If there is one thing that director Eric Ong hopes for the audience to take away after watching Adiwiraku, it is this: “The story talks about how you shouldn’t hope for superheroes to come and save you; you shouldn’t look at other people to make a change. It has to start with you – you are the superhero. Instead of complaining, you have to take action.”
Adiwiraku, which opens in Malaysia on March 9, is based on a true story of a determined teacher named Cheryl Ann Fernando, stationed at SMK Pinang Tunggal in Sungai Petani, Kedah, who found a way to teach her students to speak and write in English.
Ong adds: “She was teaching secondary students, and some of them couldn’t read and write. Instead of complaining, she took matters into her own hands and found ways to change the situation for the better.”
The Singapore-based director was immediately drawn to the film when he heard about the story from his producing partner, Jason Chong, who had read on social media about a teacher who formed a choral speaking team in a rural school in Kedah.
While the story is dramatised, most of its plot points are real. To ensure authenticity, Fernando – who is currently with EduNation Malaysia (a free online educational resource) – came on board to oversee the production.
Adiwiraku also features Fernando’s students from SMK Pinang Tunggal, and even a couple of the school’s teachers.
“It was a question of where we were going to find 35 actors to play the students,” says Ong. “And after we get these young actors, how are we going to train them to do the choral speaking?”
In the film (as it happened in real life), the students practised choral speaking for more than six months before participating in the district-level choral speaking competition.
Ong only had a small window of opportunity to shoot the film in March last year, during the school holidays.
So, in the end, it was an easy decision to make especially when the real students showed potential as actors.
A couple of young actors like Wan Azlyn and Farra Safwan were brought in, however, to protect the identity of some of the students with more sensitive storylines.
Among the students playing themselves are Ahmad Adnin Zidane, Irdina Tasmin, Balqis Sani and Rizal Fahmi.
Sangeeta Krishnasamy, who plays Fernando in the film, spent as much time as she could with the youngsters. “We became close,” says the actress.
“Even after rehearsals, we’d look forward to seeing each other. During the breaks, we’d talk about life. I was surprised at how mature they are. They are in Form Five and Form One, but because of their situations, they view life in a more mature manner than I ever did when I was in school.
“They taught me a lot of things. They were my teachers basically.”