In the old days where cameras aren't digital and you can't have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get preview pane, it's something like a leap of faith when you handover that analog camera loaded with a film roll to someone else, a friend or total stranger, to take a picture for and of you. One hand probably flashes that "V" sign, while it is likely you will cross your fingers with the other. The end result is only known when you develop the film, and then realize that your head has been cut off in the picture, or that your intended target is out of focus, or worse, totally not in the photograph.
With filmmaking in the old days, what with cumbersome cameras and stocks of light sensitive film reels, I sometimes wonder the nightmare, if any, the production team would have felt should the reel containing moments shot on set be damaged, or if the end product would not be what the director had intended, that everything will probably either go back to the drawing board, or junked altogether. The cinematographer acts as the second eye of the director, having to understand what is required of him, and also having to add both his technical expertise to make the movie, and artistic vision to beautify it.
Abu Bakar Ali, or Pak Bakar as he is affectionately referred to by the director, is one such person, and the filmmaker who trusted him with this immensely important, behind the scenes task, is not other than the legendary P. Ramlee himself. Director Abdul Nizam Hamid originally intended to make a movie about P. Ramlee, and had spent a lot of time travelling to various landmarks in Peninsular Malaysia as part of research, only to discover that Pak Bakar, a resource so valuable, is to be a neighbour in the same block of flats as his in Singapore, staying only one floor above. It does seem to reinforce the notion that we sometimes spend a lifetime going around looking for that rare jewel, only to discover that the perfect gem exists so close to ourselves.
The interview of Pak Bakar brought forth a lot of learning points into the post production process of yesteryears, and you'd get to see snippets from old P. Ramlee movies, as well as much treasured archival photographs. We also get offered a valuable glimpse into how films were made in those days of the studio system at Jalan Ampas, where Malay Film Productions held court, and more importantly, listen to the insights as to how P. Ramlee worked, with an obsession for the game of checkers.
There are somehow a lot of shots of Pak Bakar fiddling with an old Bolex camera, who had in fact for the last 30 years or so had given up on the medium. Director Nizam admitted this is an incomplete film, and that is quite true, because first and foremost, it ended very abruptly, and the footage shot were quite raw and unpolished, though I'm unsure if it was deliberate for the most parts, with Pak Bakar being interviewed in the living room of his home.
But for the opportunity to listen to one of Singapore's talent from the film community years ago, Keronchong for Pak Bakar certainly deserves a watch, hearing from a man who was the cinematographer of P. Ramlee's movies, and even Chinese action flicks such as Ring of Fury.
There was a Q&A session after the screening with director Abdul Nizam Hamid. As usual, in the interest of (my) time, this is only an excerpt, and I have paraphrased (for the better I hope) for clarity and readability. For those who are spoiler wary, please read something else. You have been warned.
Nizam had revealed that there was a lot shared between him and Pak Bakar in conversation, and earning his trust was most difficult. He knew about the legend of the man who was relied on by the great P.Ramlee, but never did it occur to him that Pak Bakar, as it turned out, was staying just one level above him in the same block of flats. It took Nizam 2 years before he started to document and make this film.
Q: It seems like the film is less about Pak Bakar, and more about you the director. There was this sense of yearning in the film.
A: That's true. The final cut has a lot of travelling going on, with him travelling to festivals, and me looking on, going north to Peninsular Malaysia.
Q: Have you shown him the film?
A: Well he was supposed to be here tonight, but he's unfortunately not feeling well. I had wanted to show it to him during the editing process, but had decided not to.
Q: What's the state of Jalan Ampas now?
A: It is boarded up right now. It's still there, though worn out, and am not too sure of Shaw's plans for it.
Nizam also shared that he had plans to screen the film in Malaysia. He had deliberately set the film's interview in Pak Bakar's home, in contrast to the expensive, classy studio environment where Pak Bakar had spent a lot of time in professionally. This is is also to highlight the stark difference between the actors and actresses who once starred in P.Ramlee movies, now having various titles and status to their name, versus the man who was one of the creative forces behind the P.Ramlee movies.
Nizam actually had his wife deliver written letters to Pak Bakar prior to meeting him, because he was shy and didn't know how to approach the legend of a man. This film was actually the 3rd letter (if you've watched the movie, you'll know why this is so). Nizam also has a 70 page script for a movie about P.Ramlee, based on the numerous amount of research he had done, before chancing on Pak Bakar. He shared that it might actually be difficult to find an actor to play the lead role, because everyone knows P.Ramlee so well.
There will be 2 more screenings of Keronchong for Pak Bakar at this year's SIFF at Sinema Old School on 13th April Sun 11am and 915pm. Tickets are still available and you can click on the links below to purchase them:
13 Apr 11am
13 Apr 915pm
The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca