Have you ever wondered what happens after death?
These are the musings of 15-year-old Aishah, the protagonist of theatre outfit Anomalist Production’s first feature length film called Mentega Terbang. Shot during the pandemic in July last year (when lockdown restrictions were eased), the film grapples with hard-hitting themes such as death, religion, the afterlife... all explored through the lens of a young girl.
In Mentega Terbang, the character Aishah, played by newcomer theatre actor Syumaila Salihin, is fascinated with the idea of reincarnation.
“I was intrigued by the idea of religion myself. I was sent to a school which required me to know the basics of other religions, practice and cultures, and I have lots of question that I want to ask, but those questions might be very sensitive to other people. So by making this film, my intention is not to give away any answers, but rather to raise questions and share it with my audience,” offers director Khairi Anwar.
Mentega Terbang, done in association with Meng Kheng Entertainmet, also features theatre actors such as Arjun Thanaraju, Firdaus Karim, Nik Waheeda, Shyamala Kandapper, Khairunazwan Rodzy (founder of theatre company Revolution Stage), and Jesebel Lee.
Presented in English and Bahasa Malaysia, the movie will be screened – to a limited audience – at the GMBB mall in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 23 and 24.
Anomalist had a series of private screenings last year and in April this year.
“The feedback has been really good, and we’re beyond happy to receive such responses. We were a bit concerned if the theme and the story would garner negative reactions, but we have not received such a thing,” adds Khairi.
Mentega Terbang, shot in six days in a KL neighbourhood, took shape during the early stages of the pandemic when Anomalist’s 2020 season was cut short.
For Anomalist, the plan ahead is to stage the remainder of its disrupted theatre season, which includes original plays like Amma Chellam, Bangsa: Anak Kecil Main Api and Saving Ismat, early next year, with March being a tentative date.
Blurring theatre and film lines
Mentega Terbang emerged as one of the top five finalists in the Kuman Pictures Feature Challenge 2020 in August last year.
Considering the film’s themes, Khairi was aware that different voices needed to be heard and consciously formed a multiracial team of writers, including Arjun (who plays Suresh in the film), Visshnu Varman and Ti Teng-Hui.
“If I was to write the script alone, it won’t be as deeply explored compared to the current script since we were exploring the theme of religion and reincarnation.
“What’s good about having a diverse writing team is that each of them brought their own religious beliefs and practices to the table. So in the writing room, we had to be open to listen to every story that was shared.
“In the end, we focused on the common religions that are in Malaysia, because the aim of the story was to make the end product relatable to the audience,” says Khairi, who adds that the film includes poems from writer/poet Jamal Raslan.
Similar to a theatre production, the cast and crew had nearly four weeks of rehearsals before the shoot and Khairi admits that working with trained theatre actors made the process a whole lot easier.
In the end, Khairi hopes to see a diverse Malaysian crowd at the private screenings this weekend.
“The idea of questioning religion has been a taboo topic in this country, and filmmakers have been straying away from the topic for as long as we know.
“We want to open the way for people to have an intellectual discourse about religion after watching our film and tell them that it’s okay to question. We hope that it can be a catalyst in creating a world where we can speak freely about our thoughts on this matter,” concludes Khairi.
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