The new movie Laga trains the spotlight on the cock-fighting community and its culture.
PRIOR to its recent preview, the loudest buzz about the movie Laga centred on its risqué bedroom scenes.
In these scenes, a middle-aged man is trying to keep his young wife satisfied by practising some techniques as advised by their village’s elderly midwife.
The preview screening did see viewers glued to their seats for a solid 90 minutes – not because of those so-called steamy scenes, but because Laga turned out, on the whole, to be a commendable debut effort from Business Leader Film Productions.
Directed by Ismail Yaacob, the movie is set in a village in Kuala Kangsar, Perak and tells of Hassan (Wan Hanafi Su), who is a cock-fighting champion. His arch-rival is Dasuki (Nasir Bilal Khan), a rich man with a ruthless streak.
Hassan is married to the young and beautiful Ayu (Marsha Milan Londoh), who longs for a “better” life. Dasuki lusts after Ayu, and vows to have her by beating Hassan in their game.
As it turns out, it is Hassan’s talented protege Sabri (Syazwan Zulkifli) who beats Dasuki. The villagers begin to look up to Sabri, and even Ayu falls for him.
Budgeted at RM2.8mil, Laga is a star-studded movie that combines the best of old and new in Malaysian entertainment. Movie buffs will be delighted to see Datuk Rosyam Nor and Eman Manan teaming up for the first time in years (they previously shared the screen in Lenjan, which Ismail directed in 1998).
With its high-calibre cast lending an undeniable strength to the movie, Laga turned out to be a mind-blowing and engaging experience.
Asked about the controversial bedroom scenes, Ismail said the censorship board gave the green light – and an “18” rating – after being briefed on their inclusion in the movie.
“The scenes are needed for the movie as it tells the life of people in the village. They aren’t there for fun,” he said.
He added that directing Laga gave him immense satisfaction as the subject was very close to his heart.
“Cock-fighting is a universal issue; you can find it in many different cultures around the world. Another issue that I tried to highlight is the gambling habit, which occurs in almost every society,” he said.
He explained that gambling and bitter feuds are part of the cock-fighting sub-culture; it is negative, but it does exist.
“When people ask me why I chose cock-fighting as it has violence in it, I just tell them to look at the issue of gangsterism. Aren’t they similar, if not the same? And as other directors have already touched on the issue (of gangsterism in their movies), I wanted to do something different.
“This is my choice and I tried my best to get as close as possible to village culture,” he said.
Ismail revealed that Laga has been accepted for screening at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.
“When I decided to direct Laga it was a conscious effort to make it not just for (the) established local market but the movie should also be accepted in an international film market because the issue is universal.
“I want to sell our culture abroad.”
The movie has also been submitted to the censors in Indonesia as the filmmakers hope to get it screened at cinemas in the republic.
Ismail recalled that when he first received the script, he showed it to Eman and several others to get their input.
“Working with talented actors such as Eman, Wan Hanafi, Rosyam and Nasir has been a blessing for me as they made the process smooth and easy, and delivered more than what I wanted. But I would like to add that even the new faces such as Syazwan Zulkifli and Marsha have been amazing,” he said,
For Rosyam, his involvement in Laga was solely because of its director: “I worked with him in Lenjan and he is very honest in his work. And I don’t mind playing a supporting role here. I couldn’t be more proud and honoured to work with him.
“Seriously, despite the buzz about the bedroom scenes, this movie is (really) about friendship and the Malay culture, especially among those who are involved in cock-fighting,” added Rosyam who plays police inspector Jefri in the film.
Both Eman and Rosyam have a high regard for Ismail, whom they describe as an actor’s director.
“We got along great in Lenjan and it felt good to be reunited with him on Laga,” said Eman, a man of few words, who plays Sabri and Hassan’s good friend, Seman.
For Wan Hanafi, Laga’s strength “lies with its premise and the storyline. Laga is not only about those who are into cock-fighting but the conflict between people who have different needs and wants.”
The role of multilayered romantic Sabri was a challenge for newcomer Syazwan. Although he initially felt intimidated working alongside his all-time favourite actors Eman and Rosyam, the experience was highly memorable for him.
“They are big stars, but are humble and down to earth. They were also very patient with new actors like me. Rosyam and Eman will always be the acting benchmark for me,” he added.
> Laga opens in cinemas nationwide on Jan 23.