10 things about: film-maker Tunku Mona Riza

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — Tunku Mona Riza Tunku Khalid is a relative newbie in the local movie industry which is still largely dominated by men.

But her film Redha was selected by the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (Finas) via its film festival committee for consideration by the Oscars committee under the Best Foreign Language Film category.

The film is about a family coming to terms with their autistic child and the sacrifices made along the way.

Redha is the fourth film that Finas has sent for selection by the Oscars committee. The others are Puteri Gunung Ledang (2005), Bunohan (2013) and Lelaki Harapan Dunia (2015).

But before that, Tunku Mona’s much talked about film has already won quite a few international awards on the festival circuit.

The 49-year-old New York Film Academy alumni is also passionate about humanitarian causes and aims to make more films like Redha to raise awareness about various issues.

Here, she talks about her hopes for the film industry, her aspirations and the experience of making Redha.

In her own words:

Of course, people are still ignorant (about autism). The ignorance is bliss attitude is appalling. The truth of the matter is until and unless somebody is severely affected by this matter and that person is a huge decision maker, then you can see some huge policy changes. Until they are wearing the shoes of those who are affected, you will not even see their bayang. This is the reality of life.

How Redha changed me? I tend to appreciate things more. Those days any achievement has to be big. If it isn’t big, what’s the big deal? But when you spend time with people who have children with autism, when their child takes a small step... it’s a big achievement. Eating nasi lemak is a big achievement. When a child does something different, he or she is breaking from their routine pattern and that’s an achievement. It just opened my eyes

My expectation of life is completely different now. My expectations of my children are completely different. Yes, I tell them to go for the best, but always about them trying their best at... as long as you do good, you become a good human being I think is already a gift.

FMM controversy? Well, I’m a new player and Redha wasn’t in FMM simply because Redha was released in April. I’m seeing this from a distance. To me, there are two things we have to bring up. Yes, we have to acknowledge Malaysian films of all races. The real thing. Let’s not put segregation in film. But at the same time we cannot deny our national language. Let’s find a balance.

I’m very particular about how I portray my characters. Why am I particular? Because my story is about a condition many children suffer from and many parents struggle to cope with. Many are also sidelined because they have autistic children. So if I wrongly portray the condition, I am mocking them. That can’t happen.

Commercial success is important but more important is the impact your film leaves on the audience. At the end of the day, whether you do a RM10 movie or a RM10 million one,  it’s the passion that counts.

Being radical should be done in an intelligent way and not for the sheer sake of being radical. Be radical for a purpose that benefits the receiving end. That benefits people. To add on to the word “radical” — to me, to make a “radical” movie for example, means touching subjects that are taboo to society. Example rape victim taking a revenge on the rapist or conflict of beliefs in society or even paedophile... But if the story is handled well, then the film will turn out to be a reflection of us, in a pleasant manner.

We can’t compare ourselves to the P. Ramlee days. It’s a class of its own. He’s one person who spoke to those of all walks of life. We can’t compare and it is almost impossible to replicate simply because of our political misgivings.

If I am asked to direct a subject that is sensitive to Muslims but it carries an important humanism message, I will still do it but handle it with utmost caution and sensitivity as there are many ways to narrate a story without hurting or insulting many. The message and end take-out is key in a story. How one handles it is equally important .

People make a lot of noise about this film and that film but when someone does something out of the box, they don’t support it. As a film-maker, I’m a newbie in this industry, in the feature film industry. But what I think is that balance on the screen is as important as having a balanced audience. Now we are lopsided. The screen is also lopsided, audience also lopsided. Those who are extreme in their beliefs are so fussy about the most ridiculous elements in a film. They don’t see the bigger picture. Audience needs to be mature in understanding movie themes. It’s a creative industry after all.