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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The film that has Gubra-fied a nation

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Image hosting by Photobucket"Gubra" (or 'Anxiety' in English), Yasmin Ahmad's second film, has been a talking point in the media, as well as in the Malaysian blogsphere. It's been labeled a wide variety of things: from brilliant to blasphemous, from insightful to insulting; indeed it has had a far reaching effect on those that have seen it, as well as those who haven't, but whom have formed their own opinions based on what they've heard, read and gleened from the TV talk show that discussed Yasmin's work (Fenomena Seni, on TV1).

It has opened the eyes and hearts of some, while for others it has reinforced them shut. In other words, the movie has made Malaysia Gubra-fied. You probably won't find this word in Webster's, Wiki, or Dewan Bahasa. But I reckon you catch Walski's drift.

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, would know the general synopsis of the film, so I won't bother repeating it here. If you have been living under a rock, you can read what the movie's all about (story-wise) here and here (in addition to the film's website).

From a technical movie-making viewpoint of a movie buff (i.e. Walski), there are a few areas that could have made Gubra a better film. There could have been a tad bit more soundtrack use to buffer to too-long pregnant pauses between dialog lines. The editing could've been tighter, and the acting, while brilliant overall, had its occassional pitfalls. Pete Teoh's soundtrack was superb, but there just wasn't enough of it. To put things into perspective, though, that's just one Walski's opinion.

But Gubra is not just about a movie from a technical viewpoint. It is a lot, lot more than that. It is a film that speaks volumes in the multi-layered messages it projects through the dual storyline; in itself the parallel stories mirror the duality of life - what we think/know we are in our own eyes/mind, and the persona we show the rest of the world. And sometimes the twain don't meet - just like the story lines.

The literalist Islamist and tradition-bound Malays have criticized this film as being insulting to Islam and Malays, particularly young Malay females. Among other things, they've criticized the fact that the character of Bilal should've acted like the stereotypical religious official and done something harsh about the lifestyles of Temah and Kiah, two "working girls" that are central to one storyline. That the Bilal should have set the religious authorities upon them, and therefore the character of Bilal neglected his Islamic responsibility of "amar ma'ruf, nahi munkar" (Arabic, lit. 'doing good, [and] forbidding/preventing evil'). While not the real or literal meaning, "amar ma'rauf, nahi munkar" to me has developed the connotation of moral policing. And it is the lack of this very connotation that has gotten the knickers of our literalists-Islamists bandied up in a painful knot, strangling the family jewels of their literalist view.

The most scathing 'review' (to use the term very loosely) has to be from author Faisal Tehrani, originally written on his eponymous blog - "Gubra Yang Sesat Lagi Menyesatkan" (translation: 'Gubra, lost and misleading' - lost & misleading from a religious p.o.v). In fact, it has become the definitive anti-Gubra rhetoric, quoted by Islamist bloggers such as Pakdi and MENJ, and even reproduced on Harakah online. God is beneficient and merciful - that's how the film opens - in His name. Faisal Tehrani, though, reminds us of the vengeful and wrathful characteristics of God - the view of God that many literalist-Islamists seem to accept more readily. But at least Faisal Tehrani has seen the film.

In treating the characters of Temah and Kiah, Yasmin's message here is crystal clear: women do not enter into prostitution because of their loose morals. Not because they are "gatal" (slutty). It is something they reluctantly engage in, either by circumstance or by force. Why or how the two are prostitutes is not revealed, and remains a question mark. What is clear, though, is that Bilal and his wife are sympathetic to their particular circumstance.

It is also this sympathy and tolerance that has gotten the literalist-Islamists riled up. But never does Bilal encourage them. And neither does his caring, and dare-I-say feminist, wife, Maznah. Probably something a bit too deep for sheep to understand, perhaps. They would have preferred a more uncompromising, heavy-handed, fire and brimstone Bilal... not the caring humanitarian and loving husband portrayed in the film.

Another point of contention is the claim that the character of Orked is an insult to Malay women. Interestingly enough, no one even mentioned what a total hypocritical bastard her husband is. Why? Perhaps it's because Orked does not fall into the fatalist mentality a traditional Malay wife is supposed to have.

According to some, as a "good Muslim wife" she has to accept her husband's remorse. But it is obvious that his remorse is not so much because he knows he has done Orked wrong, but because he got caught. It is perhaps this two-faced attitude that the trapped-in-tradition Malay mind chooses to ignore.

Was Orked too unforgiving? Perhaps. But she saw the real stuff her husband Arif was made of, and decided "that's not the kind of man I want to spend the rest of my days with". Especially when he agreed to degrade his "Pensonic client", in Orked's presence, so as to win Orked back. Remember the phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn"?

On a slightly humorous off-topic note: my mental image of Pensonic will never be the same again!

Another characteristic of Orked that did not go down too well with many is that she keeps the memory of Jason; her love for him never dies. In the view of the tradion-chained minds, once you are married you leave your past behind as if it never happened. But the reality of it is that as humans, we don't leave it all behind. The tradition-chained mid would have preferred this cherished, loving memory to have been swept under the carpet.

One interesting personal observation Walski made, and perhaps only meaningful to Walski: the Malay man in the hospital, who (presumably) died at the end. His bed number was 42 - the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Maybe sheer coincidence, but if it isn't, then the ultimate question to Walski would be:

What is the one thing that all mankind will experience at some point in their life, regardless of race, status, or religion?

Answer: We die

Okay, that was probably a bit of a stretch. But it did makes sense to Walski. And it is an eventuality for all of us, regardless of whether one is a holier-than-thou bigot, a pig-eating infidel, or a secularist who believes in God. Eventually, we all die.

And so, is Gubra a movie to be feared? Is it a film that will corrupt the mind of the Malay traditionalist? Or the literalist Islamist? These were the questions posed by Fenomena Seni in their broadcast some weeks back. And to me the answer is YES. YES, that is, if you're a literalist Islamist Malay caught in the chains of tradition.

Which is probably not a bad thing. At the very least, Gubra will activate those dormant brain cells and make us THINK. To use that God-given intellect, so long dormant because we've been expected to behave like sheep. To be led, and to follow, without question. We've been taught from young that to question is to doubt, and to doubt is to sin. And that has for so long been ingrained in our psyche, to the extent that any afront to the ideal of being sheep is met with violent opposition.

myAsylum's verdict: it is a film that may not be perfect, but for a Malaysian, it is a must-see. It may have its flaws, but these mirror the many flaws we have as human beings. It may not a comforting film to watch, but it is indeed meaningful.

To Yasmin - thank you for making us think. Thank you for showing us that Islam may just be a tad bit more than just the fire and brimstone stuff. Thank you for for showing us that piety and love are two sides of the same coin. Thank you for reminding us that life is both ugly and beautiful, frequently at the same time.

And this last one's specifically from Walski: Yasmin - thanks for that wonderful Pete Teoh song "Who for You?" that was chosen for the closing credits. The haunting Nick Drake-ish song to underline the fact that in joy there can be sadness, and in sadness there can also be joy. Such is the duality of this life. A duality that has Gubra-fied the nation.