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Where are we as a society heading?

Go to any mamak stall on any corner in Malaysia, find a friendly face and tell him or her you’re doing a survey on P Ramlee’s popularity. It doesn’t matter if the person is Malay, Chinese, Indian or of any ethnic background or whether you’re talking to a young punk or a decrepit old man. Chances are that friendly face will light up and you’ll hear words of glorification and adoration gush out even before you pose your first question.

Many of us have, more than once, watched reruns of Bujang Lapok, Anak-ku Sazali, Sergeant Hassan, Madu Tiga and many other P Ramlee films on TV. And we’d do it again.

Such was his magic. He brought together Malaysians of all colours and creeds and he could pull at our heartstrings just as well as he could tickle our funny bones.

Togetherness was a common theme in P Ramlee movies. In Sergeant Hassan, Hassan’s good friend Ah Leng sends a letter to Hassan’s girl, Salmah, to prove that Hassan was still alive although many thought he’d been killed by Japanese soldiers.

P Ramlee taught us to respect one another regardless of position or race, like in Seniman Bujang Lapok, when Sudin, addressing a security guard, uses the rudely expression “Woi!” The guard, whose name is given only as “Singh”, mutters to himself: “Nama saja orang Melayu, itu adab pun tak tau. (He calls himself a Malay, but he has no manners.)”

P Ramlee made his films with little resources, especially in terms of funding. Yet he was able to craft works that will last through the ages. Many of us have kept disc recordings of those films for our children and grandchildren to enjoy long after we’re gone.

Fast forward to today and what do we have? With all the money being pumped into our directors’ coffers by millionaire producers, do we have anything that could match a P Ramlee movie? We have films like Ombak Rindu, Suamiku Encik Perfect 10, KL Gangster, Remp-It and a host of other forgettable offerings.

The latest addition to the junk heap may well be The Malay Regiment.

Whatever your political persuasion, it’s pretty safe to say that you’ll feel the insult to your good taste when you see the scene in Jurey Latiff Rosli’s The Malay Regiment in which a Chinese man stands next to a Mercedes Benz with plate number “DAP165”, especially when you realise that the movie comes out during a month when Malaysia is supposed to be celebrating its 60th anniversary.

In the scene, the man stares at the parliament building while a voice-over in Chinese says: “We don’t need to go to war. We just need to use our brains to control the economy.”

The scene in question is so controversial that even Umno’s Salleh Said Keruak has told the press he had asked for it to be cut from the film. He said it was “inappropriate”.

Kudos to Jurey for agreeing to remove the scene, but one wonders what the man was thinking when he filmed it. Was he merely sharing a political opinion with his audience or was he deliberately creating controversy to gain cheap publicity?

Either way, the scene makes us ask whether some among us are keen to see the breaking of ties that bind us as Malaysians. Are we breaking away from the togetherness we see in P Ramlee’s works? Are the threads of our fabric being weakened by the ravages of our politics?

We’re not taking away credit from such good films as Ola Bola, Kaki Bakar and Lelaki Harapan Dunia. Many of us have yet to see The Malay Regiment. Perhaps it’s another good one, but we should worry that a local moviemaker thinks we can no longer be entertained by characters like Sergeant Hassan’s Ah Leng and offers instead a character like the man with the Mercedes Benz.

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