

“It's true that the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement in Malaysia has been gaining momentum,” said Poon Su-lyn. She is with CSR Malaysia, the only forum in the country dealing with such issues. “The objective of our network is not only to raise awareness of that fact, but to provide companies with precisely the expertise they want and need.”

“Business talking shops are fine, but the stakeholder is king,” she continued. “That's ultimately what CSR is about – companies responding to their stakeholders' expectations.”

In Honda's case, the stakeholders are the people of the world. “We hope that in raising awareness and highlighting the issues we will encourage members of the public to come together and help take on the challenge of climate change," said team boss Nick Fry at the launch of the car. This is from a team whose cars release eight times more carbon dioxide than a new road vehicle. “There's some irony in the fact that Honda are attempting to promote the environment and calling on others to address environmental issues when they are contributing to climate change by participating in what is probably the most polluting sport on the planet,” said Emily Armistead, a Greenpeace spokesperson.

To their credit, this hasn't gone unnoticed by the team. “We're quite aware it's a potentially contradictory thing to do,” said Fry. “But the number of people we can reach is immense."

What is also immense is the criticism the team has faced since the launch. The cynics proclaim that 'My Earth Dream' only became a reality because Honda failed to procure any major sponsorship deals. Thus, such a concept is a face saving exercise rather than an earth saving one. It also distances themselves from their previous owners, British American Tobacco, whose products does little to save the environment.

 But it's not just companies who are trying to make the world a better place. “This is not a political issue, it's an environmental issue,” Gore preached in his documentary. He practices what he preach, though: Gore and the producers, Participant Productions, donated all of their revenue from the film towards the Alliance for Climate Protection. It's also the first carbon-neutral documentary, meaning that its carbon footprint, including all travel, office and accommodations related emissions, will be offset through renewable energy credits. “He's become a rock star,” commented Bill Cross, a political columnist, “one of the most popular people on the planet.”

Not everyone is a fan, though. “Doubt it,” said President Bush when asked whether he would watch the documentary. Australia's Industry Minister Ian McFarlane stated that they won't be taking advice from a failed presidential candidate. Despite his best efforts, in this case at least, the messenger hurt the message at least at the highest level.

 It's not all about Mother Nature, however. Closer to home, Digi's Amazing Malaysians programme focuses on preserving cultural heritage. It supports individuals engaged in such endeavours, especially those in rural areas. “The company is created on Malaysian soil by Malaysians,” said their CEO Martin Lundel. “I think it just makes human sense to give back something to society that makes use of our resources.”

For fun, or for the bottom line? Do companies really spend time, money, and effort in such activities for fun? Or is it an effort to make more money? If American Idol is really that serious about saving African kids, why don't they just give the money to them rather than implore their viewers to do so? Should Honda really want to save the environment, they can just quit Formula 1 and save the estimated 17 tonnes of carbon dioxide their cars will release by the end of the season. After all, it's not as if they're making much of an impression on the racing track: at the season opening Australian grand prix, lead driver Jenson Button went as far as saying that the car was “crap.”

But they won't stop racing. And neither will British American Tobacco stop making cigarettes, for CSR is the conscience, the fail safe that says, “Hey, we're with you guys.” Such activities enhances the goodwill, the 'feel good' factor with which a company can be associated with. You might not feel too guilty smoking a Dunhill knowing that some of your RM7.90 goes towards a programme discouraging youth smoking. In this case, they even acknowledge the financial factor. “To us, Corporate Social Responsibility is about “how we make our money” rather than “how we spend it”,” the British American Tobacco website stated.

Having said that, these are only some examples of CSR. Just like everything else, it is unfair to tar all with the same brush. For every British American Tobacco, there's an Al Gore whose sincerity appears to be genuine.

 But at the end of the day, does sincerity matter? Maybe Honda did fail to attract the major sponsor that they wanted, but they're a company whose revenue in the year leading up to March 2007 totalled 2.4 billion pounds. To them, the money they might have made from the car amounts to nothing more than a drop in the ocean. The same goes for American Idol: the 60 million dollars they raised is 60 million more than you and I will. It is money that, channeled properly, could make a huge difference in people's lives across the world, whatever the intentions to begin with.

 Call it whatever you want: corporate social responsibility, people who want to make the world a better place, etc. It is, as mentioned previously, a movement that is gaining momentum and snowballs into an avalanche. Perhaps its own momentum hurts it, for when something happens too fast question marks are always raised. For better or worse, it is a movement that is here to stay.

 At least Al Gore and Honda won't be so alone.

*An article I wrote for THINK Online in 2007. Obviously, cigarettes cost more than RM7.90 now...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Action Speaks Louder Than Words - KL Gangster 2


"Do people actually really do speak like that, or is Syamsul is continuing the fine tradition set forth by Yusry KRU in removing the film from the context(s) of its production? It feels unrealistic, but then again, realism is probably not what they’re aiming for when they made this film. Let’s just say that I’m glad for the presence of the English subtitles peeking through at the bottom of the screen (though there were parts when the characters were going at it full tilt, and there were no words coming up to translate them. Perhaps the transcriber/translator had given up at that part)."


An excerpt from a review of KL Gangster 2 I did for Thoughts on Films.

Shadows and Dust - Psiko Pencuri Hati


"I saw this film on the last day of its screening run at GSC Midvalley. Unfortunately however, I did not manage to make enough time to sit down and write this review. Funny, that…there are 24 hours in a single day, and if you look at the chronological expressions on this blog, it appears that I had time to do not one but two posts about ‘KL Gangster 2’. Yet I couldn’t find time to do this. I should have done this a long time ago, because ‘Psiko: Pencuri Hati’ is a movie worth creating further content on."


An excerpt from a review of Psiko Pencuri Hati I did for Thoughts on Films.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thor, hi! - Vikingdom


"That will be the time when we look back in history, highlight the year 2013, and note it for a number of different reasons. Within a Malaysian cinematic context, that is also the time when ‘Vikingdom’ will be identified as a culturally and historically significant film."


An excerpt from a review I wrote of Vikingdom for Thoughts on Films.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rhythm and Hues - Once In A Lifetime


"In many ways, this would be a move that would be replicated years later by David Beckham signing for the LA Galaxy. Moving beyond the etymological meanings and origins behind the names Cosmos and Galaxy, what this did was to prove how important celebrity power was and still is."


An excerpt from a review I wrote of Once In A Lifetime for Thoughts on Films.

Monday, September 09, 2013

District 10 - Elysium


"The clarification of objectives, met with the creation of compelling obstacles, will always result in an interesting conflict that, aided by other elements, will pull you through to the end. Here, the interplay between all the characters here makes for compelling viewing. You know what’s going to happen, for it does not stray all that far from many sci-fi films here, but seeing how it plays out is interesting all the same."


An excerpt from a review I wrote of Elysium for Thoughts on Films.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A Zizan Razak Film - KL Zombi


"For my part, I enjoyed the movie enough to laugh where (I think) I am supposed to laugh. Many of the jokes are, unfortunately, inaccessible to those who does not quite get the genre of Malay/sian comedies. In this case, while I do not profess a deep knowledge or experience of the genre myself, I am happy that I know enough to enjoy the film."


An excerpt from a review I wrote of KL Zombi for Thoughts on Films.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Missed the Mark - Tanda Putera


"Tun Dr Ismail would die earlier than Tun Razak, and while this allowed us more time to concentrate on Tun Razak’s condition and its effects on his family, it resulted in an imbalance that, once again, makes me feel cheated as to how the film had been represented to me."

An excerpt from a review I wrote of Tanda Putera for Thoughts on Films.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Last Days


I hold her hand in mind, our fingers intertwined, as we slowly made our way through the park. The sunshine blazed its glory, the tempers tempered by the cool breeze blowing.

There are people here. Plenty of them, walking, talking, smiling, laughing, living. An area of such green contexts: the trees, the plants, the grass, and…life. Everyone here is recharged, green and good to go. Nobody is in the red, at least not for now.

The lounging chairs appear to be available for all, for a small fee. We consider taking a few, but we didn’t know where to pay for it. Neglecting to feed this further, we consider feeding ourselves. Waffles, ice-cream, chocolates and drinks. All available at the stalls nearby, bustling with economy.

We continue, onwards and upwards, step by light step. It is a time to enjoy the moments, the seconds, the time of the two of us together and being alive.

Being alive.

We reach a part shadowed by the leaves and branches above. We sit down, wary of a little dirt, but then again, what are we if not the dirt, the earth from which our worlds are made. It is to the earth we shall return to in the end, after all, and it’s probably not such a bad idea to familiarise ourselves with them.

That, however, is in the future. Hopefully, way in the future. For now, carpe diem.

Eventually, I lie down on my back, cushioned by the cushion fashioned from my jacket. She remain seated, her hand stroking my hair as I look up, at her, beyond, past the branches and the leaves, the blue skies and the white clouds, into the space beyond.

I come back just as quickly, her warmth keeping me alive and grounded. The sounds of the birds distract, pleasantly so. Just enough to keep things singing and ticking over in my heart. My appreciation for green lungs grew, as much as my own expanded.

The conversation of others dulls in the background, murmurs remaining as insignificant to us as we are to them. Another couple, sitting against the tree trunk flick through a few pages of their books.

In the most public of places, we become more entrenched in our own worlds.

That’s OK, though. Lying down with the loves of our lives, becoming closer to nature, appreciating the birds and the leaves, breathing in and out…slowly, but quietly, being alive. I close my eyes, and I wander no more.

That’s how I would spend my last days.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What’s The Colour Of Your Passport? – 5 cm


"Ultimately, I suppose, then, the difference that lies in whether you enjoy this film or otherwise, whether it truly strikes the strings of your heart or whether you simply deem it an enjoyable flick at the cinema, depends largely on how hot the Java heat is emanating from the depths of your soul."


An except from the film review of 5 cm I wrote for Thoughts on Films.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Surprised at a Smile


My friend ordered the food at Pappa Rich. We were hungry, it was dinner time, and we were looking forward to the food; of course, we know the reality may not match the picture, but as ever, the pictures looked so good.

She noted to the waiter that she noted the food should be less spicy. The waiter nodded slightly, communicating his understanding of the request, and moved away.

The food came, and she had the first taste. However, it was a little too spicy for her, and, being someone who is particularly particular about her food, became slightly agitated. She called for the waiter again, and repeated her earlier request, but the waiter appeared to be at a loss. Perhaps he failed to truly grasp what she was saying. After a few moments of awkward silence, my friend resigned herself to her fate, and the waiter, silently sighing sighs of relief, moved on to the next table.

From one perspective, perhaps a more complete order chit would have her write down her preference in the space provided. On further reflection, though, I wonder whether the space itself is a method through which language barriers could be negotiated.

Looking around, I then noticed that the majority of those who work in that particular Pappa Rich outlet appeared to be non-local. I say ‘appeared’, because Malaysia being Malaysia, categorising someone according to their skin tone it is not as easy you might think. Over time, however, you do develop a sense of who may or may not be a part of what Benedict Anderson define as your imagined community. It is a sense that further accentuates itself in a more foreign environment; you might be wrong, but you just know when you meet another Malaysian.

Just as surely, then, you could also see who is not Malaysian. At this and other such outlets, I notice how much we rely on other nationals. This is not a particularly new development, primarily because the very origin of Malaysia was built on the backs of foreign labour (and this continues to be the case in many situations). What I notice here, though, is how subtle shifting of structure in service industries has led to the decrease of human contact and interaction.

Consider this. You’re seated down, at an established kopi tiam outlet n established outlet selling kopi tiam and other such commodified culinary artefacts of Malaysia. You look through the menu, and the order chit is scribbled on with the code of the food and drinks you wish to order. On the right, space is provided for you to note down any special request you wish to make (perhaps this was something that my friend should have considered further). Once that is done, you call for the waiter, who will key in your desired products into the computer which will produce a receipt, which you then take to the counter to pay for at the end of the meal. It is incredibly possible that you could go through an entire meal without the most cursory of sentences, beyond the cashier themselves saying “RM34.70.”

Going beyond the service industries, I notice that quite a number of other endeavours are also moving towards that direction, conditioning the way we see things. Security guards are commonly of a foreign descent, and it is sometimes difficult to truly communicate with the very people tasked with our safety. In other situations, the human element have been removed completely in the paying for parking tickets at major shopping malls.

I do not wish to present a situation that sees us humans as being nothing more than energy cells for the machines to function a la The Matrix. After all, the above examples are nothing more than selected anecdotes illustrating my point in this particular article. Neither am I delivering a particularly scathing criticism of Henry Ford’s model, the advantages of which have helped to drive the industries of the world; lower costs accrued balances the balance sheets, allowing for more money to be moved within and without the system.

However, the adoption of such a mass production model adopted to simplify and save a few bucks may, in many respects, divide rather than unite. The lack of human contact beyond the most elementary of interactions may dehumanise more than anything else.

A certain truth emerges, then, in this potentially vicious cycle. Knowing less about a person makes it easier to fix certain ideas and impressions, a projection of identity that can help in the crystalisation of certain ‘truths’. Foreigners have always been looked upon rather suspiciously. I suppose this applies to ‘the other’, and even amongst Malaysians we have a tendency to form certain stereotypes. What chance, then, do the people with whom we have relatively little contact have of debunking these ‘truths’ simply because they have a different passport to us?

We could detect a certain irony in an article that simplifies in looking at oversimplification. Of course, this does not necessarily cover every single foreigner who has set foot in in a foreign land, and there are other factors are play here, such as a media that thrives on the creation of fear and politicians willing to manipulate the sentiments of the public, amongst others.

Nevertheless, it is the system that we do have. The alternative would have been to hire more local labour, or to further train the foreign labour to better satisfy the whimsical fancies of Malaysians who can, it has to be said, be very picky when it comes to food.

After we were done, he came to clear the table as my friend settled the bill at the counter. I gathered my belongings, and gave him a quick smile and thanks. He looked at me, a rabbit in the headlines caught off-guard by my smile and words.

Humans being surprised at a smile.

I'm pretty sure that says something about us.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A Love Eternal - Habibie & Ainun


"What of the more personal nature, however? The micro that is the family and the wife and the children? Such areas are not as commonly looked at, and this, in this respect, makes ‘Habibie & Ainun’ a unique film to begin with."


An excerpt from a review of Habibie & Ainun I wrote for Thoughts on Films.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Hipster Much? – KIL


"It’s also one of the first films I’ve seen to truly maximise the DSLR aesthetics I’ve noted many moons ago. Some of these aesthetics include a highly colour corrected post-production stage, fully usage of the depth of field, and a very strong and clean resolution in the presentation of images. The visual of the gun used to conduct such killings by LAB, with a very narrow depth of field, made for an interesting image. The camera, at times, peeking from behind ornaments or props, made it feel as if we are a part of the scene, waiting in hiding as we eavesdrop on these characters going about their lives. It’s all good here."


An excerpt from a KIL film review I wrote for Thoughts on Films.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Every Song Is A Time Machine


I was sitting in the back of the van. Or it could have been somewhere in the middle. I fail to remember the exact seating arrangements as we made our way back from abseiling and rock climbing.

Aberystwyth, Wales. That was a scary experience. I have to admit that the balls I had at the time were considerably (and metaphorically, I hasten to add) smaller; though I have now developed an attitude akin to “I’ll try anything once”, at the time the fear of heights, as well as the unappetising collection of rocks many feet below was enough to make me tap and remove my gear a lot quicker than I had put them on.

I did, however, manage to do some rock-climbing. Perhaps it is the feeling of going up, and of extending muscles to truly make that happen. Dropping down at a pace not controlled entirely by myself, with less effort, was probably something that was not wired consciously into my mind. I had enjoyed that, and it would become something of a minor activity I would indulge in some years later.

We then packed up our stuffs and headed to the center we temporarily call home, packing the van with the 15 or so public school boys that we were. The night before was one of the first nights I’ve spent away from my family, and the farting competitions were of tremendous entertainment value.

As such, you can imagine the kind of stuff we got up to in the van.

The cassette player (or was it the radio?) played its music, grinding through some selection of songs before reaching Oasis’s Don’t Look Back In Anger. A recent hit, it made its way through the speakers, and the opening strains of the song almost immediately silenced everyone.

“Slip inside the eye of your mind…don’t you know you might find…a better place to play…”

The opening words was not something everyone knew. You know of the song, but you know what it’s like; anyone who attended a concert will know that the one, single unifying point of any song is rarely the opening few verses.

It was, is and forevermore shall be the chorus that gets our juices flowing.

And it was from this moment on, from this second, that a new memory was created, one that would be revisited time and time again in the near and far future. Anywhere I am in the world, whatever I am doing, I would be taken back to this very event in my life.

By now, the entire group sang along, everyone far more confident in the numbers.

“And so Sally can wait…she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by…”

A song allows us to step through and back in time, a memory, an event, a life-altering moment hailed by the rhythm and verses of a musical creation.

Even if we have no particular preference for the song, or any inclination to buy the album and single, it drags us back, ripping through time and space, to the moment when that memory would be created.

“Her soul...slides away...”

You can disagree with me, but I do believe that every song is a time machine.

“Well don’t look back in anger…don’t look back in anger…I heard you say...”

At least not today.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Orientalist Pastiche – Pacific Rim


"This movie serves not so much as something completely and utterly new, but as an homage, as a self-aware text, as a film that does not in any way seek to be taken seriously whatsoever. It has the Asians deifying the White People, but it knows that. It has the Americans coming in to save the day, but that’s OK…it’s played by a Brit, in a film featuring other Brits directed by a Mexican."

An excerpt of a Pacific Rim film review I wrote for Thoughts on Films.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Finding the truth in Malaysian media


"The dissemination of news, or rather the platform of it, becomes not so much a method with which people gain their information, but a way of finding the ‘truths’ that fit with our own identity. We are , then, the news we read and accept; whether an analysis written is great or otherwise depends in large parts on how much we agree with the content. Or perhaps, to be more precise, how the content agrees with us."

An excerpt from an article I wrote for JOM Magazine.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Of Life and Death


If ever proof is needed that the arts covers the heart, as well as the mind, then Bill Viola may well be the artist to provide it. Dealing mainly with video installations, his works, concentrating on “the human form traversing the gap between heaven and eart, suspended between light and darkness, time and eternity, life and death.”

These concepts are on display at his exhibition, entitled 'Transfigurations'. Initially, it brought to mind the Harry Potter movies, in which the transfiguration spell allows a person to change into another being, like an animal. While this may appear comical to begin with, the same concept works here. The human body, indeed, the human life, is a constantly dynamic process, always in the act of changing from one form to the other. Physically, our bodies changes its shape and size, as we grow older and bigger. We also move closer, day by day, to the other end of the spectrum of life; from the day that we are born, our ultimate end is the end of life itself.

We see this, then, being described in various ways. In 'Transfiguration', 'Three Woman' and 'Acceptance', the video shows various people (mainly woman) in grainy, black-and-white compositions. They move closer and further away from us, crossing the divide between light and dark. At times, the human form disappears completely into the darkness, suggesting overtones of life's end. However, this is where the most interesting thing occurs: in seeing the darkness, I find myself trying to impose on the composition a form I am seeing in my own mind. By concentrating harder, I can't help but extricate small bits of clarity in the darkness. The graininess also contributes to this, as its ambiguity suggests that the difference between life and death is not that big.

The following art works, 'The Innocents', 'Small Saints' and 'The Arrangement', plays on similar themes, with the figures stepping forwards and backwards through the wall of water. To some, water signifies life, and the journey to go through the water, and getting wet, signifies life in a way. The video installation of 'Lover's Path' seems more like an abstract short film than anything else. However, the journey clear plays on the theme once again, as the couple walk through the dark forest, and their journey ends at the sea.

My favourite piece, however, is the 'Five Angels for the Millennium'. Unlike the previous works, it was quicker for me to understand this piece of work. Similar to 'Transfigurations', I find myself imposing features on the dark, underwater environment. The sudden entrance of a human body into the mix breaks this trance, but captures my attention even more. The video, which I am convinced is film upside down, sees the human body going deeper and deeper into the bottom of the ocean, sinking further into the darkness of death. At the same time, however, as the body is positioned to move upwards, there is this sense that the soul has the ability to go to heaven as well. It is this juxtaposition that I find incredibly interesting.

Thus, Bill Viola manages to capture life and death in his video installations. He manages these in different ways, and some works are not as effective as others. Using light and dark to show this journey, it is an emotional journey that satisfies the heart as well as the mind.

*A write up about the Transfigurations exhibition in the summer of 2008.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dani's Malaysian Adventure: Guiza at Johor Darul Takzim


"Not that anyone considered the possibility of him leaving so early, but rumours ran rampant near the end of March that Güiza’s stay in Johor would be cut short. He, along with Del Nero, was suddenly considered too expensive to retain. Del Nero’s impact had been limited; a loss of form not aided by recurring injuries which denied him the opportunity to truly show what he is capable of. But Güiza? Güiza’s was the leader everyone had been following, the man who had sold out stadiums and put Malaysian football back on the back page of Malaysian newspapers. In an era when that has usually been the honour of teams from the English Premier League, that says something."

*An excerpt from an article I wrote that was published by In Bed With Maradona. To read the whole article, click here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Takut 66, Takut 98


Mahasiswa takut pada dosen
Dosen takut pada dekan
Dekan takut pada rektor
Rektor takut pada menteri
Menteri takut pada presiden
Presiden takut pada mahasiswa...

*Written by Taufiq Ismail. Stay strong, Jakarta.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ang Pao Straws


I walked out from the hall, feeling satisfied. It had been a good night, spent with friends and pretty decent food. My friend had gotten married to her fiance, and I was happy that she thought enough of me to invite my wife and I along. It was a lovely evening spent with people, some I’ve not met in over ten years, but I spent a considerable amount having a look-see at the place itself. I have yet to organise the Kuala Lumpur reception of my wedding, and of late, the wheels have started turning in my head, thinking more and more about suitable times and locations.

“How much you do you reckon this place would cost?” I asked Evelyn, my friend’s girlfriend on the way out. She had earlier commented that I seemed to be in very deep thought at some parts during the dinner, and I deflected that with some very bad jokes, and a hint of the truth (that I was observing the people. Which is true. I can't rework the world the arts if I don't have a better understanding of how it works).

“I don’t know,” she started. “You’re going to have to ask Jiun that. But usually the guests themselves would help to cover the cost for the wedding, right?”

She was right, for it was a Chinese wedding dinner. The tradition for such events is for the people attending to be contributing a considerable-enough sum of money. Some would give a bit more, depending on how close they are to the married couple. Others would look at it as a way of paying for the dinner to be had that night, and give a sum somewhat equivalent to that. That was what I did last night.

The sum, though, is an idea that is very important. Your name is written on the envelope, so you wouldn't really have a chance of 'escaping', so to speak. Too low, and the host family may have a different opinion of you. Too high, and...well, the host family may have a different opinion of you. Even my friend contacted me earlier in the day, asking how much I would be paying. 

The main idea, I suppose, is that the money eventually collected would help to at the very least cover for some of the cost of the event. It appears to be the standard for many such receptions to be held at fairly upmarket venues such as Park Royal Hotel. Such places are not necessarily available on the cheap, and as such, any sort of monetary contribution, I suppose, is gratefully accepted by the hosts. It is, on some level, an example of a community, my friend’s community of friends and family, coming together and helping each other out.

Except that, to get back to Evelyn's point, I can’t really count on that kind of help.

Such traditions are traditionally associated with the Chinese community in Malaysia. I am not sure whether it runs through other such communities across the world, but the point I am trying to make here is that I am not. Chinese, that is. I am, by the official definition of the state, as well as the ideological state apparatuses I have been exposed to and conditioned by, a Malay.

Malay traditions are different, at least in this context. In a way, you are very much on your own when it comes to the accumulation of capital for a wedding. The money comes largely from you, and guests attending are not usually expected, at least not traditionally, to impart upon you some of Bank Negara’s finest paper products. The signified of these signifiers would instead be transferred to other things; from my experience, mattress sets are fairly popular. Some of my other friends had complete kitchen and utensil sets. It symbolises, on some level, the building of a new household (and, possibly, in the case of the mattress sets, the comfort to be experienced when the next generation is being made).

However, while money is still something very rare, what you do get is the entire community coming together to support the host family. For my Penang reception, my mother's side of the family all pulled together, from my aunts who helped to cut up the flowers properly, to my cousins who helped to piece together the door gifts accordingly. One of them is Boboi, who was, as it turns out, due to fly out to New Zealand to begin a whole new life out there about a week after my reception. Yet, there he was, beavering away in the days leading up to the gala night itself. He had a legitimate reason for minimising his own involvement in the event, and yet he was there, supporting, pushing, and helping wherever he could help.

Perhaps, then, time and money could not really be equated together as much as many others may like. The time spent doing this would also be something that helps to bond us. It brought me closer to some members of my family, and this is something that was important to me. I still had not spent as much time as I had wanted to with certain members of my extended family, and while I did not fully maximise the opportunity this time around, the very fact that the opportunity itself had arisen was testament to the communal strength in place.

Of course, certain parts of the above rumination was made with a very limited and exclusive example used to illustrate certain things. Perhaps there's a lot more that I had failed to consider, but that's alright, because I did not necessarily wish to offer a conclusive conclusion to this. Rather, instead of looking for a definite ending, perhaps a more subjective consideration of the relationship between time and money could be done.

We say that we spend time, and we spend money. Nevertheless, despite the difference in the actual support being given, such structures of support is indeed in place. Whether through time, and through money (and through other means beyond these two), the objective is the same, whichever sets of families or friends come together. It is to wish the bride and groom a happy beginning to the start of this journey.

H
aving recently been a part of it myself, not just as a guest but also as a groom, I can't even begin to say how much it all really helps.

Thanks, and congrats!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Films for Humanity


Why film?
I wanted to study motion picture at post graduate level because I want to effectively contribute to making good films for the sake of humanity. For this, I will need to understand deeply the art of motion picture productions.

I believe that film is a powerful medium, with the ability to break down certain barriers that exists in people's heads and in their hearts. These barriers are what serves to keep us apart, when we are nothing more than human beings. In my opinion, the first step towards a better world would be make people understand better that which they don't. I believe that films can help to foster that understanding. We may speak different languages, lead different ways of life and have different ways of doing things, but certain things remains true. We feel the same emotions: love, anger, joy and frustration, amongst others. Notions of family, concepts of law, finality of courts, and ideas of religion all exist in our life in one way or another. I want to make movies that, in short, strips away all the fancy bits and shows that at the end of the day, we are not all that different.

Another way to make that happen would be to waken others to the importance of films. With this in mind, I would like to contribute to teaching film studies and production in my country. In encouraging others to appreciate films, I can help them reduce the barriers in their minds and in the minds of others. I firmly believe in the importance of films as a medium to distribute message. It is important that the art of sending this message is learnt well, and I intend to do my bit in the future about this.

Finally, I do not exempt myself from that criticism. I believe that there is much that I still have to learn about others, as well as about myself. I look for challenges, a new environment in which I can flourish both personally and professionally. Being in New York, in America will expose me to different people, different view points, and different ways of life. As an old Malay saying goes, “Jauh berjalan, luas pandangan,” which means that the further one goes, the broader their mind becomes. As such, the challenge of the Masters of Fine Arts in Filmmaking at New York Film Academy will take me far.

My Story
Perhaps my desire to show that people are not all that stems from my own background. Having spent my first ten years in Malaysia, I went to London, England at the age of 10 and lived there for the next five years, subsequently completing my secondary school education (O Levels) there. My passport says that I am Malay and a Malaysian. At times, however, I feel that those statements have been untrue, and my time in London had much to do with that. My eyes were not only opened wider, but placed in a different position completely. For the first time in my life, I became the other, the outsider, the foreigner (and was treated accordingly, by some). After having been a part of the mainstream in Malaysia, this whole other world forced me to look at my own world in a completely different way, and contributed much to my make up as a person. 

Coming back to Malaysia, however, placed me in another, perhaps more interesting position: as a part of the mainstream, but feeling more affinity with 'the other'. I felt different, and to a certain extent, I am different. I speak differently; I do things differently, thought about things differently, even embarked on my education the other way around. Most people pursue their tertiary education abroad; by the age of 16, when the rest of my peers prepare to start the second to last year of their secondary school, I started my pre-university program. Here, I experience another chasm: that of the age, with the rest of my classmates being at least two or three years older than me. Once again, I didn't quite fit in.

This sense of displacement about the self and the identity would remain true throughout my university days. In time, however, I would learn to deal with this, and realise that rather than it being a disadvantage, I can use this as an advantage. “Turn everything negative into a positive,” someone once said. I learned that with films, I can do exactly that. Being in different positions at different points of my life allowed me to view things with a unique perspective: that though difference can be good, at the end of the day, we are all one and the same. For example, Westerners are highly regarded in Malaysia, but from my opinion, there's really nothing special about them. Similarly, Asians are looked upon differently in England, but that difference is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Currently, I am one of five participants selected from across Asia for the 2006 Asian Young Filmmakers Forum in Jeonju City, South Korea. I am halfway through the ten month programme, by the end of which I will have written and directed a short digital film in Korean.   

Formative Creative Experiences
When it comes to thinking of film ideas, I find myself drawing a lot from my own personal experiences. They are not always positive experiences, but for some reason, I find that the negative experiences are the ones that can provide the most creative impetus. Times of isolation and moments of racism make me feel that people do not know enough of the world. I feel that there are stories I can tell, stories which will make others look at things differently.  People are generally afraid of that which they do not know. Though understandable, it is something I want to change.

It is easy to point to other filmmakers, and say, “He's the one who makes me feel like I want to be filmmaker.” I admire the works of Spielberg, marvel at the Ang Lee's ability to transcend cinematic and cultural boundaries, and considered the director's cut of 'Once Upon A Time In America' by Sergio Leone as one of the most incredible works of cinematic art I have ever seen. But the most important lesson I learned came from none of the above. The one thing that influence me the most is the art of filmmaking itself. I realised this when I was making my first short film, 'Goldfish.'

Coming at the end of my university days, the timing wasn't ideal; not being a part of my academic program, I had to balance 'Goldfish' with my schooling and personal life as well. Taken at our own initiative, me and my friends had to decide whether we can do it. My head tells me that it wasn't the right course of action; but my heart said, “Roll with it.” And roll with it we did. With hindsight, I had underestimated the task before me: coordinating that short film production proved to be a monumental task. Writing the script wasn't easy; it went through several major drafts before the final version was completed. Looking for actors wasn't a walk in the park either: unlike us, many chose to follow their head and concentrate fully on their studies. Furthermore, the film was in shot in Mandarin (though my script was written in English. 'Goldfish' was done for a Chinese short film competition). There were plenty of moments when I wondered whether we would finish it on time. But finish it we did, and by the end I had learned far more about filmmaking from it than from reading and analysing movies.

The first screening was held on campus at Monash University Sunway Campus itself. As the lights dimmed, and the screen flickered to life, the movie started. At that exact moment, I felt this huge buzz within me, this incredible sense of satisfaction and pride that I had made a short film which I had cared about and here it is being shown to other people. I realised then that no matter what, this is it. This is what I want to do. The film itself differed in quality from what I had expected, but no matter.

I had found my calling.

Contemporary influences and inspirations
Having said all of that, I can't deny that there are moments of cinema which has left me awestruck. One such moment occurs in Guiseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso. Leading up to the climax, all the elements came together. The acting had been subtle, but strong, while the production value transported me to another time altogether, giving a unique insight into Italy and its culture during that period of time. Also, Ennio Morricone's beautiful music more than played its part, his sweeping orchestration pulling at the strings of my heart. But the moment that made the movie so important to me is the car scene at the end, when the protagonist, Salvatore, asks his love interest, Maria,  the question that we all wanted him to ask: Why she didn't come to him as they had promised earlier in their life? In that moment, when he asked, and she answered, a feeling of such deep satisfaction came over me. From an ideological point of view, the resolution that the film gives me is akin to that I seek in real life. We all would like to know why, what happened and how. Sometimes, things happen that drives us to not think things through properly. When we don't have the closure, it leaves room for there to be something else. Cinema Paradiso closes that room in the movie.

I find that the same is true of his later works, most notably 'The Legend of 1900'. The story centers on a character named 1900, who, after spending all of his life on board of a boat, refuses the chance to get off the boat. Later on, when asked why he did not do so, he answered: "Christ, did you...did you see the streets just the streets there were thousands of them, then how you do it down there, how do you choose just one... one woman, one house, one landscape to look at, one way to die..." Once again, Guiseppe Tornatore struck a chord with me: how do we pick one way, a single thing to do, out of all the other possibilities?

Leading to this point, how do I choose one film school, one film academy, with which to further my journey? I had researched and looked through plenty of information, and my leads kept pointing towards New York Film Academy. The practicality and intensity of the program appeals to my desire to be challenged, and also to my desire of telling stories that could make a difference. To paraphrase the Malay saying from above, I hope that my journey will continue further with you, and my mind (and that of the world) would be broader because of it.

*A personal statement I wrote in 2006, applying for a place in the New York Film Academy graduate programme. I was eventually offered a place, but it was an offer I did not take up.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Story


We are what are told and tell.

****

My interest in stories lies in the fact that, in many respects, I have a professional obligation to better know a story, and how it is told. The methods with which I conduct myself in certain settings determines whether I am acknowledged positively or otherwise.

Let’s take, for example, a lecture. Being a lecturer means that we are constantly communicating. The difference between lecturers lies in the differences they have (and choose to have) in communicating their ideas. Some lecturers prefer to speak, using nothing more than their oratory abilities to convey meanings. Others can’t live without the combination of audiovisual complements; I myself fall prey to this, largely because I believe it is the best method to get the most concentrated form of attention (my voice and I, alone, up there, on stage, holding people’s attention? Please…).

So what do we do up there, then? Well, simply put, we tell stories. We stand up and move around, waving our hands and pointing our fingers. A click here will lead to the appropriate slides, which has their own stories to tell. Words and pictures tag with each other, as they deliver the message of the moment, be it a fictional concoction of half-truths, or a delivery of trues stories based on the half-truths that we see and hear.

Lectures are a kind of story. The pictures used, the films screened, the knowledge and ideas I impart…they are all a kind of story. Think back to the very basic definition of the word ‘story’. What is a story? Some sources would cite it simply as a basic recounting of events. True events? Yup, like what happened at work today. Not so true events? Yup, like the movies we watch.

How do we know that these are true events or stories? Consider the methods of verification utilised. We hear that someone is of child. We call up another friend to confirm; that friend will narrate the sequence of events as she best understands it. Even if she does not, she will deliver something that will somewhat resemble a modicum of the truth that is the situation itself. Stories being verified by other stories.

Perhaps we fire up our laptops, and log on to the Internet. Sign into Facebook, and voila…you are bombarded with all sorts of stories, all sorts of events in all sorts of sequences. Sequence here is important, too; upon signing in, you’ll be delivered the kind of information that has been post the latest. Not the best, the truest, but the newest. Putting that aside, it could have been something done with monetary considerations behind it, as Facebook seek to monetise its product.

You check your friend’s profile, stalk them through their pictures. Each word, each picture there, tells you what she has done. What universities she attended, who she is dating, what she had for lunch that day. Again, stories of a person’s life, whether begotten through face-to-face communications or extracted via more digital means, are what we are dealing with.

We close the laptop, feeling somewhat satisfied. We turn on the news, flick open the newspaper, have a brief look through our messages. Signs and symbols, delivering signifieds and meanings we’ve been conditioned to understand. Even when we don’t understand it, we get the fact that we don’t understand it; the usage of the hashtag in Twitter, for example, is something that we probably know, but attempting to come up with a conclusive definition rudimentary enough for simple storytelling  explanation is tricky.

Of course, to say that we believe in everything we hear and see is not an argument that believes in the human agency. I believe that we still do have the power in many respects to decide for ourselves. In this context, then/though, the upholding of our beliefs and ideas is dependent upon...you guessed it, stories. Even when confronted with stories that suggests otherwise, we seek validation in the stories we know and turn to as 'the truth'; there are loads of stories out there, and we shall, as is our supposed right, pick and choose the ones we want to believe in.

The books we read, the news we hear, the films we watch, the religion we believe in, the faiths and ideals we hold dear and close to us. If the very foundations of these are not entirely constructed of a story, their continued existence lives on by way of storied verifications. Our own experiences, perhaps, may not necessarily qualify, for the are in themselves the actual sequence of events. They exist in their own right as…life.

Once we tell of our life to others, though…would that not qualify that version of our life as a story itself?

Is it possible, therefore, to consider ourselves as being beyond the stories we are told and tell?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kuningan


Kuning.

Adakah itu satu warna yang secara umumnya dianggap sebagai warna alternatif?

Menonton perlawanan bola sepak di antara Borussia Dortmund dan Bayern Munich dalam pusingan terakhir Liga Juara-Juara Eropah, saya rasa agak tertarik kepada teori dan konsep yang tersirat di belakang warna kuning ini.

Pasukan bola sepak Dortmund ini, semenjak beberapa tahun yang lalu, telah dianggap sebagai pasukan sokongan golongan mereka yang ingin menunjuk perasan. Tunjukan perasan tidak semestinya digambarkan sebagai satu perhimpunan haram atau sebagainya, seperti yang ahli politik tertentu inginkan, walaupun kita akan kembali pada isu tersebut kemudian.

Tidak, ini adalah sesuatu yang berkaitan dengan konsep hipster. Hipsterisme, jikalau saya dibenarkan menterjemah perkataan tersebut, juga adalah satu cara pemikiran yang tidak begitu lama wujudnya di alam arus perdana ini (sesuatu yang ironik, kan?).

Bagi mereka yang menganggap diri mereka sebagai seorang hipster atau, dalam konteks ini, sebagai seorang penyokong bola sepak hipster, pilihan pasukan yang telah diutamakan oleh ramai dari golongan tersebut ialah Borussia Dortmund. Sebagai satu kumpulan pemain bola sepak yang unggul, mereka memang layak untuk dikenali sebagai juara tersendiri; walaupun mereka tidak berjaya meraih kemenangan bila bertentangan dengan Bayern, tetapi mereka tidak melupakan prinsip-prinsip mereka.

Dari senarai pemain yang terikat kepada Dortmund buat sementara ini, tidak ada satu pemain pun yang tidak diidamkan oleh kumpulan lain di Eropah. Khabar angin mengenai penyerang utama mereka, Robert Lewandowski, tidak akan meninggalkan mereka sampai titik permulaan musim bola sepak baru sekiranya dia masih ada di sana. Selain dari dia, penjaga gol mereka, Roman Weidenfeller, memberikan satu persembahan yang mantap di Wembley, dan gol jaringan Arjen Robben tidak boleh disalahkan secara keseluruhannya kepada dia.

Pada masa yang sama, cara mereka menjalankan tugas mereka bukan sahaja sebagai kumpulan bola sepak, tetapi juga sebagai sebuah syarikat yang bertanggungjawab, telah mendapat perhatian yang positif dari ramai pihak.

Tetapi itu bukannya sebab saya menulis ini.

Bukan, sebabnya adalah mereka bermain dengan jersi yang mengutamakan warna kuning.

Ia, memang baju mereka berbelang dengan warna hitam, tetapi pada masa dulu, belang-belang tersebut tidak ada lagi. Saya teringat jersi mereka musim selepas mereka menang Liga Juara-Juara Eropah pada tahun 1997. Kawan saya, Eser, bukannya seorang yang menyokong mereka atau bola sepak Jerman (malah, dia lebih gilakan Manchester United dan Fenerbache; sekarang dia menjadi seorang peminat kumpulan bolasepak Crystal Palace), merasa agak tertarik kepada baju dan warna tersebut sehingga dia memutuskan untuk membeli baju itu. Ianya langsung dipakai ke mana jua; kalau kita hendek pergi menonton filem di panggung wayang, baju itu juga yang dipakai.

Adakah ini bermaksud bahawa Borussia Dortmund dan warna kuning (dan yang sewaktu dengannya) boleh dianggap sebagai hipster dari penghujung abad ke-20? Saya tidak pasti, tetapi sekarang saya ingin mengenalkan anda semua kepada Encik Eddie Jordan.

Siapakah Eddie Jordan? Dia adalah bekas pengurus dan pengasas kumpulan Formula 1, Jordan. Mereka mula bertanding di gelanggang F1 pada awal tahun 90an, dan pada penghujungnya, mereka mula mencatat markah dan kemenangan yang memberansangkan.

Damon Hill berjaya meraih kemenangan mereka pertama di Spa-Francorchamps pada tahun 1998, dan di tahun seterusnya, Heinz Harald Frentzen meningkatkan lagi prestasi mereka. Dia memberi satu cabaran kejohanan pemandu Formula 1 yang kuat, bertarung dengan Mika Hakkinen dan Eddie Irvine, hingga beberapa pusingan yang terakhir. Bagi satu kumpulan yang tidak mempunyai latar belakang yang besar di dunia korporat, ianya sebuah kumpulan yang kecil yang hampir mencapai impian yang diidamkan oleh ramai pelumba di seluruh dunia. Makanya ramai orang yang mula menyokong mereka, terutamanya orang yang berminat dengan pencapaian kumpulan yang lebih kecil di Formula 1.

Warna Jordan? Kuning.

Beberapa tahun selepas itu, Eddie Jordan menjelaskan dalam sebuah temuduga bahawa walaupun dia hampir digelar juara dunia, ada ramai juga orang yang berpendapat bahawa dia tidak patut menang kejohanan tersebut. Kononnya, ianya akan memberikan kesan yang negatif kepada cara kumpulan Jordan telah dipasarkan, dan mengurangkan tarikan bagi orang ramai. Konsep tentang apa yang bagus buat kumpulan Jordan…diramalkan oleh mereka yang lebih beruntung jikalau Jordan tidak dilihat sebagai pemenang, dan sekaligus dimasukkan ke arus yang lebih perdana.

Mereka dianggap sebagai pilihan hipster dan alternatif, kerana mereka tidak menang. Seperti Borussia Dortmund.

Seperti Bersih.

Dan sekarang kita kembali ke apa yang saya jelaskan tadi. Perhimpunan Bersih yang telah diadakan beberapa kali di Malaysia merupakan satu acara yang terjebak di sejarah sebagai titik permulaan sesuatu yang tidak dijangka oleh ramai orang. Ianya bergerak sebagai satu cara penyampaian pesanan kepada pihak-pihak yang tertentu. Ianya diterima oleh orang ramai dengan cara yang berlainan, tetapi yang pentingnya adalah…ianya menggunakan warna kuning sebagai satu cara mengagihkan lagi perbezaan di antara mereka yang menyokong pihak-pihak berlainan. Objektif dan misi dan visi mereka tidak semestinya selaras dengan penyokong Bersih yang lain; akan tetapi, warna kuning telah digunakan sebagai satu cara menunjuk perasaan yang lebih alternatif.

Saya merujuk kepada soalan yang dikemukakan di awal penulisan ini.

Adakah warna kuning secara umumnya dianggap sebagai warna alternatif? Ini merupakan sesuatu yang menarik bagi saya pertikaikan kerana, walaupun saya tidak ingin menyatakan bahawa warna ini sahaja yang boleh digunakan buat objektif-objektif tersebut, sebagai sesuatu yang boleh mengatasi masa, ruang, lokasi dan sebagainya, ianya telah disiratkan kualiti-kualiti yang ramai orang kenal sebagai alternatif. Bebas.

Hipster.

Siapakah yang menentukannya? Pihak manakah yang memutuskan ini?

Yang lebih penting adalah ini: pergerakan hipster, alternatif, independent dan sebagainya menggunakan pertentangan dengan arus perdana sebagai sesuatu yang membentuk kewujudan mereka. Mereka adalah lain kerana mereka tidak menggunakan idea atau cara yang ditetapkan oleh orang lain. Lain sebab mereka lain.

Warna kuning telah ditetapkan oleh ramai orang sebagai warna yang diberikan kualiti-kualiti tersebut.

Makanya…jikalau itu memang benar, adakah definasi prinsip yang telah diberikan kepada warna tersebut boleh dianggap sebagai mainstream? Bolehkah kita sekarang, dari segi politik, sukan dan sebagainya, melihat bukan sahaja warna kuning ini, tetapi warna-warna yang lain yang sewaktu dengannya, tanpa memikirkan konotasi yang tersirat seperti yang telah ditetapkan oleh pihak-pihak yang tidak boleh dikenalpasti?

Just how hipster, then, is the colour yellow?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Antara...


I dream of memories, soft as a rose's touch, that does not wilt at the very breath of fog.

I dream of an evening, of the sinking sun that colours the sky as it does my life.

I dream of the wind, the soft shaving of the skin to brush away the pain.

I dream of ashes, and of dust, of lightness and of dark, a drought of love that floods in emotions.

Of rhyme and reason, harmonious as can be, hands and fates intertwined.

I dream of stars that bright shinely, of moons that crescent well, of the sand that floats forever more.

I dream a dream that could never be.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Politics of Arrogance


The grimace on the face of Cristiano Ronaldo as another pass, another shot, another cross goes astray is becoming more and more familiar. It could be because the shots and passes are getting more wayward in their execution. More often than not, that is becoming the defining image of the footballer, perhaps mirroring the man that is encased within.

Or so you would think.

Across the country, dazzling not only his home crowd but the global television audience, Lionel Messi streaks away from yet another defender, jinking left and right before slotting the ball home, usually in the only spot the goalkeeper can’t reach. Sometimes, he can even afford to whack one in from further out, but the smile plastered across his face after the ball nestles safely in the back of the net is becoming his defining image.

Or so you would think.

In many respects, we are incredibly lucky to be witnessing two wonderful footballers who are peaking at about the right time in their respective careers. The challenges that each have set for themselves (and indirectly, for the other) have made for some wonderful football with numerous records being broken time and again. They fall like dominoes, those records, as Ronaldo and Messi flat-track bully their way into history.

Of course, within the discourse we have been conditioned, there is apparently a need to define an undisputed number one. The crème de la crème, the best of the best, the greatest ever in the history of the game. When you think about it, it’s a very Highlander approach we have, except that we don’t necessarily behead the guy who comes in second. As Russell Peters' dad might have said, that would be counter productive.

Nevertheless, the one thing I wish to consider is this. Messi and Ronaldo have been paired against each other in pretty much everything. In pure statistical terms, Messi wins in the sense that he has scored more goals than Ronaldo. He has won more, too, especially if one is to consider only the Spanish-specific context of their duel.

However, that’s the team game. Football is very much eleven players pitted against one another, and the organic development and unit that is the Blaugrana should not be underestimated. Consider the more ‘instant’ culture that is the policy in the Spanish capital team, and we can see a bigger difference. In short, the winning team is only and exactly that: a team. Many have commented that there is no I in team, but fewer pointed out that there is ME in team.

The ME of both Barcelona and Real Madrid is definitely Messi and Ronaldo. They have been very effective, they are both only as effective as their team allow them to be.

What if you take all of that away, though? What if we are to consider only the two of them, stripped naked from the very protective cells of their respective teammates, and consider only their actual footballing skill and attributes? Gets trickier doesn’t it? 

Here’s another spanner in the works of this, and the main crux of this post. Who wins? We don’t really know. 

However, who would be the popular choice?

No prizes for guessing that one. I’d go so far as to put a sizeable amount of my rental deposit on that, should the odds be favourable. They won’t be, simply because Messi’s ascent has as much, perhaps even more so, to do with his image that it is with his skills on wheels.

As such, the nomination of ‘the best’ should always be prefixed with this question: do we pick the best, or do we pick a player who we like the most? Is such a choice predicated on what the player actually is, or is it more to do with the alignment of an assigned set of characteristics to our own?

Lionel Messi often wins the popularity contest, and he would therefore often be crowned the best. His smile, his stature, his boy next door look that breaks the hearts of mothers and daughters everywhere (one can imagine the complete opposite to the saying "Mothers, lock up your daughters!" should Messi happen to be strolling down one's street). That’s the narrative, the cause and effect right there. 

Just how fair is this, though?

I look at Ronaldo, and I see a man who is a winner. He wants to be the best. He wants to be acknowledged as the best. That is perhaps a very clearly and explicitly stated objective of his. 

He will, therefore, do every single thing in he can within his powers to expand his powers on the pitch. He sleeps the appropriate amount at the appropriate time. Despite the glamour surrounding him, he doesn’t do much off the pitch that would have, in a more sedate time and era, garnered that much attention. A couple of dates here, a few movie premieres there, and…that’s it. Everything he does is done in light of his focus on his performance on that green patch in the middle of the stadium.

So he gets angry when things does not go to plan on the pitch. That’s OK, though He’s a winner. And yet…

And yet.

It is the very expression of this attitude that sees him branded as arrogant. Certainly, within a very large group of people, the personal distaste that they hold for the footballer has something to do with this. He’s arrogant, they say. Too flashy, they think. Not one of us, it is stated.

I don’t know about that, to be perfectly honest. I do not presume that every single person on the planet hold the same view. However, I do believe that for those who do, it is this very same view that allows for a more blinkered assessment of someone who is a fantastic athlete, and, in many respects, the complete footballer.

Do we dislike him because he represents something we don’t like? Or do we not cast our metaphorical vote for him because he does not represent something we aspire to?

I see no problem in someone who has a clear objective, and states it. I have no issues with a man who wants to be all that he can be, and lives his life accordingly. He gets hurt, he feels pain, and he allows frustrations to overrule his head when the plan worked on so assiduously is not adhered to, either by design or by fate. Just like all of us, if you really think about it.

And yet, this is branded as arrogance. Super confidence is not something someone is allowed to have, should one wish to win popularity contests, simply because the judges have delusions of grandeur when it comes to either their own skill sets or aspirations.

Perhaps this is why I myself have been called arrogant. It could very well explain why Ronaldo is one of, if not my outright favourite player in the world. 

I spent years admiring the skills of Ryan Giggs, and consider him to be one of my biggest idols…on the pitch. Sleeping with my brother’s wife, however, is not something I aspire to, and yet let us compare the reaction Ryan Giggs provokes to that of Ronaldo.

My point exactly.

Now that, you can think of what you will.