KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Romantic sci-fi film Imaginur has raked in more than RM5 million within three weeks of showing in the cinemas.
The latest offering by Lumatic Films has hypnotised more than 300,000 viewers not just Malaysia, but in Singapore and Brunei as well ,as the buzz continues into its fourth week of screening today.
In an interview with Malay Mail, producer and director Nik Amir Mustapha said he was actually surprised by the overwhelming support towards the film and hoped the support for the film will continue.
“There was actually no expectation in terms of collection, and we just took it day by day. The longer the film stays in cinemas, the more it has to compete with other new movies.
“Eventually for us, it's about the waiting game, a question on when will the hype end? Hopefully it will last as long as possible.”
The Power of Word of Mouth and Support from Cinema Operators
The 37-year-old filmmaker shared that Imaginur made waves in cinemas especially in urban areas across the country including in Klang Valley, Ipoh, Johor Baru and Alor Setar.
Nik pointed out that amongst the contributing factors to the film’s success is due to word of mouth, which they rely on the most as the film's non-linear plot is not something easy to sell to Malaysian audiences.
“Nowadays, people are more exposed and we believe that a lot of people here have the same taste as us. We just didn’t expect such an overwhelming reception.
“We did have a gala screening in the same week as the release and the week before that, we had a pre-screening for fans as well. So, the word of mouth started from there.
“And we really rely on this because we couldn’t compete financially to reach everybody in Malaysia, and our reach is quite limited,” he said.
Nik added that although they were still looking for ways to promote the film and get audiences to fill cinemas, he admitted that nothing can beat the organic response from the public.
The response from the public has prompted local cinema operators including TGV and GSC cinemas to provide more screening halls and showtimes for the film.
Imaginur, under the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia's compulsory screening period, or ‘skim wajib tayang’ was initially slated to be screened in 45 cinemas only.
Following negotiations with distributor, Skop Productions, the number of halls increased to 60 and with the unexpected reception from the public, cinema operators decided to add on 15 more screens for the film.
He added that Imaginur is now showing in over 70 cinema halls nationwide and Nik is grateful for the support as cinema operators are not obligated in the decision to add more screens.
Finding the Balance in Imaginur and Maintaining the Feels
According to Nik, the idea for the film came to him back in 2009, even before his 2013 film Kil, and it all started with him wanting to explore a story relating to dreams.
He and his team decided to revisit the idea in 2016 and when writer Redza Minhat came aboard the project, they started diving deeper into the plot and themes of the film.
“It started out from dreams, then it evolved to hypnosis which then evolved to the core value of the film which is family. The feels in the film was actually a byproduct of the whole story.
“We want to get that balance between conceptual thinking and accessibility and Imaginur is right in the middle — with its own values and the substance to make people think.
“Usually the cerebral part of the film or the complexity of the plot are well received outside Malaysia, usually in festivals but the more accessible nature such as love and family value are more accepted here,” he said.
Imaginur was shot in 2020 but had to stop mid-way due to the movement control order in March that year which resulted in them having to scrap some plots that were supposed to be shot in Japan.
The plot was meant to explore the Japanese concept of 'Ikigai' which means the meaning of life or more precisely ‘the reason of one’s being’.
The Terbaik Dari Langit director added that although having to put aside the plot, the 'Ikigai' theme remains in the film and they also took inspiration from several mediums including books, films and philosophies.
“Eeally want to capture the melancholy feel such as in the 2013 film Her.
“And also the down to earth and how grounded Iranian films such as the 2011 film A Separation which won the 2012 Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film.
"And I think for Imaginur, we had a different approach from our previous movies as I didn’t want to focus too much on the technical side of it but instead, my focus was more on the actors performances and story,” he said.
He added that includes getting the camera and lighting to follow the actors instead of the other way around.
In order to maintain the natural performance of the actors, he also adjusted the script not to be too formal and instead opted for the script to be as close to how Malaysians talk in reality.
Pushing the Limit of Creativity in Local Films
Pushing the limit of creativity when it comes to filmmaking aside, he notes that it's also important to understand the local climates and sensitivities.
He wants to see more variety of local films with more substance to it.
"The appreciation of arts in Malaysia is an evolving thing, people are starting to appreciate them more. It takes time and everybody plays a role in it.
"Because there are international movies that are sensitive and conceptual but our audiences seem to enjoy it. Why can’t we do the same? I think the issue here is not audience reception but on how well we package the film for the audience.”
Nik added that local audiences and filmmakers should follow the footsteps of their counterparts in countries like South Korea and Indonesia to get their local audience believe in their own products.
"For example the highly acclaimed Parasite film, yes they’ve won an Academy award but the director, Bong Joon-Ho is a champion in their local markets even before the award.
"And when the film came out, it felt very local but global audiences can still accept it. This needs to happen in Malaysia as well."
Imaginur follows the story of Zuhal (Beto Kusyairi) as his life spins out of control, and opts for hypnosis in an effort to make things better.
Things however get out of hand after the girl named Nur (Diana Danielle) from his dreams begins to appear to him in real life.
Desperate to know who this mystery woman is, Zuhal tries to introduce himself to her.
The film boasts a stellar cast which also includes Afdlin Shauki, Nadiya Nisaa, Rahim Razali and Fatimah Abu Bakar.