PETALING JAYA: She grew up with Arabic music, ghazal and zapin and plays the traditional gambus pretty well. Betty Banafe also excels in belly dancing.
However, she faced her most challenging role when award-winning director U-Wei Saari cast her as a seductress in the yet-to-be-released film Buai Laju-Laju.
Playing Zaitun in the movie earned her the Most Promising Actress award at the recent 17th Malaysian Film Festival and she has since earned rave reviews from critics and entertainment writers.
The character challenged me to do something Ive never done before.
Zaitun seduced a drifter named Amran (played by Eman Manan) into murdering her elderly husband, Ibrahim (Khalid Salleh) to get his money and land, said the actress of Arabic, Javanese, Dutch and Malay descent.
Betty was thrilled when she got the offer to act in the movie, as it was another of U-Weis masterpieces. Ireland-based LeBrocquy Fraser Productions Ltd produced the film, which also premiered at the recent 17th Singapore International Film Festival. It will be screened here before the year ends.
I like to learn from the best directors, actors and actresses. I always make a point to mix with the right people as they give me the right aura, said the former model. She will soon appear in a new play, Demi Zaitun, written by National Laureate Datuk Nordin Hassan.
There are many sub-plots in the play. The character demands me to act, dance and sing, something which I never got to do in the past, said the 27-year-old Johor-born actress who first acted in the play Hering, which was staged at the National Museum in conjunction with the 2003 Malaysian National Arts Festival.
Stage plays are the best platform to gauge your acting ability. I like this test and look forward to do more plays in future, said Betty, who will be acting in Demi Zaitun for seven days from July 29 at the City Hall Auditorium here
The two-hour play will also feature Adman Salleh as a mad professor, Shahrulnizam, Sara Datuk Shahrum, Ahmad Tarmimi Siregar, Zizie Zulkifli and Mazin.
Recalling her early exposure to the arts, she said: We were only allowed to listen to Arabic and typical traditional music as my late father was a conservative man.
Strangely though, he is quite liberal in his thinking, she said, adding that in the past four years she had been preparing for her debut Arabic album and appearing in TV dramas, which include Hijab dan Kabur, Aleya Maisarah, Hijrahku, Talkin Syahadah, Kiranya Ku Tahu and Cikgu Siti.
While she is now touted to be another shining star in the mould of Erra Fazira, it was not easy for the talented beauty who was born Betty Ibtisam Abu Bakar to get into the entertainment industry.
Her father, an accomplished ghazal singer and fine arts artiste, refused to allow any of his six children to follow in his footsteps until they completed their university degrees.
My father placed great emphasis on education. He felt the entertainment industry has no future and only with good education would we know which direction to take, said the Mass Communications graduate.
But as an enterprising eager young woman, the young rebellious Betty went against her father and acted in a religious drama, the 24-episode Ramadhan special Nur Penyuluh Alam.
I sneaked out for the audition, coaxed by friends who felt that I should take up acting. The next thing I knew, I was starring in that drama, said Betty, who is conversant in Arabic, English, Javanese and Malay.