‘The arts bind everyone together’

PETALING JAYA: When actress Lim Mei Fen (pic) auditioned for the Malay movie Takhta 3 Ratu in 2014, she could not string together a sentence in the language.

Lim, however, decided to go to the audition and aced it.

She is now one of the few Chinese actresses in the Malay movie scene.

Lim said she was driven by her adventurous nature and the belief that she had nothing to lose.

“Nama saya Lim Mei Fen, umur ...” (My name is Lim Mei Fen, age ...) was all she could utter during the audition, reported MySinchew, the English-language portal of Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily.

“Tak boleh cakap Bahasa Melayu-kah? (Can’t you speak Malay?)” was the director’s response.

She shook her head. She couldn’t even pronounce laksamana (admiral) correctly.

She was later told by the director that she got the job because her height meant she could fit into the traditional costume for the role.

It took her only a couple of days to commit her lines to memory.

Because of her role as Puteri Hang Li Po, Lim decided to join Aswara (the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage of Malaysia) at the age of 28.

Lim said she received far more kasih sayang (love) than criticism in the Malay drama circle.

Whether it was script writing or memorising her lines, the Malay language had always been her weakness but she has somehow managed to overcome this deficiency with help from her fellow performers.

She recounted how Padang Merbok, just outside Aswara, was one of the sites of the 2015 “Red Shirt” protests, held as a show of support for Malay rights.

However, some protesters reportedly chanted racist slogans and expressed hatred against other ethnic groups, especially the Chinese community.

For their personal safety, most of the Chinese students left the school to return home but Lim was determined to rehearse until late into the night.

She was among the few students who stayed at the hostel.

When most other students went out for lunch, Lim decided to stay back and cook instant noodles instead.

Aware that Lim was worried about her safety, her hostel mates reassured her: “Kak Mei, tak payah takut! Kita protect! (Don’t be afraid, Kak Mei! We’ll protect you!)”

“I never had such a powerful sense of belonging!” said Lim.

She said Aswara was like a microcosm of the country’s cultural diversity in which the students were assigned different tasks based on their individual strengths and abilities.

After she made her debut in Takhta 3 Ratu, then Istana Budaya director-general Datuk Mohamed Juhari Shaarani asked her what she planned to do and she told him frankly that many Chinese-Malaysian actors played the role of villains in Malay dramas, and that had entrenched the Malay community’s stereotyped perception of the Chinese community.

What Mohamed Juhari said was a wake-up call to Lim: “So, you need to tell the story from your own perspective!”

In 2018, she wrote a story of Chinese and Indian immigrants.

It was adapted into a play called Tanah Airku as part of her graduation assignment.

The play was not only performed at Istana Budaya but was also selected as the year’s National Day drama with then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife as guests of honour.

“The performing arts is a common language that binds everyone together,” said Lim.

Having local classics such as Prebet Sapu, Tanah Airku and Takhta 3 Ratu in her portfolio, she is currently taking on the leading role in a new Malay drama.

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