Rahman B, Malaysia's beloved Bangsawan theatre giant, dies aged 86

  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 02 Mar 2022

With more than seven decades of performing arts experience, Rahman B is regarded as Bangsawan theatre's most revered and influential practitioner in Malaysia. Photo: The Star/Filepic

Legendary Bangsawan theatre giant Abdul Rahman Abu Bakar, or better known as Rahman B, who had a long and distinguished career in the local performing arts scene, died earlier today. He was 86.

The news of his death was confirmed by Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka.

It was reported that Rahman B died in Hospital Kuala Lumpur due to a blood clot in his lungs.

Born in Kapar, Klang in Selangor on May 18, 1935, Rahman B was best known for continuing and broadening the Bangsawan theatre legacy left behind by his actor parents Abu Bakar Salleh (better known as Bakar M) and Kasminah Taib, who introduced their eldest child to the world of traditional performing arts in the early 1940s.

In the early years of his career as a child actor, Rahman B learned the ropes of Bangsawan theatre and touring life across the nation from his parents and siblings, before gradually building a name for himself outside the family theatre group.

Bangsawan, or ​​Malay Opera, is a local theatre form in Malaysia, which has both traditional and modern theatre elements. It has roots that go back to the late 19th century, when Indian sea traders introduced the folk theatre art form here.

As a Bangsawan actor, Rahman B displayed versatility throughout his career with pivotal roles in shows such as Raden Mas, Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup, Tombak Brunei, Tujuh Perigi Di Gunung Curdu, and Laksamana Bentan.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Rahman B toured extensively across the nation, headlining various Bangsawan productions put together by troupes such as Rahman Star Opera and Bangsawan Bintang Timur.

On stage, Rahman B charmed audiences throughout the country. He also was constantly evolving his craft by expanding the language of old world theatre, adding modern acting methods and Western influences into the equation.

In the storied tradition of a resilient talent who went beyond acting, Rahman B also picked up theatre directing, and learned hands-on about costume, stage and prop design. He also sang, played music, danced and was a martial arts exponent.

As Rahman B widened his performing arts knowledge, he also pushed and challenged his beloved Bangsawan theatre community to adapt to the times, especially when this traditional entertainment genre faced lean times in the late 1960s.

In the 1970s, Rahman B introduced works by Shakespeare to Bangsawan theatre, including a notable Hamlet production in Bahasa Malaysia, while his stint producing TV shows saw Bangsawan elements incorporated into local dramas and scripts.

In 1994, National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) recognised Rahman B as an Adiguru Bangsawan, an honour which led him to an active role in educating, advising and inspiring a new generation of traditional theatre practitioners.

Last December, KLPac staged Bangsawan Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja, a major production, directed by his former student Dr Lenny Erwan, who is now a respected authority on Bangsawan herself, as a tribute to Rahman B.

With more than seven decades of performing arts experience, Rahman B is regarded as Bangsawan theatre's most revered and influential practitioner, with the Seniman Negara - the nation’s highest arts and culture honour - bestowed upon him in 2004 at the sixth Anugerah Seni Negara awards.

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