Monday, June 18, 2007

[On Location] Muallaf

The Mukhsin set visit was a blast last year, being fortunate to visit on the first day of principal photography in the wide outdoors of Kuala Selangor, with its vast padi fields under the clear blue skies. This year's visit to the Muallaf set was quite opposite in contrast though, with its predominantly dark night / night time scenes, dim indoors and being on the last 18 drizzling hours of the film shoot which culminated in that scene so talked about in the Malaysian press the last few days. Much have already been said about Sharifah Amani "taking it all off" (the hair on the top of her head lah), and the surprising backlash that came almost immediately after from some sections of society, and from the detractors of both the director and actress.

Sharifah Amani's New Look

I'd like to say that from what I know of the story outline, from that scene shot which I had observed, and through quick discussions with Yasmin, being controversial or doing it for the sake of a cheap publicity stunt is probably the furthest thing away from the truth. No doubt the scene will raise eyebrows, but it's integral to the Muallaf storyline conceived by the storyteller, and if a publicity stunt is what is after, then permission would have been granted to the press to observe the barber in action when shaving Nani's hair, and of course, coupled with pictures of the process for the papers the next day, and videos for primetime television.

But no, that's not part of the script, and with the photographs already released, that's all there is to it. The scene will probably be no longer than 2-3 minutes(?), but I tell you it packs its fair share of an emotional punch even on standalone (though I credit this to Nani's younger sister - Aleysha), and I bet that watching it in context to the flow of the narrative, would come across with more impact.

11 June 2007 1900hrs

It was a relatively long bus journey from Singapore to Ipoh, taking approximately 10 hours door to door, from home to the Hotel Majestic where the cast and crew were staying, and which also doubled up as one of the sets in the movie. We found ourselves staying next door to The Visitor, and with our rooms being a connecting one, it made shuttling to and fro a blast, such that we had a deluxe suite of sorts lol.

We had to go to Ipoh Parade to stock up on some groceries and for dinner, before adjourning back to hear that the schedule calls for a 0100hrs wake up. For some reason, we chose instead to watch the erm, best bits of Van Wilder and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, before realizing that time flies fast when you're having fun, and it's midnight. One hour left to hit the shower and grab that all needed quick snooze.

12 June 2007 0110hrs
It's assembly at the Hotel driveway for a ride to the set. The cast and crew had already made their way, and I joined madam director, Visitor, as well as an NST reporter for a short journey to the dark outdoors...

It was a small dimly lit street with a row of shophouses on one side, and while every shop on the row was closed for business, lights were radiating from Sid's Tavern Pub and Cafe, where it the only one bustling with activity by the film crew setting the stage, both outdoors for the scene, and inside the pub, fixing up the lighting, cabling and such for scenes to be shot indoors later.

And here I was again, in the company of Yasmin's excellent film crew who went about doing their own thing like clockwork. It's pretty amazing that time is not wasted idling around, everyone knew what they needed to do, and got them done. But my eye caught someone else instead. Earlier in the day, the Visitor was raving about a certain "Yan Yan", and here, she's was rehearsing a scene while waiting for the film to roll, and my jaw dropped.

Guys and Girls, Yeo Yann Yann is in Yasmin Ahmad's Muallaf! Yet another reason to watch the movie I'd bet!

Yann Yann got almost a unanimous vote of agreement (from my fellow columnists) that her performance amongst the ensemble cast of Singapore Dreaming was one of the best, and to be able to see her in action was nothing short of amazing. I do have to apologize for the lack of photographs here, but my camera is a dud when shooting at night, even though I can do some manual controls or switch it to night mode. But that would mean taking out some of the fun when you do see Yann Yann in character as Cindy the bar maid. The on set rehearsals took a while, but almost each rehearsal had something tweaked, especially the dialogue. Her role here is nothing we've seen before in her earlier movies (Singapore Dreaming, The High Cost of Living), perhaps quite similar to that cameo bit in One Last Dance (blink and you miss though), so fans of hers will be in for a real treat!

It's almost definite she's not one of the main characters, but I guess her supporting role here's a bit of a joy to watch. And I couldn't imagine that this morning's filming was centric on her, in that one location, right up until 0600hrs. While I won't be damned to reveal just what was shot - you have to watch the movie yourself to find out - but suffice to say that she's a brilliant actress in her own right. When Madam Director cued for certain emotions to be tried out, sometimes a glint in the eye was just what's needed for Yann Yann to effect just what the director wanted. Unbelievable stuff, something you just have to be there to observe first hand! Makeup too was perfect, as is its role in the other scene to be shot later that morning.

If my count was correct, some 6 scenes were shot in and around Sid's Tavern, and as the morning drew on, the number of cast members on set dwindled for their much needed rest. A number of extras had been hanging around waiting for their parts to be shot, and you could tell they were definitely thrilled to be part of the movie.

Arrived back at the Majestic at about 0620hrs, and slept like a log until almost 1000hrs.


Totoro Inside!

We made our way to the final shooting venue for the day, a huge red-white bricked bungalow with a huge garden, where tents were set up for lunch, as well as for the press to hang around while the crew got busy with getting everything in order for the final scene to be shot. Furniture deliveries were made too!

Almost every mainstream Malaysian press (and some from Star TV too) was represented on site today to get the scoop on Sharifah Amani's "hair today gone later" moment, but there were sighs of slight disappointment when they heard that they cannot witness the shaving process, in which case I think does not appear in the movie.

The Yasmin and Nani Interview - Note Her Chic Short Hair!

Who's Got Shorter Hair?

Nonetheless the press were kept busy with interview opportunities with Yasmin, Nani and Brian. From the photos, he looks like a Tibetian monk, or some say like Taiwanese actor Chang Chen. Up close, and during the interview, you can't help but feel a sense of zen like calm in his presence. Unfortunately for me he has already shot all his scenes, so I have to wait for the movie to see him in action. However, if you visit Yasmin's blog the past few days, based on the movies stills, somehow his character, also called Brian, comes across as always in deep contemplation. We shall see, once the movie's released!

Brian as Brian

I didn't hang around the bungalow itself, as it seemed that during this time some coda was being filmed and though I could have inadvertently heard what it was about, I didn't want to know any more than I should!


We were huddled at the ground floor of the bungalow, where a video feed has been set up for everyone to catch a glimpse of the action being shot upstairs. As you can tell, every was eager to witness THE scene which the press was here for. We can't see it with our very own eyes because (later as I found out as we adjourned upstairs) there just wasn't enough space, having the scene shot in a room, a track set up, and the remaining space used by other essential equipment necessary to capture the scene onto film, and not forgetting cast and crew too.

After the rehearsals and setting up of equipment, we were waiting for quite a while as the barber went about doing his job. You can't believe the air of anticipation and impatience around as almost everyone can't wait to see the actual scene being shot. In the meantime, Sharifah Aleysha was dropped by the ground floor and the press kept themselves occupied by fielding her some questions with regards to the particular scene, amongst others.

Interviewing Aleysha

And finally when it's time for the actual shoot, everyone without prompting became glued to the monitor, as the camera slowly panned across the room, and revealed in what I thought was time freezing itself, to that emotional scene between the on/off screen sisters. Like I mentioned earlier, it has an emotional punch even when viewed by itself, and with young Aleysha all teary eyed, you can't help but to go "Awww....". Watching the scene in context will no doubt be more meaningful.

Once the scene was shot and completed, everyone rushed upstairs, eager to talk to Nani to get from her first hand how she felt about the scene, and what went through her mind that whole afternoon. You could see that the official stills photographer was sniffing, and a couple of crew members were too. I guess it's hard not too, especially when you're witnessing the scene unfold in front of your very eyes.


And It's A Wrap! Cheers and plenty of smiles went round, to wrap up what was an 11(?) day shoot. It's a cause for celebration, but you realize that hey, there's still the post-production stage to get everything else together, and Yasmin did hint though that the first cut would probably be ready by early July. From the few scenes I've seen so far, it is without a doubt an interesting movie to look forward to, especially when Yasmin has now broken away from the Orked storyline, and venturing into new ground, stories and characters, while retaining her signature brand of storytelling and the exploration of human emotions.

What's There?

I can't wait for the movie, and I'd bet Yasmin fans around the world are also eagerly anticipating the cinematic debut of Muallaf!
Say Cheese!

Do visit Yasmin's blog for more details and some beautiful movie stills and behind the scenes pictures of her latest movie offering!

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