Fahmi-Reza-the-untold-story-of-the-mass disobedience - Interview with The Sun
The untold story of the hartalPosted on 2 November 2007 - 01:25amPrintWhen 30-year-old Fahmi Reza was in school, he hated history. But those days are thankfully over. Thefreelance graphic artist recently won the "Most Outstanding Human Rights Film" at this year’s FreedomFilm Fest for his documentary, Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka (Ten Years Before Independence). Thedocumentary tells a crucial story about the people’s struggle for independence in 1947 that is missing fromour history textbooks and our official Merdeka celebrations.With just a RM5,000 grant from Komas (Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat), which organises the annualFreedom Film Fest, the help of friends, and a passion for the untold stories in our history, Fahmi tells acompelling story about the proposed People’s Constitution and the Malaya-wide hartal – the halting of alleconomic activity as a form of political action – through his film. Speaking to JACQUELINE ANN SURIN,mostly in Malay, he talks about what was involved in making the film.theSun: Why did you do thefilm, Sepuluh Tahun SebelumMerdeka?Fahmi Reza: The mainreason I did this film wasbecause I wanted tonarrate the history of thepeoples’ struggle forindependence. AfterWorld War II and theJapanese occupation, andbefore the Emergency in1948.Actually, the story that I tell inmy film focuses on a particularchapter in our history that ismissing from our history booksin school. If you look at ourForm 3 text books, there’s a chapter called ‘From Malayan Union to the Federation of Malaya’. But mystory is about the missing chapter ‘From The People’s Constitution to the Malaya-wide hartal’.And I also made this film to remember and acknowledge the contributions of the political left in thecountry’s struggle for independence because very little is actually said about the role they played. I alsowanted to show that it was the people in the left who started fanning the people’s nationalistic spirit forindependence until, if you look at it, a democratic movement was born that united the people of all races tooppose the British in both Malaya, and Singapore then.If you look at our own history books and how they cover the period between 1945 and 1948, we had theJapanese occupation and in 1945, after World War II, the British returned and Malaya was ruled by theBritish Military Administration. In 1946, there was the Malayan Union scheme and the birth of Umno.
After that, in 1948, there was the Federation of Malaya to replace the Malayan Union, and then there wasthe Emergency.But 1947 is missing! What happened in 1947? So my story is exactly about what happened in 1947, tenyears before Merdeka.So, in my film, there are two key points, two important historical events that are missing (from our officialhistory) – the People’s Constitution and the Malaya-wide hartal of 1947.How did you even find out about this missing year and part of our history? What drew yourattention to it?Um, actually, I’m personally interested in the history of people’s revolutions and mass movements fordemocracy wherever it may be in the world; movements that arose to demand for independence fromWestern colonialism.So, if you look at Vietnam, for example. In Vietnam, there was a people’s revolution against the Frenchcolonisers. In India, the people also formed a democratic movement to fight the British. In Indonesia, therakyat stood together in a revolution to fight the Dutch. In the Philippines as well, even earlier still, thepeople rose in a revolution in 1896 to oppose the Spanish.And even in Thailand, even though they had never been colonised, but there was a people’s revolution in1973 where the people demanded for full democracy from the military government.So, all this made me think. If our neighbouring countries all went through a revolution of some kind, aprocess where the people organised themselves to oppose colonialism, how come in Malaya there was nosuch revolution? How come in Malaysia there was none?It seemed impossible that Malaysia didn’t have a people’s revolution, too, because the conditions were thesame. The rakyat (people) were oppressed under colonialism, right?That spurred me to begin researching. Because our history books are silent about this.The first place I went to was the National Library to look for books that might be related to this issue. I waslucky. I found this book [holds up Merintis Jalan ke Punchak by Ahmad Boestamam]. This was one of thefirst books I found in my search for historical information. It was a memoir of Ahmad Boestamam who wasone of the founders of PKMM (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya or the Malay Nationalist Party) and alsoApi (Angkatan Pemuda Insaf).When was this book published?In 1972. But the book has 26 chapters. Ahmad Boestamam was a columnist for Berita Minggu and thechapters were from his column. So, this is a compilation of all his columns. So, the column basically tellshis story. He writes about his political journey within the history of Malayans demanding for independence.The chapter in this book which really left an impact on me was the one titled, ‘Hartal – KemunchakPerjuangan Putera-AMCJA’ (‘Hartal – The Height of Putera-AMCJA’s Struggles’). In this chapter, henarrates about what happened in 1947, about the hartal – the Malaya-wide strike that involved all thepeople.When I read this chapter, I was stunned. I was surprised by the other chapters, too, but this particularchapter really made me go, ‘Wah!’ I couldn’t believe that such a political action had occurred here!
But at that point, I was still critical. After all, this was just one man’s story, right? One source. So, I beganmy research. Started reading other books. Looked for other memoirs.Many of the leaders of the political left wrote their memoirs such as Pak Sako, Mustapha Hussain, A.Samad Ismail, Shamsiah Fakeh, Abdullah C.D., Gerald de Cruz, Majid Salleh, Lim Hong Bee, PhilipHoalim Sr., Khadijah Sidek, Ibrahim Chik and many more.And then, I also looked for academic books written by our historians such as Cheah Boon Kheng,Mohamed Salleh Lamry, Khong Kim Hoong, Firdaus Abdullah, Abdul Rahman Ismail, Khoo Kay Kim,Ramlah Adam, and others.There was a significant amount of literature but nothing specifically on the hartal and on the Putera-AMCJA or the people who organised the hartal. Usually, they would just be mentioned in a chapter.In fact, up to today, no book has yet to be written about them, about their struggle for independence. So, Ihad to piece everything together from these different sources. And that’s how I became exposed to all theseacronyms of organisations -- PKMM, Api, Awas (Angkatan Wanita Sedar), Batas (Barisan Tani Se-Malaya), MDU (Malayan Democratic Union), Putera (Pusat Tenaga Ra’ayat), AMCJA (All-MalayaCouncil of Joint Action), PMFTU (Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions), MNDYL (Malayan NewDemocratic Youth League), Geram (Gerakan Angkatan Muda), all these – and about the significance ofeach organisation.So, you borrowed these books?From the library. All of them are at the National Library. Many people are unaware that the NationalLibrary has all these books. You just need to go, register with RM1, and borrow. Basically, the earlymaterial for my research was books because they were resources I was familiar with.And then, I went to the National Archives because academic books, especially, made a lot of references topress reports and statements. So, I thought I’d check out the original source, the original documents and Iwent to the National Archives to go through the newspapers from that time.That too, I found amazing, because there were so many newspapers then. In all languages. Many were inEnglish and BM, and there was Jawi, and there were magazines and the Chinese press. But the Chinese andTamil press I couldn’t read, which was a shame.What was also amazing was the freedom the press had at that time. So, you had your pro-British paper likeThe Straits Times, at the same time, there was also The Malaya Tribune which was more pro-rakyat.The Malay press was the same.Majlis which was more pro-Umno and then Utusan Melayu which, at thattime, was pro-PKMM, pro-left and pro-rakyat.So, it was interesting to read the press from those times because they showed the story from both sides.Sometimes, one party would criticise the other party, and vice-versa, but that was what made it interesting.That debate was there in the press.And then I collected all these names which appeared in the books and articles. I started writing them downand started finding out whether these people were still alive…Or not?Or not [chuckles]. But when I started, I had to cancel out many of the names. Many of them had passedaway.
How did you go about finding out whether they were still alive or not?Er, start calling up friends and others whom I know. Parti Rakyat (Malaysia, or PRM), one of the oldestpolitical parties. So, I know friends in Parti Rakyat, so I called them up because some of them are in touchwith all these veterans. So, from there, I had a list of those who were still alive and those who had died.So, most of them..?Most of them had passed away. This story is 60-years-old. So, if they were still alive today, they would bein their 80s because they would have been active during their 20s. And all the key leaders such as AhmadBoestamam, Burhanuddin Helmy, all have died.But there are still some of them who are alive. I got to know that Lim Kean Chye (one of the foundingmembers of the MDU) was still alive (and living in Penang).But at that time I wasn’t yet bold enough to try and meet him. Because what excuse did I have? How couldI tell him, I wanted to meet him to do research? Research for what? I didn’t have an answer because it wasjust my personal research. I didn’t think they would want to speak with me if it was just for that.So, basically, the film was an excuse, actually for me to talk to them [laughs].Ok [laughs].So, now, when they asked, ‘What is the research for?’, I could say, ‘I want to make a documentary abouttheir story.’ So, I had an excuse.It’s also because (for) all these people who had died, nobody had ever documented their history, unless theywrote it themselves, especially in the new media formats -- audio or video -- right?We have poor oral history documentation. So, I thought, before those who were still alive passed away, too,I better start now. And I documented their story through the best format we have now, which is video. Youget audio and you get visuals as well.So, once I had these interviews, it would have been a loss if I kept them to myself. So, I made this film.You know the nationalist struggles of the left in Malaya are barely mentioned in our historytextbooks. And both you and I probably have the same experience – schooled locally but never oncewas taught about the hartal and what happened with the Putera-AMCJA. Do you think there is anattempt to only highlight certain parts of our history, especially our history for independence?It’s true that our school history books, for the most part, highlight the role that is played by just one party orgroup. Other groups are mentioned but are not given focus or are labelled anti-government or anti-something. For me, this happens because, any history at all, and this can probably be applied to anycountry, history is always written by those in power.So, if we look at our history, the people in power are Umno and the Barisan Nasional. So, they are the oneswho write the history of our nation. So, of course, they will present a historical narrative that sheds apositive light on them. I think this happens in any regime or government. Firstly, in order to legitimise theircurrent position, there is a need to create this myth about their history.So, if we look at our historical narrative about independence, it’s focused on creating this myth aboutUmno’s struggle to gain our independence. How Umno was born and how Umno fought for ourindependence. It’s understandable that there’s this narrative.
So, any other narrative that doesn’t support the (dominant) narrative will of course be left out, because itwould challenge or counter their narrative.Many regimes do one of two things. You absorb the other narrative and claim it as your own. Or you leaveout.Umno’s problem is, because they were there at the same time, they cannot claim that their struggle was partof the left’s because they were on the opposite side. So, the only way left to them is to silence (the othernarrative). So, history books are written that way.History is written by the victor.Ya. And the losers, who will tell their stories, right?So, it’s understandable, in some ways?Ya, it’s understandable.Ok, but then, what is our response as citizens of this country?So, I think for us, because I think whatever it is, we want to know the truth. In any situation. Truth is betterthan ya, than something else. It is also because of this principle that I wanted to research this part of ourhistory.One other thing was the way history was taught to me in school. Erm, actually, I wasn’t interested inhistory when I was in school. During SPM, I got a ‘C’ for history [chuckles]. I took 10 subjects. I got eight‘A’s and two ‘C’s [laughs], and one of the ‘C’s was for history [laughs loudly]. And I really didn’t likehistory because I felt, not to blame my teacher, but the way the syllabus is taught is for you to memorisecertain dates, certain events, personalities, and names. And even though it made you think: why didsomething happen, what is the significance of an event, the answer is already there. Because the format wasA, B, C, D, right? It’s a fixed answer.It didn’t ask you to critically think about why a historical event was significant. They tell us what is thesignificance, we memorise it, and regurgitate the answer during the exam. So, this format bored me to tears.It’s just a process of memorising all these names and facts and that was just so boring for me. So, I wasn’tinterested in history then. It was only after I left school, when I started becoming more politically awarethat I started to read on my own and got interested.Was making and releasing this historical documentary specifically timed to coincide with our 50thMerdeka celebrations? What did you hope to achieve from this?Ya, I consciously timed it that way. Because this research had been going on for a while, and the timingwas also right because my other projects had ended last year. And I was free this year, so I wanted toconcentrate on doing this project because the research had been done and I had already found the story. So,it was just a matter of getting my friends together and telling the story, using the medium of film.And I had already expected that for our 50th Merdeka, there would be a big celebration to commemorate 50years of independence. And I also expected that this independence celebration would only amplify the roleof just one group.So, I thought, to balance things out, because I already knew the story of the other groups (that would not behighlighted), I wanted to share the story that I knew with others.
What I hoped to achieve from this film being shown this year, like I said earlier, was to recognise that therewere others who fought for and contributed to independence.But our Merdeka celebrations usually only highlight the leaders of certain groups only. They hardly evershow what role the people played, and the people did contribute towards the struggle for our independence.So, my story, yes, it’s true, it also focuses on political party leaders, but if you look at the hartal, that’swhere the people themselves got directly involved in the struggle. Because the hartal wasn’t just about apolitical party alone, it involved all the rakyat. It was inclusive and participatory in the sense that peoplegot involved in politics directly.So, for me, this story is my tribute to the <i>rakyat</i> who also contributed to the independence that weenjoy today.You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that this is your very first film and you just went out to buya camera, and with a good story line, filmed your documentary. Was it as easy as you make it sound?It is and it’s not. Because I really have no filmmaking experience at all.And before this, if you’d asked me about making a film, ‘Wah!’ because when we watch Hollywoodmovies or movies on TV, it’s easy to think that making a film is really hard. When you look at the endcredits, the number of crew members involved! [chuckles] Hundreds of them! How can we ever make afilm, right? [chuckles]But, I started researching how to make film. Online! All this information is available online. From myreading, it didn’t seem so difficult especially if one wants to make a documentary.That’s also why I chose to make a documentary because compared to a fiction film, for example, it wouldbe much harder because you would need actors. That’s why I chose to tell the story through the format of adocumentary. So, what did I do?I saved money and bought a camera. And it took a long time for me to save up the money [laughs]. Becausemy dilemma was whether to buy a really good camera or a <i>Cap Ayam</i> camera [laughs]. But in theend, I decided to invest in a good camera because I figured I would use the camera for a long time. If Ibought a <i>Cap Ayam</i> camera, maybe I could only use it for a few months! So, I saved up money so Icould buy a good quality, medium-range camera.And I was lucky. Because I like to do research, even for the camera, I was mad about doing research aboutwhat was the best camera for this particular price. And then I researched the camera shops in KualaLumpur, and I found this camera that I wanted for half price because it was a display model. The originalprice was RM12,000. I only paid RM6,000 for it.I bought the camera, and then started playing around with it. I learnt by just doing. So, I started using thecamera to document stuff. If I went for demonstrations, I would bring my video camera and start recording.I would go in support of urban settlers whose homes were being demolished. I would bring my camera todocument what happened and I posted them on <i>YouTube</i> because not everyone knows these thingsare happening, right? Because the media doesn’t really report on these issues. So, I learnt (how to film)while recording.And I love music and enjoy gigs, so I would bring my camera to shoot all these bands, and I would learnhow to edit these videos. I bought a laptop, installed software for editing, and started learning how to edit.All the bands that I recorded live, I edited them into music videos. I was practicing. If you watch myYouTube, that was my learning process [chuckles].
The process is only that. You have a camera, you shoot, you edit, you get your film! It’s as simple as that.But, there are other components, too. It’s not just about technical know-how. You have to have a goodstory. You have to have a good story-telling technique as well. So, for this story, I watched a lot ofavailable documentaries and I learnt from there how they tell a story. What is boring and what isn’t.Because I didn’t want to make a boring documentary [chuckles] because I knew from the beginning, mytarget audience was people my age or younger. People in their 20s, teenagers, young people.This is their medium. They are the ones who enjoy watching TV and movies. So, I wanted my story toreally relate to them, and the look of it was targeted at them.Ok, but, history is boring. Even for me, when I was in school before, because it just emphasised on facts,facts, facts but there’s no real story. It’s not told as a story.So, I did more research to construct a story out of all these things, all the research I had done, all thesefacts, all these dates, all these names. So, I began to construct a story, and I chose to present this story in aformat that is used by Hollywood.I think it’s called dramatic storytelling. Basically, there are three acts. There’s the beginning, middle andend. It’s formulaic. If you look at any Hollywood story, or local fiction, there’s always the hero and thevillain. The protagonist and the antagonist. And then, these two want different things, usually opposite ofeach other, so there’s conflict.So, the conflict will lead up to a climax. The climax is the ending. The ending can be a happy ending or atragedy.So, I constructed my story that way. So, it’s clear. The hero is the rakyat in the left, the villain is the British.And I showed how the rakyat wanted independence. But the British didn’t want to grant independencebecause they wanted our rubber and tin. And I showed the obstacles that they went through, leading up tothe climax which is the hartal.And then, the end, what happened after that. So, I told it that way.And a lot of feedback I received said that the audience could connect with the story.They can follow the story. It’s a simple story. It’s a one-plot story. It’s not complex, it’snot complicated because I meant for it to be that way, so that the story is very clear.The audience is treated to history but it’s told as an interesting story. And this was just from watching thefilm. I think in film school, they probably teach this. So, ya, I did it that way. So, whether you agree or notwith the story, it’s still an interesting story to watch, I think.And then, I was lucky to have friends who helped me. One person can make a film. I have friends who, ontheir own, make films. But, I’m lucky to have this pool of friends and we’ve been working together for thepast few years on different arts projects and people from different arts background. So, previously, we’veworked on a visual art piece exhibition in Singapore, then we did Baling Membaling (a theatreperformance), and then early this year, we did Dua, Tiga Dalang Berlari (a theatre performance).So, before this, I helped out in other people’s projects. So, now, it is my project and they came to help. Andearlier on, I had told them the story and they fell in love with the story, and that’s why they joined in theproject to help out.
With the help of my friends, this process and journey was made easier because they also gave a lot of input.They critically looked at the story and constantly gave feedback constantly. Because I had Imri (Nasution)who is a filmmaker and he gave a lot of feedback from a technical perspective because he was the cameraperson for this project. And I had Gan (Siong King) and (Wong) Tay Sy who have a visual arts backgroundand gave a lot of feedback on visuals. And then I had Mark (Teh) who has a theatre background, who co-produced the project, and Taj (Addin) who has a music background, who helped out with the sound. I alsohad young social activists, Ebrahim (Harris) and Fiqtriey (Al-Hakimi) to come on board and helped outwith the production. It was good teamwork, helping each other out. So, it’s easy because I had friendsalong [chuckles].Since we’re talking about your friends, there’s this popular notion that young people today are notinterested in history. But your friends are all within your age group, right? All fairly young, and theyvolunteered for free. So, what gives with your group?Like I said earlier, even I didn’t enjoy history in school because it bored me to bits. But, um, I thinkeveryone has their own interests, their own entry points, why they would join this project.For me, when I ask myself, why do we need to know our history, I think that for us to move forward, weneed to take a step back and see where we came from. How our present day condition, the way it is – Whyis it like this? Was it always like this? Where did we go wrong, if we made a mistake? How do we fix theproblem or how do we learn from it so that we don’t repeat the mistake?So, I think, it’s these stories which make me interested to look back. Look at our condition today. That’swhat got me interested to go back in time and to read our history because of the situations we face today.Ya, was it always like this? That question always lingers in my mind. So that made me start researching ourhistory.So, when I found this story, it was a different time. I realised it wasn’t always like how it is now. There wasa time, in the early days before we gained independence, when [pauses] the people, for me, were moreprogressive. It was a time when there were more freedoms, and political awareness was higher, comparedto now. For me, it is quite romantic, this period, very interesting, full of semangat (spirit). Where did it allgo? Where did this spirit go? Where did this political awareness go?It’s a loss that we’ve forgotten all of this, especially for me, the new generation who doesn’t know thisstory. So, I thought, for me who now knows this story, I shouldn’t keep it to myself.When I first got to know about this story, I kept telling it to my friends because it was like a big discoveryfor me. But, how many people could I tell this story to in this way, right? [chuckles] So, film is the bestmedium…But do you think that you and your group of friends are an anomaly?Erm, not really. I think many other people are also interested in history. But, one thing is time, of course.Many people are just busy.But most people your age would be busy chasing the rat race. But you guys are giving up quite a bitto do these projects.Ya, each individual, I think has different passions. Other people may have the passion to be rich, so thatdrives them. I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself.
So, if you ask me what my passions are, ah…many things in Malaysia are not perfect, and many things canbe improved and changed, so I’m passionate about change. Change for the better from what we have today.It could be better. That drives me.Like I said earlier, before we move forward, we have to look back. This (project) is (about) me going backbefore I go forward.Because one thing which keeps getting raised is this. One form of political action is demonstration, right?We are always told this is not our tradition. This is not our way. This term is always used.But when I discovered this (story about the hartal), it (demonstration) is [chuckles] part of our history, apart of our tradition.In fact, even Umno members who opposed the Malayan Union came out and demonstrated andprotested. There are pictures of them in the National Archives.True, true. And for us to deny our history and tradition is only to benefit those in power, because they don’twant us to know this tradition, right? So, that’s why, it moved me to bring back this tradition through thisstory.Because this is our history, the history of the people struggling. The struggle continues in different formsfor different causes but I think one thing that is important is tradition. So this story I’m telling is to re-establish this forgotten tradition that has not reached the younger generation.Would you say that your group has a particular passion about their love for Malaysia and what thiscountry is capable of, and that’s why they are willing to put in so much.Ya, ya. Definitely, if not, they would have migrated to live in another country, as many others have done[chukles].Ya, I agree with you. That’s why we stuck around, and do things here. Because there’s so much to do. It’sso easy to just give up and run away and go to another place where there is more freedom and democraticrights. But, for us, we don’t think that way. We should fight here. This is our tanah air, we were born here.If we don’t fight, who else will?And we fight in ways that we know. So, coming from an arts background, most of us are arts workers, andas arts workers, we, too can play a role in society. It doesn’t mean that we just make art to beautify theenvironment. We can play a role.We are exploring this role that we can play, right now. And even for me. It’s a process of me discoveringwhat I can do to contribute.You’ve shown this film at the Freedom Film Festival in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and will betaking it to Johor Baru this weekend (Sept 29 and 30). What kind of responses have you receivedfrom audiences so far?So far, I’ve only heard positive feedback.I got people suggesting that this film should be shown in school as part of the syllabus at the universitiesand colleges. The young crowd, mostly, like the story and the music. They like how it is edited – verystylish. That’s mostly their comments.
But the most comments I’ve had has been, ‘Thank you for sharing this.’ Because many have not heardabout Putera-AMCJA, have not heard about the hartal. Many were so surprised that this is our history. A lotof people were shocked that they did not know about it. And there were also older viewers who came to tellme they’d never heard of the hartal [laughs].So, this film was an eye-opener to a lot of people. It was good. Some were critical of it, too – ‘Did thisreally happen?’ I mean, if you’ve never heard about this, even you would be shocked. How can anyonewho lives in this country not know about this story? How can this story be missing from our history books?So, good that these questions were raised. That was the other reason I made this film, so that people couldstart asking all these questions about history and other things.And it was good because even historians, such as Cheah Boon Kheng, who watched my film was verypositive and confirmed that yes, this is our history and that it needs to be told.What did you learn from researching and making this film?One thing that I learnt was that there are still many things we don’t know about our own history. There’s alot to be discovered. When I was researching, I came across many other stories that were, for me, sointeresting. Just waiting to be told. So many stories.So, I think, that was one thing I learnt.Because if you look at the stories on TV, it’s not that interesting, right? For people who are lacking in storyideas, just look at our history, there are so many things there. I still have so many stories from my researchthat I could tell. But these are not my stories. These are stories of what happened.In our rush forward, we rarely look back. And many historical events are not given the prominence theyshould. For me, the books are all there, but who reads all these books? And I’m talking to the youngergeneration. And for someone from that generation, I have to communicate in a language that thisgeneration can understand and accept. Hence, the visual medium.So, for now, I’ve found my medium of choice. Because I’ve been experimenting with different mediumsbefore this. Because I personally feel that art is just a means to an end, a tool, a vehicle to get a messageacross to a particular audience.Before this, I was exploring with the visual arts. I did theatre, as well. Graphic design and graphic art. Andfinally, this. I did a film. This is the process of me experimenting with all these mediums, to find the bestway to get the message across. So for now, so far, based on feedback, film is the best way because one,once you’ve made the film, you don’t have to be there. The story can move on its own. Theatre, forexample, is limited because you have to perform it to the audience, which is good. It’s live, it’s moreengaging but the limitation is that the performer has to constantly be there. But with film, once you’vemade the film, it’s out there, can be easily duplicated and be spread out.So, it’s a powerful medium that I want to use now.Apart from Lim Kean Chye, was it difficult to track down the four others you interviewed (YahyaNassim, a member of Kesatuan Melayu Muda; Zainuddin Andika, a member of PKMM and thenApi; Majid Salleh, a committee member of the PKMM’s Simpang Ampat division; and Hashim Said,a PKMM member who eventually joined Api)?Most of them I found through one contact. Siti Noor Hamid Tuah. Hamid Tuah was a student activist in the70s. So, Siti Noor is his daughter. So, I got her contact number from a PRM friend. So, I contacted Siti
Noor and found out that she kept in touch with all these veterans. She had all these contact numbers andaddresses.But for some, there was no contact number. Just an address.So my research entailed just going to find the house. Mad, I know. It was tough! Like for Majid Salleh, Ionly had an address. So, I went to the kampung, and I started asking people there if they knew MajidSalleh, and kept looking until I found him. After finding him, I started talking to him.So, the process was, first, I’d just chat with them. I didn’t interview right away. I’d tell them what I wantedto do, and they would interrogate me. Next only would we confirm the interview.If there was a number, I would call ahead to say I wanted to visit. If not, I’d just go looking for the address.And also, I tried consciously to include women’s voices in this documentary because women played a bigrole in that era. I knew that Shamsiah Fakeh was still alive but she is very sick. I went to visit her but shecan’t speak anymore. What we have is her memoir but I couldn’t interview her.And there was another woman, whom I shan’t name. When I met her, she refused to be interviewed. Sheused the excuse that she was too young at that time. She was 17 when she joined Awas and she said shecould no longer remember. But, basically, she didn’t want to tell her story. So, one missing element in thisstory is the women’s voices.And also, this story is a collective history that we can share, regardless of (race). Because we live in a timewhen everything is about race. So, I wanted to produce something that can be shared collectively byeveryone, regardless of what your race is.So, this is a shared Malaysian history. Regardless of your race, this is our story. So, I wanted to find anIndian voice as well, but I couldn’t find any during my research. It was difficult even though I called manypeople. Most of them have died and most of them were arrested and banished back to India. So, if they arestill alive, they are probably back in India right now.I know you’ve spoken about how Lim Kean Chye was initially quite resistant to do this interviewuntil he had interrogated you. Did you have a sense that the others were also resistant, and why doyou think there was this kind of resistance, at being interviewed and having their storiesdocumented?First, for one of my interviewees, I think it was quite painful for them to recall what happened. Because,some of them had put all this behind them. They never engaged in politics after they were released fromprison. So, it’s a dark period in their life.This is my tribute to people who fought, they struggled. These are regular people. It’s different classes butmostly from the lower classes -- the children of farmers, fishing folk, small traders. So, they reallysacrificed for independence. So, for them to be arrested and detained, and when we got independence, it’snot the independence that they wanted, the Merdeka was not pure, and this was not the independence thatthey fought for. So, they feel disappointed that their struggle that they started has not been completed.That’s what I felt from them.When I wanted to ask them questions, too, it was difficult for some of the interviewees. They failed,basically. They wanted something but they failed. But their failure is not because of their mistake butbecause of colonialism at that time, British rule, with the help of well…that’s the other thing they weredisappointed about.
Because for the first time, if you look at the hartal, it was moving towards creating this new bangsa(nationality). Because at that time, that sense of nationhood did not yet exist.The thing that I find amazing is that they were able to see the divide-and-rule policy that the Britishimposed on them, and they fought against that. The Putera-AMCJA was a manifestation, for the first timein our nation’s history, of the different races getting together and uniting. And the hartal was truly bigger.If you look at the People’s Constitution, they wanted to give birth to a new bangsa. They were consciousabout breaking the Malay-Chinese-Indian racial categorisations. They wanted a new nationality, regardlessof race.One other thing I learnt from my interviews was that at independence, what was born was a nation, not abangsa. That’s why we have this problem today of having three main races, when actually we should onlyhave one, Bangsa Malaysia.And their mentality was different. If you talk to Lim Kean Chye, race was not in their consciousness, whichis very strong today. I think the unity that they talked about was not about race. It was more about class. Itwas about uniting all the people to go against the British to fight for independence. So, we could have beensomething different than what we have today.We could have been. We still can.Ya, we still can. That’s why this story is very inspiring, for me, and I hope for other people as well.What plans lie ahead for you and for your film?Well, for sure, now that the film is made, I want people to watch it [chuckles]. So, we have plans to havemore screenings. I am planning, after (Hari) Raya (Aidilfitri), beginning from Oct 20, in conjunction withthe 60th anniversary of the Malaya-wide hartal, I want to bring this film on a nationwide road tour withscreening and discussion.So, I want to have a screening and discussion in every state, in schools, colleges, universities, anywhere.Public halls, civic halls, any place that can screen the show.I’d like to ask lecturers, students or any non-governmental organisation or community group who can, tohelp me organise these screenings. I can come, anytime, anywhere. Just need to contact me at my e-mail (email@example.com). That’s the plan now.What about funding for such an effort?Yes, I’m sourcing for funding and if anybody would like to contribute, that would be welcome.Because we really don’t have money. When we did this film, we did it on a limited budget of RM5,000from Komas. And we used up all the money, basically on equipment and expenses. None of my crew gotpaid. And everything goes to petrol, and transport and accommodation, research. So, to bring this on tour, Ineed people’s help to organise. Because we did this project out of our own pocket, all of us.What do you think the total cost was in the end?For the film, alone? RM5,000.
If we had to pay the crew, I don’t know how much it would have come up to. Because I myself don’t knowwhat the rate is out there.But I know that RM5,000 is definitely not enough! [laughs]But you had some support from individuals, right?Oh, ya. So, the money from these contributors will go towards the tour. Because that was the original plan,that once the film was made, it would be a shame if it wasn’t screened as much as possible.Do you have any plans for making another film?Oh, ya. I’m planning a sequel to this documentary. So this story will focus on the period between 1945 and1948. So, the next film will focus on the 1948 Emergency up to 1957 when we gained independence.If you want to know what the story is about, wait and see.When are you planning for a release?I’m targeting middle of next year.The research is done. I’ve got the story. It’s just a matter of finding people.Will it be a documentary as well?Yes, a documentary. This same format.Have you started filming already?Not yet. But I’m sharing all my research online on my blog (10tahun.blogspot.com). So, if people needmore information, they can just go to my blog.