WHEN young actress Nadia Brian was offered the leading role in Ratu Kala Jengking: Puteri Keranda back in 2018, it was a dream come true.
“It was three years after my first-ever acting role in drama series Akulah Balqis,” shares the 28-year-old artiste.
Ratu Kala Jengking: Puteri Keranda marks her fourth film after her supporting roles in Badang, Blok 404, and Bu: Kasih Suci.
“Being still new in the industry, I was thrilled to receive the offer. I told myself it was the best opportunity for me to practise what I had learnt at university,” says Nadia, who holds a diploma in Theatre Arts and a degree in Mass Communications from Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam.
She also wanted to prove to her family, especially her mother, that being an actress has always been her passion and calling.
“When I heard that I’ll be working with Datuk A. Aida, I was also elated as I’ve worked with her before. I was sure it’ll be a good experience for me,” she recounts.
The icing on the cake for Nadia was that she would be working under the guidance of experienced director Bade Azmi.
“I have so much respect for him. When I heard he would be directing this film, I knew it was a golden opportunity. How could I say no to this project?”
The title of the film and the script were all the more exciting for Nadia as she got to play the legendary Cik Siti, a character well-known to the people of Kota Tinggi in Johor.
“Before the project began, I did some research to find out more about this legendary character taken from the Kota Tinggi folklore.
“I discussed with Datuk (Aida), who was also the film’s scriptwriter, as to how she envisioned Cik Siti. I also discussed with the director on how to develop this character,” she says.
Nadia realises that playing a legendary character comes with its own challenges.
“It’s easy to play a fictitious character. But certainly not Cik Siti. Imagine my acting and my every movement being scrutinised by the people of Kota Tinggi, who grew up hearing the story of this legendary woman!”
Some details may be minor, says Nadia, but everything will be magnified on the big screen.
As the story has elements of mystic, Nadia admits that she was initially a little worried and sceptical.
“Horror movies are not for me,” she says.
But she persevered and while the storyline has a mystical element to it and filming took place in the jungle, the cast and film crew did not have any spooky encounters.
“I did have some nightmares, though. But I believe that was just because I was exhausted from the day’s filming. Other than that, we just encountered some wild animals which is to be expected in a jungle setting.”
Getting into her role
After reading the script, Nadia initially thought there was little for her to worry about.
“I was under the impression that the animals I would be handling would be computer-generated imagery. Little did I know that I’d be dealing with live ones,” recounts Nadia, shuddering at the thought.
In fact, in three of the scenes, Nadia had a real phyton slithering around her body. In other scenes, there were poisonous scorpions on her body.
The experience she obtained from shooting this film has certainly boosted Nadia’s confidence “by leaps and bounds”.
“Thinking back, I can’t believe I managed to pull off some of the scenes.”
Filming took place mostly in the deep jungle of Gunung Panti Recreational Forest in Johor.
“As we could only shoot from 8am till 4pm, we had to make full use of our time,” shares Nadia.
As it is a forest reserve, the cast and crew were escorted by forest rangers to the filming location each day.
“My character had to have this special effect makeup so my wake-up call was 6am which was way much earlier than the others.”
Since they were in a jungle, it was natural for them to come across creepy crawlies and wild animals such as elephants. Snakes too were common.
“Fortunately the forest rangers were with us all the time,” says Nadia.
One scene required Nadia to roll off the cliff and she was told to be wary of leeches.
The gutsy actress took it all in her stride and rolled she did.
Fortunately for her, no leeches came near her at all.
Besides the forest reserve, another location for the film was the picturesque Pantai Sedili.
Nadia credits "Uncle Bade" for being such a good cinematographer as he had an eye for beautiful scenes.
“It had been a great pleasure working with such a meticulous director,” gushes Nadia.
Being such a perfectionist, Bade actually ended up with a five-hour film, which of course, was a nightmare for the editor (and the producer who footed the bill!)
Ratu Kala Jengking: Puteri Keranda is Aida’s first film.
Asked what made her choose this story for her big screen debut, Aida says she wants to translate folklore onto the big screen.
“If Hollywood can turn western folklore into blockbusters, I’m sure we can do so too. After all, we have equally interesting folkore. So why not?”
Just like the legend of Mahsuri from Pulau Langkawi in Kedah, the legend of Cik Siti from Kota Tinggi goes back 200 years ago.
“There is actually a tomb of Cik Siti in Kota Tinggi,” shares Aida.
Before filming began, Aida held special prayers for Cik Siti.
The story of Cik Siti involves her marrying 99 men, all of whom died after their first night of becoming her husband.
An adaptation of this folklore, Ratu Kala Jengking: Puteri Keranda tells the story of Cik Siti who has two close friends — Mawar and Teratai.
Cik Siti is in a relationship with Awang but Mawar also has feelings for him. Teratai, who knows the truth, tells Mawar not to betray their friend.
One day, Cik Siti is afflicted with a mysterious illness, which turns her face ugly. Because of this, the villagers start belitlling her. Awang also ditches her.
Left alone, Cik Siti soon befriends a woodcutter named Nadim.
One day, she hears of an old woman who can help her with her mysterious illness.
After days of traversing the thick jungle, she finally comes across the “old woman” who doesn’t look any older than her.
After 99 days of staying with the old woman, who also treats her illness and imparts her knowledge to her, Cik Siti returns home looking prettier than ever. She also makes a secret pact with the old woman.
However, Cik Siti forgets her promise and so a curse was put on her.
Find out what happens to Cik Siti when the film opens in cinemas on Feb 27.
The cast includes Datuk Fizz Fairuz, Amar Ashraf, Mas Khan, Firman Siagian, Eyra Hazali, Oktovia Manrose, Dayang Areeda, Aprena Manrose, Fauziah Nawi, Datuk Ahmad Tarmimi Siregar, Raja Azmi, Khaty Azean and Arash Mohamad.