An open letter to Shuhaimi Baba — Sugasini Kandiah

File photo of Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba with the poster of ‘Tanda Putera’ in the background. — Picture by Choo Choy May
File photo of Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba with the poster of ‘Tanda Putera’ in the background. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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AUG 30 — Dear Ms Shuhaimi Baba,

Last night, I went to watch your movie “Tanda Putera” despite the many calls to boycott it. I went to see the movie because 1) You urged Malaysians to see it before criticising and 2) I had hoped to learn something about the May 13, 1969 riots.

After watching the movie, as per your recommendation, I feel I learnt very little, if not nothing, about the May 13 incident. And I believe this is due to two reasons.

One, the film tackles the incident in a manner so shoddy it downright insults the viewer’s intelligence. Second, the director’s poor ability to translate historical interpretation into production leaves the viewer confused as to whether events in the film are fictional or not.

To be quite honest Ms Shuhaimi, you lost me at the very beginning of your film when you chose to show communists killing an Umno election worker and then showed members of the DAP and Gerakan terrorising Malay neighbourhoods in Kuala Lumpur.

You fail to show how these incidents are related and instead seem to have a jolly good time insinuating that the Chinese were primarily responsible for inciting all forms of violence during the period while the Malays are portrayed as simply trying to defend themselves.

In fact, the scene where former Selangor Mentri Besar Harun Idris gathers his men and urges them to drop their weapons and then faints when his mob runs riot is simply pathetic. The urination scene too was totally unnecessary especially since, by your own accord, it did not even take place.

Indeed, it is irritating that many fictional scenarios of Chinese belligerence were conveniently created to justify actual decisions made by the country’s leaders.

Ms Shuhaimi, you deliberately chose to portray the Chinese as disrespectful and violent knowing you could get away with it. All Umno leaders meanwhile are portrayed as holier than thou.

Your depiction of how Tunku Abdul Rahman “happily resigned” when he had in fact been ousted was also disappointing. Surely as a story-teller, you must realise having one-dimensional characters does your movie no justice whatsoever.

That being said, I must commend your feeble attempt to show how friends of different races stood up for each other during the racial riots. I think, however, there was a lot more you could have done with the subject which would have driven Malaysians to the cinema in droves.

I’m not sure I agree with the Penang government’s directive against screening the film. However, after seeing the film myself, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to watch it.

The last historical drama I watched was “Lincoln” which reflected on Abe Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War and perhaps I unfairly had that as a benchmark when I watched your film.

Still, when I think of how this film was showed in Felda areas prior to the general election, I can see why the story had to be distorted even further than what we usually encounter in our history textbooks.

Ms Shuhaimi, Malaysia is a young country that has a long way to go in terms of generating honest discourse on racial issues. You unfortunately have in no way contributed to that.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.

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