P. Ramlee – Most if not all Malaysians will agree that this legendary figure's significant contribution to the local entertainment scene helped define the industry in Malaysia and across the region.
Mention Teuku Zakaria bin Teuku Nyak Pute to locals as a key personality in the entertainment world, and you will probably receive puzzling looks.
Teuku Zakaria was better known as P. Ramlee – an entertainment icon during the golden era of Malay movies who help shaped history in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
P. Ramlee's lack of formal training in the performing arts field was no hindrance to him. This talented man acted in 65 films, directed 34 feature films and sung close to 400 songs – an impressive track record which ran over two decades.
Hari Raya baby
P. Ramlee was born on the first of Hari Raya in 1929, on March 22, to proud parents Teuku Nyak Puteh bin Teuku Karim and Che Mah binti Hussein at No. 4A Counter Hall Road (now known as Jalan P. Ramlee), in Georgetown, Penang. His father had registered his son's name at school as Ramlee bin Puteh, dropping the Teuku.
The young P. Ramlee attended several schools such as the Kampung Jawa Malay School, Francis Light English School, Penang Free School and during World War 2, he was at the Japanese Navy School Kaigun Gakko. An active schoolboy, he also excelled in the field of sports, doing well in sepak takraw, football and badminton.
The “P” in the iconic name came about when Ramlee first entered a singing competition in Penang in 1947. He had decided to add the initial “P”, from his father's name Puteh. P. Ramlee's father himself was from Aceh, Indonesia, which perhaps helped boost the entertainer's popularity in Indonesia, later on.
P. Ramlee's interest in music began at a young age, having formed a band called Teruna Sekampung or lads from the village, where one of his roles was to be a song arranger, giving him the experience to learn popular music and trends.
At the same time, he was also showing off his talent as a singer and songwriter in various competitions across Penang, winning top spots and more importantly, getting discovered.
It was at one of these competitions that P. Ramlee was spotted by Tamil film director B. S. Rajhans in 1948. P. Ramlee had performed his own composition, Azizah at this event. After that discovery, and as the famous saying goes, the rest is history.
P. Ramlee was offered to work in the Malay Films Productions as a back-up singer. This company was a film studio set up by the Shaw Brothers in 1947 in Singapore. From here, he earned his first roles in Chinta, Nasib and Noor Asmara. He went on to star in 20 movies before having the opportunity to direct for the first time in 1955, for the movie Penarek Becha or Trishaw Man.
Trio winning factor
One of the more popular themes that P. Ramlee has created and produced was the Bujang Lapok or Dowdy Bachelors series. The combination of P. Ramlee, S. Shamsuddin and Aziz Sattar made the movies a success, and still popular among today's Malay contemporary film watchers. The three worked together on Bujang Lapok, Pendekar Bujang Lapok (Dowdy Bachelor Warriors) and Ali Baba Bujang Lapok.
The three-star combination worked as well for other films like Laksamana Do Re Mi (Admirals Do Re Mi) and Nasib Do Re Mi (the Fate of Do Re Mi), where he starred with A. R. Tompel and Ibrahim Din. These trio-styled films were a mix of drama and comedy, proved to be a delight among audiences.
P. Ramlee continued to work on various films as he moved around in the production circuits in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s.
He not only acted in the movies that he directed, P. Ramlee also composed, wrote and sang the major tracks in these films. The genre of music he covered ranges from joget to jazz. The last song he composed was Ayer Mata Di Kuala Lumpur (Tears in Kuala Lumpur) in 1973.
P. Ramlee also left an indelible mark in television. He was instrumental in the production of two television series – Intan and Rantau Selamat. He wore the director's hat in plays as well, namely Jiwa Putera Melayu, Sultan Mahmood Mangkat Di Julang and Sam Pek Ang Tai. In radio, P. Ramlee produced several radio dramas.
P. Ramlee's brilliance on the silver screen and across the entertainment world did not go unnoticed. This entertainment icon's work received international recognition at film festivals in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As early as 1956, he was awarded the Best Musical Score for the film Hang Tuah - Legend of Hang Tuah in the Third Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong.
The following year, P. Ramlee's outstanding performance earned him the Best Male Actor trophy for his work in Anakku Sazali (My son, Sazali) at the Fourth Asian Film Festival in Tokyo.
At the seventh and 10th installation of the Asian Film Festival, he received the award for Best Comedy Film for Nujum Pak Belalang (Pak Belalang, the fortune teller) and Most Versatile Talent for Ibu Mertua Ku (My Mother In-Law). His comical take on a tale of a man with three wives in Madu Tiga (Three Sweethearts) led him to win the Best Comedy Film for the same film festival in 1964, held in Taipei.
Family and life
This legendary artiste married three times, first to Junaidah Daeng Harris in 1950. After divorcing her, he married Noorizan Mohd Noor in 1955, but the couple divorced in 1961. The same year, P. Ramlee married singer Salmah Ismail or more popularly known as Saloma. He had a total of seven children from these relationships, three of whom were adopted. He also had a stepson.
His son, Mohamad Nasir P. Ramlee carried on his father's legacy, by starring and directing sequels to his father's films. He also put together recordings of new renditions of his father's songs.
The legend lives on
P. Ramlee was 44 years old when he died of heart attack in 1973. The Malay artiste was buried at the Muslim cemetery in Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. His strong influence on Malay popular culture is reflected in modern Malay productions and songs. P. Ramlee's classic movies continue to be a hit amongst today's viewers, as television stations air reruns of his famous titles, and production houses churn DVD copies of his award-winning work.
Walking in Kuala Lumpur, visitors can appreciate the honour given to this talented individual, as major roads like Jalan Parry was renamed to Jalan P. Ramlee in 1982 and a memorial dedicated to his work was set up in 1986. In the 1990s, P. Ramlee was awarded with the title of Tan Sri posthumously.
His birthplace has been turned into a memorial, offering the opportunity for fans and visitors to enjoy and appreciate P. Ramlee's contribution to the entertainment industry in Malaysia and the region.
• James Harding and Ahmad Sarji, P. Ramlee – The Bright Star, MPH Publications, 2002, 2011 Reprint
Video: P. Ramlee in Antara Dua Darjat (1960). Song: Getaran Jiwa