FEBRUARY 11 — I went back to Kelantan last week, and it seemed like people could not stop talking about Pok Ya Cong Codei, a telemovie shown on the Astro Citra channel last month.
The excitement was understandable.
In recent years, there has been negative perception towards Kelantan folk mainly because of the actions of their politicians.
Kelantanese are seen as either a clannish people responsible for many social ills, or religious zealots — and both are ostensibly the fault of the Islamist party PAS which has governed the Muslim-majority state into regression.
With this movie, however, Kelantan folk finally have something that represents them more faithfully. They finally have something that they can relate to.
Pok Ya Cong Codei is the brainchild of Pengkalan Chepa-born veteran comedian Sabri Yunus who wrote and directed it.
Sabri also plays the titular Kelantanese Pak Ya the Black Tiger, who finds himself out of his element in Kuala Lumpur after he is tasked with finding Aina, the daughter (Uqasha Senrose) of well-to-do lawyer Datuk Sahak (Mustapha Kamal), who was allegedly kidnapped by the latter’s former employee Rashdan (Fikry Ibrahim).
The character Pak Ya itself is an archetype that may be alien to most Malaysians, but a mainstay in the Kelantanese community. He is a gedebe — typically hot-headed and macho but not quite a gangster, someone who commands great respect and has followers due to his exploits in a rough world.
When you meet one, you can be certain of one thing: he can get things done.
My friend Irwan Muhammad Zain penned an excellent article titled Ada apa dengan Pok Ya Cong Codei for Astro Awani, which nicely explains the origin and meaning of the gedebe archetype.
According to Irwan, the term originated from southern Thailand to refer to a village headman, before entering the Kelantanese vernacular somewhere in the 1970s.
A real gedebe, he said, is someone who can “manufacture” peace, not someone who beats others into submission.
The film is a must-watch for all; there are subtitles provided... although it may weird you out to see a long piece of dialogue condensed into one sentence! If anything, it is a unique portrayal of the class divide among Kelantanese, and the realities of those who leave the state to seek a living in the city.
It is also a unique portrayal of the status of Kelantanese women, as viewed through the lens of its men. Minor spoilers follow, but I will try not to mention the major plot points.
If this film is subjected to the Bechdel Test, it would fail miserably.
There are only four female characters: Aina the daughter, the Datin wife of Datuk Sahak (Anne Abdullah), Rashdan’s mother (Laila Nasir), and Pak Ya’s young wife (Zee Khan Hussein). And their worlds mostly revolve around their men.
Pak Ya’s wife is perhaps the most problematic one: Zee is cast as a 19-year-old new wife who literally spends most of her life in the kitchen.
The wife is perhaps the sole motivation for Pak Ya to complete his mission and return home; he cannot bear to be apart from his new pretty young thing, and he worries that she will misbehave when left alone.
The night before leaving for Kuala Lumpur, Pak Ya sulks after “losing his appetite” when the wife puts on cold powder before she goes to bed. Seeing her all made up — complete with scarlet lipstick — during breakfast, Pak Ya complains that there is no time “to take one for the road.”
Throughout the movie, Pak Ya just cannot shut up about his new wife’s age. She is a symbol of his virility, and his followers praise him for that.
Aina perhaps showed a little bit more of a positive character growth. Starting off as a damsel in distress, she reveals herself to be a headstrong woman who will not back down from her principles to do good and serve justice.
In the end, Aina is the one who pushes Pak Ya to save the day.
Watching the film, it is easy to be irked by such portrayals of women but I think Sabri had at least succeeded in using two characters who seem opposite of each other as a commentary on the position of women in Kelantan.
The young wife is the “ideal” Kelantan woman who ends up staying at home in Kelantan. She is subservient, good at house chores and cooking, whose goal is to be the trophy, and to please the husband at all costs.
But Aina is the “real” Kelantan woman who ends up in the city chasing her dream. She is independent, can think for herself, and is not afraid to speak her mind. She is her own woman.
He leaves the “ideal” woman at home, only to be hunting for the “real” woman. This duality is on display every day in Kelantan.
Many of the women are independent. They usually run their own businesses, and hold their own purse strings. They are not outdone by men, displaying their wealth and status with their thick gold bracelets and necklaces.
The region around Kelantan was even ruled by a woman once; Che Siti Wan Kembang, in the 16th century. Che Siti was never married, adopting a daughter Puteri Saadong instead.
But at the same time, Kelantanese women are now being pushed by Shariah laws that can punish them if they do not cover up, especially while trading. They are told to segregate themselves from the men in some public places.
They were free, but now they are second-class citizens.
It is hard to be mad at Sabri, as he was likely being tongue in cheek in many of the scenes.
The pretty young wife, in the end, finds her autonomy in a totally absurd way that will have you laughing.
As for what Cong Codei even means, it was a joke so subtle that Sabri did not even bother to explain it in the film. But once you get it, then welcome to the club.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.