What would you do if you found out that you only had a short time left to live?
If you were anything like Bapak, the protagonist in the film adaptation of the late playwright Jit Murad’s Spilt Gravy On Rice, you would call for a family dinner.
This long-delayed (English language) movie, now renamed Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah, is finally set to open in Malaysian cinemas this Thursday (June 9), nearly 11 years after it was held back by the Film Censorship Board (LPF), as well as the pandemic.
The film rounds up Jit’s signature caricatural characters, odd family politics and black comedy twists. And it is ready to entertain a wider audience.
It is also a fitting tribute to the beloved theatre legend, who died in February this year.
The journey of getting Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah into local cinemas has a been a long and challenging one.
“I want Malaysians to see it more than anyone else because it is about us, it is about a family, a rather unusual family.
“A rather unusual ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ if you like,” says Datuk Zahim Albakri, a theatre scene veteran, who directed the film.
A certain timeless magic
Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah revolves around a dysfunctional upper-middle class Malay family in Kuala Lumpur.
The film’s strength is in how it serves up an honest depiction of family relationships, failures, and lifestyle choices.
“I’m glad it’s finally going to be released. It took a lot to get where the film is today. All I can say is that Jit is a genius and this film will never age,” says Bernie Chan, who plays Hortense in the film, during a recent media screening of the film in KL.
Comedian Harith Iskander, who plays an angel alongside Jit, echoed Chan’s sentiment.
“I don’t think it’s dated. It’s a story that needs to be told and I’m sincerely hoping that it will be as enjoyable on screen now as it was when it was on stage 20 years ago,” says Harith.
Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah doesn’t feel out of step with the times despite being stuck in censorship limbo, and you have to credit the engaging acting in keeping the viewer glued to the screen.
The cast also includes veteran actor/director Datuk Rahim Razali (Bapak), Juliana Ibrahim (Zaitun), Bernice Chauly (Kalsom), Sean Ghazi (Husni), Na’a Murad (Darwis), and Zahim (Zakaria).
The 115-minute film also features Nanu Baharudin, Ida Nerina, Melissa Saila, Sabrina Hassan, Diana Danielle, Junji Delfino, Joelah Charles, Carliff Carleel, Bernie Chan, Doppo, Dara Raziana Othman, Nam Ron, Amerul Affendi, Imri Nasution, Nuramerra Aqma, Elaine Pedley Lee Swee Keong and Hairi Safwan in supporting roles.
The story centres on the character Bapak, a retired journalist and patriarch who realises he only has a limited amount of time left to live after he is visited by two otherworldly strangers. Immediately, he invites his five children – from five different women – to dinner so that they can talk about some unresolved family matters, including who will inherit the family home.
On screen, the film shifts between the past and present, weaving a rich (albeit troubled) tapestry of Bapak’s family life.
The characters then go on their own journey of self-discovery, where they also face hidden truths that threaten to shake their foundations.
The cracks were always there, apparently.
The theme song Dibuai Mimpi, performed by Sean Ghazi and Liza Hanim, also captures the mood of the film where lost childhood memories and frayed adult relationships reside.
Poignantly, the late academic/musician Prof Dr Wan Zawawi Wan Ibrahim earlier in February described the film as “a gem for all Malaysians to savour – it’s got everything about what makes us Malaysians tick.”
The big leap
Jit’s 2002 play Spilt Gravy On Rice was originally staged at the former The Actors Studio venue at Bangsar Shopping Centre in KL. After a successful run, it travelled to Singapore’s DBS Arts Centre in 2003 and was later restaged at The Actors Studio that same year.
All the stage productions were directed by Zahim, who took over the role of Zakaria in the 2003 restaging.
The show was a commercial success, playing to packed houses during its three runs in 2002 and 2003. The play also won four awards at the inaugural Cameronian Arts Awards 2002 in KL, including for best director and best original script.
Zahim, Jit, and June Tan, a producer at Five Arts Centre, wrote the screenplay for the film.
Spilt Gravy On Rice is the name of the original director’s cut of the film, which premiered at the 2015 Colombo International Film Festival in Sri Lanka. It has not been released or screened anywhere else since then.
Originally, the play was a work-in-progress by Jit called Skittish, which began as a series of comedy skits involving a group of siblings, which eventually grew into Spilt Gravy On Rice. Production publicist Lorna Tee suggested naming the play after a Malay proverb, similar to Jit’s acclaimed 1993 production Gold Rain & Hailstones.
The production of Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah also had similarities to the film’s plot... in that it dealt with goodbyes.
The primary setting of the film was Zahim’s family home along Jalan Kia Peng in KL, where his family resided for over 40 years. It was renovated and expanded by his father, the well-known Malaysian architect Datuk Haji Ikmal Hisham Albakri.
“When we restaged the play in KL, we joked about making the film. Jit’s description of the house in the play was very similar to my family home,” recalls Zahim.
After the death of Zahim’s father in 2006, the family reluctantly decided to sell the property in 2010.
Recognising that it would be lost to development, the family requested six months to vacate the property.
Despite the film having production issues and an assistant director (and team resigning), it was enough time to shoot Spilt Gravy On Rice there. Filming began on June 7 in 2011 and lasted 52 days, concluding just days before they were required to vacate the location.
With a few tweaks...
Zahim reveals that the film was submitted to the LPF for the first time in 2012. Due to certain sensitive scenes (parts that touched on religious sensitivities and taboo issues), the LPF panel classified the film as “Tidak Lulus Untuk Tayangan” (not approved for screening).
Over the past decade, the film has been submitted for re-evaluation three times officially and numerous times unofficially. The original film was renamed (a film cannot be officially submitted twice with the same title) and resubmitted at the end of 2019 after being reedited with some dialogue muted, a major plot change made, a hand gesture blurred and an alternative ending.
It was reclassified as Lulus Dengan Perubahan (approved with changes) and given a PG-13 rating on March 16, 2020.
However, the film’s release was once again delayed due to the pandemic.
Zahim also quickly pointed out that the LPF board “really wanted the film to come out”.
“They were very generous and provided different alternatives for the re-edits. It was really a process of negotiation and compromise. Very Malaysian,” says the director.
Understandably, the upcoming film meant some scenes had to be cut or changed. For instance, Junji’s domestic help character Concepcion was not in the play, and the mothers were not shown in the stage version.
“Film is more show rather than tell. And in showing what was mentioned in passing in the play, it became so intense in the film. It had more gravitas and was more mature. But I think it was there all along,” says Zahim.
Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah has laid the groundwork for future Malaysian stage-to-screen adaptations.
In fact, Zahim reveals that another of Jit’s plays (an early works titled Entourage) might also hit the cinemas in the future.
Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah will open in cinemas on June 9.
More info here.