12 November 2007

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com Please.
Wednesday November 7, 2007

Lessons from a nostalgic trip


Onstage a colourful multiracial and multilingual community celebrated the musical talent of P. Ramlee. Offstage, music and dance has become controversial.

I WENT to see P. Ramlee: The Musical recently and it was an enchanting experience in so many ways. For one, I felt proud that a musical of such high standard could be produced by a Malaysian team (with some neighbourly help).

It had energy, creativity, talent and great music in spades, and was an overall enjoyable treat. Congratulations to the entire cast and crew.

The musical was of course a nostalgic trip down the story of P. Ramlee, perhaps our greatest artiste.

But it was nostalgic in more ways than one. It spoke of a more carefree time, and despite being partly set in pre-independence years seemed a lot more liberated than we are today.

If we only looked at the characters portrayed onstage and looked at the audience, we can see the stark difference, even if the play is largely fiction.

Onstage a colourful multiracial and multilingual community celebrated the musical talent of P. Ramlee. Women dressed in the demure dresses of yesteryear. They danced and sang with abandon.

Yet offstage, music and dance has become controversial. Women’s clothes have changed from traditional to modern forms, but at the same time become more confining.

We can’t just say this was stage dramatisation, because if we look at old photographs from the 50s and 60s women’s heads were uncovered.

Onstage, Malay movie stars wore glamorous clothes and went to nightclubs without anyone shaking their heads in judgment. The entertainment press reported romances between stars, but did not moralise.

Now actors and actresses who want to get anywhere have to lead almost inhumanly exemplary lives or risk all sorts of censure.

Perhaps the stars of old were not always exemplary in their behaviour but people were more forgiving and society didn’t particularly suffer.

Nowadays, every social ill is blamed on people not being religious enough, even though despite having so much more religion around us we in fact have more social ills.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare life today with that portrayed in a stage play. But we can research the era and see what has changed.

Why was it that in the 50s and 60s, P. Ramlee could come up with movies and songs that have endured the test of time? Perhaps it was because he was given the artistic freedom to do what he wanted? Perhaps he was trusted?

Today what passes for popular cinema is of such low standard that it seems almost amazing that we even have such a cinematic heritage as P. Ramlee movies. Did all these spring from the same traditions? Or did our perspective on life change?

I watched the audience and even though there was uproarious reception from some quarters, you could still feel some disapproval.

Perhaps it was the depiction of nightclub life? After all, these days we raid nightclubs to rid them of Muslims. Was it the strapless tops? Of late, female singers are being hauled up for wearing more.

Was it the portrayal of strong women who didn’t want to take any nonsense from their men and walked out rather than stay and put up with it? These days, the misbehaviour of men are blamed entirely on women, both the ones they are married to and the ones they are not.

I get nostalgic for a freer time, when we still had to fight for something and not yet become mired in complacency. When we were still hungry for success and knew we had to work hard for it. When we didn’t know that there were shortcuts to success and that there were people who were extremely successful that way.

Why do I think that was a freer time? Because we were free to think that we all had potential and could fulfil it if we were willing to work hard. Now we have potential we don’t have the freedom to fulfil. Or we don’t believe we have potential because we don’t have connections or are not protected by privilege.

To achieve that we need to be able to think and speak, to explore unfettered. Even in Saudi Arabia, the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has been set up with a commitment to academic freedom and international collaboration.

Here we can’t even manage to teach Mathematics and Science in English, the international language. Which basically means we can’t even dream of sending our students to KAUST or to any other good university abroad.

We don’t even have the freedom of making good policy. A little bit of opposition and we pull back hurriedly.

We don’t have P. Ramlee anymore, and we don’t have that time again. We may have progressed but maybe we lost a lot, too.