KUALA LUMPUR: His father was not only a filmmaking legend, but also a goldmine of fascinating stories about the Malay cinema’s stars and unsung heroes.
As one of three siblings who followed in their father’s footsteps in directing, Anwardi Jamil feels it is his duty to enlighten young Malaysians about the Malay cinema’s heyday.
Anwardi, 61, the man behind films such as Budak Lapok, Tuah, Ah Loke Kafe and Kerja Kahwin, is filming Showtime 1958, his biggest “cinematic journey” into his father Datuk Jamil Sulong’s life and times at the Jalan Ampas Studio in Singapore.
The two-hour historical drama, scheduled for screening in February next year, is inspired by true events that Jamil shared with Anwardi over the years.
Showtime 1958 features several stories that unfold during a 24-hour period, taking place during a crucial time for the Malay film industry based at the Jalan Ampas Studio owned by Shaw Brothers.
“That year was one where tough choices had to be made regarding many artistes.
“The studio experienced financial difficulties and many artistes who went to Singapore from Malaya chose to join the new Merdeka Film Studio in Kuala Lumpur,” said Anwardi in a recent interview.
“At that time, Singapore was the film hub of Nusantara, where many Malay film stars were discovered.
“However, in the 1950s, with the emergence of black-and-white television as an alternative source of entertainment, as well as the influx of foreign films from the United States, India and Hong Kong, the Malay film industry slowed down.
“This gradually resulted in the closure of the Jalan Ampas Studio in Singapore, which had been operating for 20 years.”
Anwardi completed the script for Showtime 1958 over the last 30 years, and received feedback from his mother, veteran actress and director Datuk Rosnani Jamil, as well as close friends of his father. Award-winning director U-Wei Saari helped him to improve the script.
“It is my labour of love to the actors of my parents’ era, not only Tan Sri P. Ramlee. My father told me many stories over the years, and he kept them in his diaries.
“The film does not tell every single story, only some of the more interesting ones. A complete story of that era would require five films.”
He said Jamil encouraged him to tell his stories to the viewers of today, but left the specifics to the family’s “junior director”.
Anwardi, who has a “lot more stories to tell”, hoped to come
up with more films that will enlighten viewers on the real unsung heroes of the Malaysian
Showtime 1958, he said, was “only the beginning”.
Born in Singapore on Dec 9, 1958, Anwardi and his family came to Malaysia in 1969. He attended school at La Salle Petaling Jaya until 1976.
He joined the New Straits Times as a reporter until 1979 when he left to further his studies at the Mara Institute of Technology (now Universiti Teknologi Mara).
After obtaining his degree in 1982 in mass communication, he rejoined NST before taking up the position of a producer for TV3.
In 1983, the filmmaker and producer married Puteh Jerineh Ramli and the couple have four children.
The director said he was fortunate that his mother remembered lots of details from her days of stardom in the 1950s.
“My mother’s memory of those days is fantastic. My challenge was to recreate the 1950s right down to the most minute details. The cars, the dresses, the cigarettes, the hairstyles and the slang. I’m very fortunate to be able to tap into her knowledge of women’s dresses, such as the splendid kebaya, plus the high hairdos, corsets and makeup.”
Anwardi said his cast of promising new actors and actresses was eager to learn about life during that era.
“Many of them did not realise how eventful and colourful that era was. There are four interconnected stories in the film.”
While most of the main characters, such as his parents and P. Ramlee, are real, some supporting characters are fictitious because they are composites of several real people his father knew.
“There are no flashbacks and the set is only one — the Culture, Arts and Heritage Department in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur.”
Anwardi said Showtime 1958 showed “lots of P. Ramlee behind the scenes”, especially his friendship with Jamil.
“Viewers will learn how P. Ramlee and Puan Sri Saloma met and fell in love, his friendship with my father and how the famous Selamat Hari Raya song made popular by Datuk Ahmad Jais was created.
“Viewers will also learn about the involvement of P. Ramlee and my father in the artistes’ union, the story behind P. Ramlee’s legendary tune Azizah, and how street kids became actors and comedians.”
Anwardi’s favourite new discovery in the cast of Showtime 1958 is Yna Rose Noah, the daughter of actress Rima Rashidi.
“She’s a promising actress. She plays Puspayanti, a fictitious character who is a composite of real-life individuals”
Showtime 1958 also stars Singaporean actor Shah Iskandar as Jamil and Tentang Bulan actress Fatin Afifah as Rosnani.
P. Ramlee is played by Amai Kamaruddin, who is best known for appearing in a 2015 anti-drugs public service announcement as a man clubbed to death with a guitar by his drug addict brother (played by 29 Februari actor Munif Isa)
Veteran comedian Bell Ngasri, best known for playing former Penang Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Tun Sardon Jubir in the historical film 1957: Hati Malaya and former Selangor menteri besar Datuk Seri Harun Idris in Tanda Putera, plays legendary comedian Datuk Aziz Sattar of Ali Baba Bujang Lapok fame.
Showtime 1958 is the first feature film from Nafalia, which has been producing television dramas and telemovies since 2002.
Filming began on June 17 and will wrap up in a month.
Set in 1958 Singapore, it combines several interconnected stories that take place during a concert organised by P. Ramlee and Jamil to raise funds for the Malayan Artistes’ Union, which was organising a strike for better pay and working conditions at the Malay Film Productions studio in Jalan Ampas.
It was at this concert that P. Ramlee and Jamil wrote the famousSelamat Hari Raya song, popularised by Datuk Ahmad Jais with its chorus “Seruan kita untuk semua, Selamat, Selamat, Selamat Hari Raya”.