How new is Malaysia Baharu? Has the political landscape changed? Are we moving in the right direction?
As we enter the first anniversary of Pakatan Harapan as the Government, two Malaysians are still trying to make sense of the changes – none other than YBeeee (a.k.a. Yang Berhormat) and Curry Spice, the infamous alter egos of Instant Cafe Theatre (ICT) co-founder and award-winning actor-writer-director Jo Kukathas.
“YBeeee is reacting to the fact that he is no longer in power,” says Kukathas, 56. “He can be critical of the new government. His explanations on what the previous administration did will hopefully be illuminating. He’s going to spill the beans on quite a few things. But he still won a seat in GE14. It was a landslide victory. He created the landslide – he owns a bulldozer company.”
Things are a lot different for Curry. “Curry Spice is saying ‘OK, we have a New Malaysia but how new? Is it new enough?’,” says Kukathas. “She doesn’t go deep into politics like YBeeee does. She wants to talk about her family, her travels, all things other than politics. She feels we are very obsessed with politics here.”
The beloved characters, who appeared together in 2010 for ICT’s 1Sex 1Money 1Scandal: The Virus Returns, will reunite in ICT’s latest work The May 9 Show, which looks back on the triumphs and heartaches of the country since GE14 – all through comedy and satire.
The May 9 Show is created by Kukathas, Sean, Zalfian Fuzi, Kam Raslan and Na’a Murad, all longtime ICT collaborators. Presented as a talk show hosted by actor-singer Sean Ghazi, it opens May 8 at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
For those too young to remember, a few of ICTs politically charged shows in the 1990s and 2000s were banned for being too critical, forcing the actors and writers to think of unusual ways to get their humour across. Longtime fans will be interested to see what they think of the government now.
The show will have different celebrity guests each night, so check your theatre listings. Among those rumoured to appear are former Bersih chairwoman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar, activist lawyer Siti Kasim, Sungai Buloh MP Sivarasa Rasiah, Klang MP Charles Santiago, Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Ong Kian Ming, Astro Awani broadcast host Sharaad Kuttan and Malaysiakini CEO Prem Chandran.
Singer Tria Aziz will also appear as a guest diva in the 90-minute show.
Kukathas calls The May 9 Show her “truth and reconciliation show”.
“Politics shouldn’t be something where we hate each other. We should be able to laugh about it but not hate. Comedy plays a part in the healing process. It can be provocative too. I think there has been a lot of hatred over the many decades. Now we don’t want that,” she says.
Kukathas created the YBeeee character in 1990, three years after the Ops Lalang crackdown by the Royal Malaysian Police, in which over 100 activists, politicians, intellectuals, students, artists and even scientists were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
“YBeeee was a reaction to the politicians of the day who intruded upon our lives far too much. They were telling us how to behave, how to be.”
Kukathas had referenced the perpetual deputy minister stereotype for her YBeeee character, who dons a grey bush jacket, a songkok and an oversized corsage. But updating the character for this new era was not so easy, Kukathas admits.
“Before, the targets were very clear and simple. We took no prisoners. But now it’s more complicated. I don’t want to just poke fun at the new government just for the sake of poking fun at them. They have to had done things which are worthy of satire as satire aims high,” she says.
Not so much for Curry Spice, who is the polar opposite of YBeeee and has zero interest in politics.
For example, “In the talk show, when Sean asks her what her beliefs are, she asks him to shut up and talks about herself instead,” says Kukathas. Curry, a feisty lass from Sentul with curly brown hair and a faux British accent, was created about a decade ago.
“I wanted someone to cut through the bull. At that point, we were all just sick and tired of all the politics. It was a tipping point. I wanted somebody who tried to survive, who had her own manifesto and her own point of view. Curry Spice doesn’t care to be politically correct. She's not careful. She’s abrasive, and if she sees it, she calls it. I enjoy playing her,” says Kukathas.
After everything Malaysia has been through, Kukathas believes political and social satire in shows like The May 9 Show will appeal to Malaysians because “we need someone else to speak out on our behalf, the things that we actually want to talk about but may be afraid to do so in the open. These characters are the channels.”
In the end, it doesn’t hurt to have a good laugh after a rocky year.