Blooming underdog

Kolumpo star Sharifah Amani shares her dreams of directing her first feature film.

ACTRESS Sharifah Amani’s resume can go on for miles. The actress made her start in the film industry when she was only six, acting as an extra in Shuhaimi Baba’s 1992 film Selubung.

More than a decade later, she starred in Yasmin Ahmad’s critically-acclaimed Sepet, and picked up the Most Promising Actress award in the 18th Malaysian Film Festival (2005). The following year, Sharifah received the Best Actress award for her role in Gubra (the sequel to Sepet).

Despite all her film and TV projects and her acting achievements, Sharifah said she still feels like an underdog in the local film industry.

“It’s been an interesting journey. The more I search, the more dirt I find about the industry as a whole. Then again, it’s the same in Hollywood and Bollywood. It just depends on whether you want to participate or not,” said Sharifah during a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Sharifah was most recently seen on Kolumpo, an anthology film that revolves around the misadventures of different individuals in Kuala Lumpur. The film features three shorts directed by Bront Palarae, Sheikh Munasar and Rozi Izma. She is really fond of her character as Hayy in Sheikh Munasar’s segment.

“Her character is the spirit of Kolumpo. She has been hurt, betrayed and forgotten, yet when it comes to the people around her, she’s very accepting. She doesn’t judge. As humans, we should make it our business to take care of each other. That’s all.”

Released back in December, Sharifah was surprised by all the positive feedback that Kolumpo received.

“Honestly, we were expecting a lot of backlash because of some characters in the movie! But so far, we have yet to hear from anyone who feels the need to speak out against the characters,” she said.

Sharifah has even met people who thanked her and the filmmakers for making Kolumpo. “I’m running into open arms, into people thanking us for making a Malaysian film that’s assuring. The feedback has been overwhelming.”

For Sharifah, knowing the audience cared for some of the characters on Kolumpo was all that matters.

“When these characters (some of them include an immigrant played by Azad Jazmin) are accepted by our audience, that’s a little step up for us. I just want the audience to know that these types of people exist and that there is no reason for hate. That is their life, their journey. I don’t have to hate you just to make my journey better,” she explained.

The success of Kolumpo prompted the actress to start thinking about directing her first feature film. Previously, she directed short films for Astro’s My Hometown and the recent Ikal Mayang: Telling Women Stories projects.

“I really want to direct. There are so many stories I want to tell,” she said, insisting that we publish her exact statement for everyone to see, and to serve as a reminder to herself.

Sharifah has one specific story in mind. “It will be a very woman-oriented story. Perhaps I’ll cast my mum Fatimah Abu Bakar and all my sisters (in it). I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch that movie?

“(The late) Yasmin Ahmad used to be very happy with us because she could cast my sisters and I, then get a discount!”

She continued: “We used to say to her, ‘you take two, we give you discount!’. Besides, if I have to hire a star, I have to pay. With my family members, perhaps just some duit raya and then enough lah (laughs).”

Her ideal story would be about the different stages of growing up.

“I think it will be very Little Women. My sisters and I are going through different things right now. There’s Sharifah Aryana (18) who is always so ‘oh my god, you guys ...’. There’s Sharifah Alesya (21) who is like, ‘artsy’, and you’ve got workaholic me whom you might think needs to take a chill pill and perhaps some food. Then there’s my older sister Sharifah Aleya (31) who is a mother.”

She admitted that it has taken her a while to get on the directing bandwagon.

“I’ve got people like Bront and Nik Amir Mustapha (director of Kil) egging me on. There are so many things to consider when making a feature film and I just want to make the right choices by building my ‘gang’.”

Being a self-professed underdog has something to do with it as well. “I have to walk the talk. I’m always saying how I’m dissatisfied with this and that. Until I realised I need to understand the complexities behind making feature films.”

The actress also spoke about her recent television commercial for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 called Design Your Future Life.

“I read the script and it made me cry,” she said. The minute-long clip sees Sharifah uttering several different lines like, “I never wanted to be famous” and the more personal, “I never thought that I’d learn about love through loss”.

“The line about love made me think of Yasmin (the director passed away in 2009). I asked the scriptwriter for Design Your Future Life, ‘how did you know these things about me?’ and he basically said, ‘your life is on the Internet’. It’s all very personal to me. At first, I thought ‘Eh, tak poyo ke (isn’t it pretentious) to say I never wanted to be famous?’ but it’s so truthful!”

The clips also show Sharifah sitting on a film set, perhaps realising her own dreams as a director.

“It’s about passion and making your dreams come true,” she said. Seeing her peers making a name for themselves has also given Sharifah a new sense of optimism about the local film industry.

“I think I feel more secure now because I’ve met more like-minded people who really want to see the industry grow and change for the better.”

Sharifah Amani's top five local films

1. Layar Lara (1998)

2. Seniman Bujang Lapuk (1961)

3. Mukhsin (2006, pic)

4. Bunohan (2012)

5. Upcoming Nik Amir Mustapha film Bikin Filem (Sharifah describes it as a “dedication to our local industry”. Due for release this year, Bikin Filem pays homage to iconic Malaysian movies like Aziz M. Osman’s XX Ray and Yasmin Ahmad’s Talentime.)

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Blooming underdog


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