(File pix) Marsha Milan Londoh plays Suri in 7ujuh. Pix courtesy of Primeworks Studios

Director Raja Mukhriz Raja Ahmad Kamaruddin tells Dennis Chua the time is just right for 7ujuh after a five-year wait

AFTER a five-year wait, Raja Mukhriz Raja Ahmad Kamaruddin’s directorial debut 7ujuh has finally reached cinemas nationwide.

Taking place in the “free and easy” 1970s with its hippie culture complete with drugs, booze and wild partying, Tujuh is a tragic, horror story which sees a rape victim returning as a vengeful ghost.

The ghost, played by singer-actress Marsha Milan Londoh in her big screen debut, targets seven close friends who were directly or indirectly responsible for physically abusing her and causing her death.

The seven friends who include the owner of the bungalow where the parties take place, soon find themselves having horrifying nightmares where they die in gruesome accidents.

Sure enough, a few of them meet such untimely ends in the end.

It is thus up to the remaining friends to device strategies to save themselves and perhaps pacify the vengeful ghost.

7ujuh, which also stars Johan As’ari, Pekin Ibrahim, Cristina Suzanne Stockstill, Siti Saleha Baharom, Dee Dee Nash, Riz Amin and Aeril Zafrel, was filmed mainly in Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur over two months in 2013.

Below is a recent interview with Raja Mukhriz:

TELL US WHY YOU CHOSE TO DIRECT A HORROR FILM LIKE 7UJUH?

I’ve always been a fan of horror films, especially those from Hollywood like The Exorcist and The Conjuring.

Since 7ujuh is my directorial debut on the big screen, I would like to mark the occasion by doing my favourite genre, horror.

Initially I wanted to direct an action-packed film since this genre is popular with Malaysians, but I eventually opted for horror because it was just as popular, if not more so.

Nevertheless, there is quite a lot of action in 7ujuh from the antagonist Suri, a vengeful ghost who met a gruesome end. 7ujuh is not the first production which I directed. In the last few years, I have directed TV dramas such as Kabin Tepi Tasik, Potret Maya and Mr Feminin.

I revised the script for 7ujuh eight times and took three years to complete it.

Screenwriter Ellyna Ahmad and I worked closely together but I left 90 per cent of the script to her. She excels in coming up with great plot twists and dialogues.

IT IS SET IN THE 1970S. WHY IS THAT?

I chose to set it in the 1970s because that was the era in which I grew up and it had colourful, crazy sub-cultures and fashion.

The 1970s also provides for great cinematography, especially for a director of photography like myself.

I like retro themes because not many Malaysians know about the country’s history during its early decades.

This decade is a treasure trove of film, food, songs and fashion, seldom seen or heard now.

The 1970s is the only era in which the activities of the main characters of 7ujuh can be carried out.

TELL US ABOUT THE RESEARCH YOU DID BEFORE COMING UP WITH THE SCRIPT.

Being a meticulous person, I read a lot of magazines about that decade, watched videos and films, and saw photos in family albums.

The fashion and music had to be as accurate as possible, that was my main challenge.

I also chatted with my uncles and aunts who were “super liberal” during that period, and gathered lots of photos of them and their friends from that era.

As an ex-Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) art and design student, I fondly remember the student elections and fancy dress parties that followed them in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It is thus a story that is close to my heart.

WHY IS IT SET IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS? WAS IT A FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION DURING YOUR CHILDHOOD?

Cameron Highlands was a childhood treat for me. I loved the place a lot then because it was cooling and green. I still love the colonial bungalows and tea plantations.

TELL US ABOUT THE COLONIAL BUNGALOW WHERE THE EVENTS OF THE FILM OCCURRED. WAS IT A POPULAR DESTINATION IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS?

We filmed in the infamous bungalow where American “silk king” Jim Thompson lived and mysteriously disappeared in the 1970s.

DID THE CAST AND CREW FACE ANY HAUNTING EXPERIENCES ON SET?

There were no disturbances on my part, even though some camera crew members claimed that they heard noises in their bedrooms at night.

We also could not initially upload the content from a couple of our tapes when we tried to edit them. Thank goodness we eventually got the footage back.

THE FILM’S CHARACTERS ARE VERY WILD. WHAT THEY DO IS TABOO THESE DAYS. DO YOU FEAR AUDIENCES MAY BE PUT OFF BY THEIR ACTIONS?

No, Malaysians are mature and discerning audiences nowadays.

What the characters did were considered “normal” in the 1970s and people were not bothered about it.

It was only in the 1980s that people started to become more conservative. Many of the former “wild children” became conservative and rigid in their norms.

The film is still relevant even though it was about 1970s youths.

It is an in-your-face film. I’ve made the youngsters very wild — they drink, they dance and they smoke weed.

I’m not promoting immorality as these immoral acts get their “just rewards” at the end of the story.

The Censorship Board cut 13 scenes. Fortunately, this did not disturb the flow of the show.

HOW WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH THE YOUNG CAST OF 7UJUH? DID YOU SEE A LOT OF POTENTIAL IN EACH OF THEM BACK THEN?

We got along great on the set. I am not a nasty director, even though I’m hard to please.

Pekin, Cristina, Siti Saleha, Johan and the others are doing well now, and some of them have also won film awards.

7ujuh may have waited for five years for its release but I don’t see anything wrong with that. The market is a lot better now with blockbusters doing well.

Furthermore, the main actors are much more popular today.

I am very proud of them, and hope to work with them again.

They are very smart actors who contributed a lot of ideas to strengthen the script.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE MARSHA TO PLAY SURI, THE VENGEFUL GHOST?

Suri is an Orang Asli girl, and Marsha’s Sabah accent somewhat makes her fit the role.

I’ve always been a fan of Marsha. She’s a great singer and a natural actress who is not camera-shy.

THERE ARE SIMILARITIES WITH SEVERAL HOLLYWOOD AND LOCAL FILMS SUCH AS FINAL DESTINATION, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET AND PONTIANAK HARUM SUNDAL MALAM. DO YOU FEAR THAT CRITICS MAY QUESTION ITS ORIGINALITY?

I leave it to them. I don’t deny that I have been inspired by these films. However the story is entirely original, and horror films share a lot of common themes — Stephen King’s Haunting Of Hill House came after 7ujuh and appears to be influenced by it but it isn’t!

YOU’VE INCLUDED TWO VETERAN ACTORS IN THE FILM — FAIZAL HUSSEIN AND WAN HANAFI SU. TELL US ABOUT THEIR ROLES.

Faizal plays the police officer who investigates the gruesome deaths of two of Sam’s friends, while Wan Hanafi is Suri’s father, the Tok Batin or chief of the Orang Asli village where Sam’s bungalow is located.

Azad Jazmin is another senior actor who plays a police officer.

All of their roles are crucial to the plot. In fact, audiences should keep their eyes and ears open from the beginning because the dialogue and the scenes in the beginning give a lot of hints about what will eventually happen.

7ujuh may contain seven stories about the fates of Sam and his friends, but these are inter-connected and the seven friends appear in all of them.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS.

My next flm project is about national cyclist Azizulhasni Awang. One of my favourite actors, Shaheizy Sam, may play the Pocket Rocket Man.

Filming has not begun, as I am still writing the script. I hope to start filming next month and complete it by the end of January.

I love the way Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s biopic Rise Of The Legend was done. The production team auditioned a freshie, Jake Eng, to play Chong Wei and he was really good.

THE VENGEFUL GHOST

7UJUH is written by Ellyna Ahmad and tells the story of seven friends, seven sins and seven acts of revenge.

Set in 1977, it has best friends Mus, Ray, Ilyas, Yasmin, Emma and Tina partying in Sam’s bungalow in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands.

The Tok Batin is the caretaker of the bungalow along with his daughter Suri, who is Sam’s childhood friend.

Suri secretly harbours feelings for him but he does not love her.

Tina is arrogant and detests Suri for her “ugliness”, and during a party at the bungalow, the boys become intoxicated with drugs and booze.

They take turns to rape Suri in her bedroom, and a few days later, she commits suicide.

Soon, Suri’s spirit returns to wreak vengeance on Sam and his friends.

The surviving friends get together to devise a plan to thwart the tragedies that may befall them.

7ujuh costs RM1.8 million and runs 90 minutes. It is rated PG13.

A production of Primeworks, it was filmed over two months in Shah Alam and Kuala Lumpur.

MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE

ACTRESS and singer Marsha Londoh says playing Suri was a major challenge as she is not a fan of horror films.

“I am lucky not to have experienced anything haunting as crew members claimed they heard howling sounds in the middle of the night.”

Her “scariest’ experience on the film set was getting hauled 10 storeys high by a crane and then falling to the ground.

“I’m very afraid of heights, so I screamed a lot. Fortunately, it helped make Suri more believable.”

Marsha admits that 7ujuh made her “get used” to ghosts and mentally prepared her for Jwanita, which was screened two years ago.

“My best experience was dressing up in 1970s fashion, which is simply weird, and also learning to speak the Semai language,” she said.

“In fact, all of the main cast learnt to speak a bit of Semai. It isn’t an easy language to master!”

She describes Raja Mukhriz as a “fantastic” director who is widely read and widely travelled.

“He shared a lot of interesting stories about his experiences growing up, and how life was in the 1970s. He opened my eyes to many things I never thought happened here!”

Asked about her coming projects, Marsha said she will soon record a new single produced by Amylea Azizan.

“I’m now promoting the theme song of 7ujuh titled Ku Bersumpah. It is written and composed by Kausar of Alam Band. It’s all about Suri’s tragic life,” she said.

Marsha is also hosting Pesona Pengantin, a wedding planners’ magazine on Astro Prima at 7pm on Sundays.

“It’s got seven episodes and I’ve done four of them,” she said.