Never too late

Three artistes share what it’s like to step out of the spotlight and into the classroom.

AFTER completing his Senior Cambridge exams in 1956, Senator Tan Sri Jins Shamsudin had dreams of furthering his studies at the then University of Malaya in Singapore.

However, when the university’s admissions officer told him they would “keep his application in view”, he knew that he didn’t have much chance of getting in.

By a lucky turn, his great-uncle, Mat Zain Haji Ayub, a teacher at Ipoh’s Anderson School, was able to help him obtain a place in England to study electrical engineering.

With three months to spare before he had to leave, 21-year-old Jins signed up for English classes at night to brush up on his language skills, while staying with his relative, Hussein Ghani, the producer for Radio Malaya's Education section.

Next door to Hussein’s house, rehearsals for a play were going on. As he had nothing much to do during the day, Jins watched the players in action daily.

Jins takes advantage of every spare minute to work on his PhD thesis.

“What happened then was that the lead actor, who was from Kedah, got a telegram saying that his mother was ill. He had to go back to see her, but said he would be back for the opening night, in two weeks,” Jins recalls.

As the cast and crew were now familiar with him, Jins was asked to stand in for him for the remaining rehearsals.

“At first, I just held the script and read from it. But within a week, I had memorised the lines. Then the leading man’s mother passed away, and he couldn’t resume his role. So my stand-in part became permanent,” he says.

When the play opened at Singapore’s Victoria Memorial Hall (now the Victoria Concert Hall), Jins caught the eye of Jaffar Abdullah, a public relations officer for Shaw Brothers.

“Jaffar approached me and asked if I would like to act in a movie,” Jins says.

The movie was Keadilan Ilahi, shot in 1956. Next, he was given a leading role in Panca Delima, directed by Malay film icon P. Ramlee.

“Instead of shooting for 45 days (as planned), we took nine months to complete the film because of a workers’ strike,” Jins adds.

“I had signed a contract for the film and because of that, I lost my place (to study) in England.”

But as the acting roles kept coming in, he thought to himself, ‘Why not continue to act?’

Even so, the desire to further his education never wavered.

Studying abroad

Ten years and 25 leading roles later, Jins was given the opportunity to study under renowned Hong Kong director Lo Wei at Shaw Studios Hong Kong.

“I was sent to Hong Kong by Shaw Brothers to train under Lo Wei for two years. During that time, I attended classes on film directing, editing and production.”

It was also then that Jins starred in Bayangan Ajal and Jurang Bahaya, in which he played Jefri Zain, Malaysia’s own version of super-spy James Bond.

Upon his return to Malaysia, he was offered a scholarship by Mara (Majlis Amanah Rakyat) to study film in London. By then, Jins was one of most well-known actors of the Malay film industry.

But he did not hesitate to seize the opportunity to further his studies.

“I had done about 40 films as an actor and director, but I felt I still had a lot to learn, especially about directing,” he says.

“Initially, Mara only gave me a one-year scholarship – they weren’t sure if I could cope (with student life), as I was a hero of the film industry at that time,” he adds, with a smile.

Not only did Jins survive – “I had to cook and clean for myself in my one small room” – he graduated from the London Film School with a diploma in Motion Picture Technology in 1972.

In addition to that, during and after his course, Jins had the chance to be on attachment to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Pinewood Studios in the United Kingdom, as well as various film studios and universities in the United States and West Germany.

“Then I got a place in UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and another Mara scholarship to do my postgraduate degree. But my father got very sick and I had to come home.”

Jins’ father died within a month of his return in 1973.

“After that, I had to look after my mother and my sister’s children as her husband, a policeman, had passed away during the Communist era,” he adds.

Time management important

With an established career as actor, scriptwriter, producer and director, and a family to take care of, one would think that that would signal the end of Jins’ educational aspirations.

But true to his belief that it is never too late to study, the 73-year-old second-term Senator and National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) chairman registered for a PhD programme at Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) last July.

“It has always been my dream to do a PhD, ever since I got the scholarship to London,” says Jins, adding that his friends, Open University Malaysia president and vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Anuar Ali and UUM vice-chancellor Tan Sri Dr Nordin Kardi, had also encouraged him to enrol for the programme in their respective universities.

“Film-making is not just practice, it is also about formal studies. That’s why I went abroad and furthered my studies.”

His thesis is on Filem sebagai Perakam Budaya dan Sejarah Negara (Film as a Recorder of the Country’s Culture and History). He has sent in the second draft of the first six chapters, and is currently halfway through his research.

Although the PhD programme is three years, Jins aims to complete it by early next year.

“It is a challenge to myself to finish in two years. Whenever I’m free, in between my other duties, I’ll work on it. Sometimes, I stay back late in the office to work on my thesis.

“Time management is very important. You manage your time according to your strength.”

Aside from leaving an academic record of the early Malay film industry, Jins also hopes to inspire younger artistes to further their studies.

“I’m not doing this to glorify myself, but to encourage the younger generation and set a benchmark in the film industry. If I can do it, why can’t they?”

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