Circa 25 years ago when I was in primary school, the film ‘ABANG’ was shown here in Singapore as one of the hari raya programs. It was a repeat telecast of course, as the film was first launch in 1981 with the then star studded cast of RahimRazali,AhmadTarmimiSiregar,NoorKumalasari,FauziahAhmadDaud,S.Roomai etc. Hence when it was showing here that raya, my father taped it on our then VCR tape recorder and watched it a few times and kept repeating on how fantastic that film was.
I watched it then, probably more than once but I didn’t understand it at all. It was all too melodramatic for me, what with NoorKumalasari and her over the top acting, my own confusion at how come we were told that alcohol is haram to be drunk and yet here on tv a family of rich Malays were having elite business parties serving alcohol fully permissible by the father of the house ( Dato’ Din ) whose speech was peppered with ‘Ya Allah..’ ‘ Jangan jadi orang tak beriman..’ etc. In short, it was all paradox. In fact, even the idea of ‘rich Malays’ to the child in me– in Singapore, in the late 70s to 80s era, was in itself a great paradox. In the late 70s and early 80s, the term ‘rich’ and ‘Malay’ was rarely, ( if non-existent altogether) synonymous. Linguistically, it was an oxymoron.
Earlier on, after a hearty dinner at Sakunthala in Little India, we had a little discussion on the Malay film industry in the car on the way home, in which my father mentioned in passing that none of the post P.Ramlee era of Malay films can beat the film Abang. He mentioned that he still watches it again and again now. Knowing how gadget savvy my old man is, I can’t possibly imagine that he still keeps that tape in which he used to record ‘Abang’ 25 years ago. Of course not, he got the copy of that film in dvd now, which I insisted on watching the moment we got home just now.
25 years later, watching the film Abang as someone from down here who lives up there, brings about a whole different spectrum of perspectives. Had I been a sociology postgrad student, I would be inspired to use this film as a cross study tool to dissect the differences between the Malays in Singapore and the Malays in Malaysia. But I am not. Hence what I have now are just post-watching-Abang-film-reflections-25-years-later-as-an-adult-Singaporean-Malay-in-Malaysia. It may be a candid observation, it may be discerning, it may also be bias. But it is just my observation through my eyes and my perspective of the film in relation to my life experiences on both sides of the causeway.
In 1981, when the film Abang was produced, Singapore Malays were going through the final stages of relocation from Malay kampungs especially in the eastern side of Singapore to government flats. Meritocracy rule under the then prime minister LKY meant that only those who can qualify and those who can afford it get to study up to tertiary level. And Malays back then were ‘famous’ or ‘infamous’ for the community in which it was common for each couple to have as many as 10 to 13 children. My own grandmother had 13 with my father being the eldest. Survival was the primary concern, university education was seen as a burden as children were rushed to finish school to quickly get a job to help contribute feeding the family. The vision of the Malay families in Singapore back then was simply, if I may–( in my limited knowledge and memory) sum up, to survive. I grew up in that era, lived through it and watched it as part of my father’s history. It was a community which struggled, and I was a part of it.
However, up there in Malaysia, late 70s to early 80s was the era where Malay boys especially, were returning home from their fully sponsored UK education. They were probably not the first batch who left after Merdeka, but the products of parents who had been the privileged ones who may also have had the same sponsored opportunities. With UK degrees and Anglo life experiences in hand, they returned home to the great independent motherland ready to change the social landscape with a gusto. They somehow formed the class we saw in the Abang film.
Now this is the interesting bit. 25 years down the road, as a person who lives in the very place where the film Abang was set, I found that NONE of the issues in the very same film Abang, watched 25 years ago is alien to me now. Whatever issues of the elite family of Dato Din, either I see it for myself here, or are depicted in the dramas here to mirror the elite or upper class society similar to the one we saw in Abang 1981. It’s like different cast, different costume but same plot–decades down the road.
On the contrary, I am typing this down in Singapore 25 years later where the Malays are no longer the same people they were 25 years ago. The society in which I was watching the film Abang in, no longer exists. My generation has emerged through the blood, sweat, tears and struggles of our parents who had a vision further than that of our grandparents’. Meritocracy driven struggle has brought about the sociological metamorphosis of the Malay community here to a different socio-economic and spiritual standing into that of a much higher level than they were in 25 years ago. Different costume, different cast, different plot. In literary terms, we use the term ‘plot progression’.
I cannot fully articulate it at this moment ( it is past 3 am where it is more beneficial for me to do tahajjud instead of blogging! ), but I cannot help but begin to understand the differences between the term ‘regression’ and ‘progression’ which to my understanding today, after watching the film Abang 25 years later is that it has alot to do with struggle and faith. That one society remains stagnant and still dealing with the same old issues, while the other morphs and continues to morph with new challenges and new plot.