May 7, 2006

State of Denial

Posted in Malaysia, Religion, The Cause at 12:15 am by egalitaria

I was waiting to actually watch the movie Gubra, sequel to the entertaining movie Sepet by the talented Yasmin, before I wrote my thoughts on it but it seems too hot a topic for me to avoid. The one-worded titles of the movies themselves depict controversy in simplicity. Sepet is a term used to describe the derogatory 'slit eyes' of an Oriental person. In local contexts, mata sepet can sometimes connote the deceptive cunning and trickery of a Chinese. Enter Gubra, the more serious movie that highlights issues that run deep as undercurrents in our country. 

2 weeks ago, RTM1 decided to take matters into their own hands and screened a panel discussion on the much-discussed movie of the day. Some of the controversial scenes in the movie are:

  • A Muslim imam touching a dog on his way to the mosque
  • The persona of the movie, Orked (malay) turning to a Chinese guy in love when her personal life is in turmoil.
  • A holy Muslim couple befriending a neighbour prostitute (who has no choice but to sell herself to pay for her daughter's education)

 In the interview from the Sun here, film critic Akmal Abdullah says that it was "confusing" for people to watch a nice, pious young lady like Orked who could fall in love with an infidel of a Chinese man. (oh yes, how confusing it is… because it is simply impossible to imagine isn't it!!) 

Although I haven't watched the film (am dying to though..), it is clear that critics of the film are in a perpetual State of Denial (pun intended). The film bravely and pertinently addresses the very real situations our country, or any pluralistic country, in fact, faces.

To say that a clash of religion and culture does exist is just the tip of the iceberg. What truly does happen in society (and those who do not realise this have to seriously rub their eyes and take a second look) is that when two or more cultures come in close proximity together, there will be inevitable exchanges, which will result in either the addition to, or multiplication of, the said cultures. This does not necessarily mean that the cultures are in any way diluted. When I say culture, I mean the very customary traditions that are not necessarily tied to religion. 

The problem in our country is that these customary traditions are so intertwined with the religion that they seem to mean one and the same thing. I challenge us to question which exactly are cultural, and which exactly are religious.

This happens within other religions as well, not just Islam. Buddhists, Christians and Hindus too have to look at the customs they carry out each year during religious festivals and ask themselves which of these are actually requirements under their faiths. And if these are not, why do them? If it is cultural and brings no harm, by all means. If these instead contribute to the destruction of society, then why continue? Ask ourselves which pocket of society is the one really guilty of rocking the boat of harmony in our country.  

To question further, rumour has it that our Bapa Kemerdekaan himself was the owner of some lovely canine creatures. 

Films like Sepet and Gubra are welcome change to the stale and unchallenging movies in Malaysia. If we really want our film industry to grow and expand, it is time for all alike to move up and move out of denial. Accept the underlying issues at stake, embrace them and engage in active discussion on the real issues and challenges. Don't shut up. Speak up. 



  1. Jean said,

    Hey Trish…

    Good post. Seeing as I’m in NZ, it would be cool if you could write a review on the movies when you’ve had a chance to watch them. I’m really interested to see what the reactions of Malaysians to these movies.

    Hope you are well…

  2. jesscet said,

    I’ve watched well as Sepet. We have seen more `controversial’ movies that deal with religious/moral themes but because they are foreign one.. it doesn’ really matter (to these ppl)

    but i am not surprised by these `critics’ who are self proclaimed moral police but more often than not, hypocrites. Hello!! like inter-racial romance is not happening? there’s no malay prostitues with friends? and yeah, i do know some muslims who do like dogs too..

    as malaysians, if we’re told to be `tolerant’ (although its not a word i like to use) each others religions and cultures, can’t we also give some liberty to the world of the arts especially our own local film industry?

    kudos to yasmin ahmad for putting up a refreshing yet realistic movie that’s truly malaysian!

  3. litespeed said,

    Gubra is probably about the extremes of the tail end of the normal distribution of the lives of Malaysian…..

    Realistic? I don’t think so. To many Malay Malaysians, Islam is still the guiding principle, and as such are they unlikely to agree with the values exemplified in Gubra.

    Gubra is indeed a gubra look at the cross cultures of Malaysians…

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