The recent documentary on P. Ramlee is generating a lot of buzz among viewers.
THE documentary P. Ramlee, currently being screened on Astro’s History channel, elicited reactions that even its director, Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba, did not anticipate. The 90-minute production, an often touching tribute to the late great artiste, Tan Sri P. Ramlee, surprised many who did not know that the Malaysian legend, despite his fame and popularity during the golden era of Malay cinema, had died penniless and a broken man.
“I’ve had so many (online) links sent to me and I’m trying my best to read all of them,” said Shuhaimi when contacted by phone at her Pesona Pictures office in Kuala Lumpur last week. “We were caught by surprise because we didn’t realise it left many people in tears. I suppose it is because we watched the film all through those months we were working on it that we forgot the ending would have that effect.”
Many viewers were moved by the programme, just as guests were at the recent preview of the documentary at Hilton Kuala Lumpur.
The premiere of P. Ramlee on History on Oct 31 was the culmination of the month-long tribute to the iconic star on Astro billed Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti (Where Can I Find A Replacement), named after one of his most memorable tunes.
Twelve years in the making, P. Ramlee featured many interviews with people who had worked with the extraordinary talent or known him personally, like veteran actress and sister-in-law Mariani Ismail, close friend and fellow actor Datuk Aziz Sattar, and his son Sazali Ramlee. Some of the interviewees such as P. Ramlee’s wife Puan Sri Saloma and son Nasir, as well as actors, Datuk Ahmad Daud and wife Datin Saadiah, have since passed on.
“A lot of people have asked for a continuation of the documentary,” said Shuhaimi. “Some have asked why we didn’t include more of Saloma and the other personalities. We don’t mean to say they are not important, it’s just that we have a blueprint on which to structure the film, and this is a documentary on P. Ramlee and only P. Ramlee.”
She added that a big personality such as Saloma deserves a documentary of her own, as do many of the other equally interesting filmmakers of the time such as Datuk Jamil Sulong, M. Amin and Hussain Haniff.
“We understand what the audiences want ... they want to see more,” said Shuhaimi. “Perhaps with more funding we can continue to make another part.”
She also said Pesona Pictures, which produced the documentary, is indeed looking at the possibility of releasing it on DVD, but for now, she is busy trying to reply to all the queries sent her way.
“Some people wanted to know why he had used certain dialogues or lines in his films, and others asked why footage from some of his films was not used,” Shuhaimi explained. “We had to pay quite a hefty sum to Shaw Bros for the right to use the footage from his films. So we had to make decisions on what footage to use from which films because we couldn’t afford it.
“We also wanted to talk about his songs and the beauty of his lyrics, but we had to keep in mind that international viewers might not be able to relate to the lyrics.”
Shuhaimi said all those who worked on the documentary, including herself, are such huge fans of P. Ramlee that they had a hard time trying to remain objective. There was a lot more they had wanted to include in the show but they were constantly mindful that every little thing they put into it had to have a valid and objective reason.
They originally had three hours’ worth of material but had to cut it all down to 90 minutes. Shuhaimi and her 15-member team spent eight months putting it all together.
“We also had to dig really hard to find footage of P. Ramlee himself,” Shuhaimi added. “We were lucky that the archives in RTM had some. It was important to include it so that we get to hear the words from P. Ramlee himself.”
The origin of the documentary goes as far back as 1998. Back then Shuhaimi was researching to produce a biopic of P. Ramlee. The filmmaker and her team found that there was not much footage from that era that they could use. In addition, they could not raise the money to make the movie. Still, when they learnt that celebrities such as Saadiah and Ahmad Daud were not well, they knew they had to interview them.
“The one who was most disappointed was Nasir,” said Shuhaimi. “Whenever we met up, he would ask me about the progress of the movie. He made me promise that even if the movie didn’t get made, that I would at least do something.”
She also realised it was an emotional journey for Nasir. He had told her about his difficulty living up to the reputation of being the son of P. Ramlee because he knew he was not as talented as his father. So he wanted to have something made so that his father would be remembered for all that he had done.
Asked if the biopic is still on the drawing board, Shuhaimi replied: “It is going to be costly, and I don’t know if I can raise the funds. Getting the rights from Shaw Bros to use footage from his films would make up a big part of the budget.”
P. Ramlee was an actor, screenwriter and director who was also an accomplished musician, composer and singer. Born in Penang as Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Puteh, he later adopted the stage and screen name P. Ramlee, and became Malaysia’s biggest and most enduring star with 66 feature films and 350 songs to his credit. However, his star began to wane in the late 1960s when faced with stiff competition from Indonesian, American and Hindi colour films and also television. In the end, on May 29, 1973, at age 44, P. Ramlee died of a heart attack, leaving behind not wealth but a trail of broken dreams.
While the circumstances of his untimely death have been largely forgotten, his legacy continues to be remembered and celebrated by Malaysians.
“He was larger than life,” said Shuhaimi. “He was a complete package, and no one can compete with that. He was everything you’d want in an artiste. You can’t teach creative talent and he had all of it. He was also not pretentious; his stories were about what he knew best.
“The magic of our cinema is P. Ramlee.”
P. RAMLEE is available in dual language, English and Bahasa Malaysia, with subtitles in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese, on:
History (Astro Channel 555)
Today, 10am; Nov 27, 7pm; Nov 28, 3pm; Nov 30, 10am
BIO (Astro Channel 731)
Nov 24, 9pm; Nov 25, 5pm; Nov 27, 3pm; Nov 29, 11pm; Nov 30, 1pm; Dec 26, 11pm; Dec 27, 1pm
Final repeats on History
Jan 1, 2011, 11pm; Jan 2, 10am