THE REAL FIGHT FOR MERDEKA
by Azmi Sharom
Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka is more than a simple history lesson, for the struggle of the left in 1940s Malaya has a resonance today in 21st century Malaysia.
THE other day, I went to the royal gala screening of Shuhaimi Baba’s 1957 Hati Malaya. Needless to say, the affair was a glittering one; lots of beautiful people in beautiful clothes swanking around.
Not being beautiful, and dressed in a T-shirt and kung-fu shoes, I quietly sneaked into the cinema and waited for the movie to start.
Now, I would love to say I was moved by the film, that my withered little heart thumped in my chest to the beat of the Negaraku, but I can’t. It was not a bad film in the Ed Wood sense of the term, but it could have been much better.
For a story that any Malaysian with even the vaguest sense of history would know, making the story compelling is bound to be difficult. And it was a difficulty that the director and the scriptwriters could not surmount.
I gather that Shuhaimi Baba intended this film to be an awareness-raising experience for the younger generation who might not know the history of our quest for independence. I guess from that perspective she has succeeded.
However, the way it was told was very much this tale that has been drilled into our heads in the classroom and at any opportunity the powers-that-be get to remind us about how they and only they won our independence. If that is what you want, then that is what you’ll get. By all means, do buy a ticket and enjoy.
But if you want to know about the unsung heroes who fought the British and were calling for independence, then please check out Fahmi Reza’s superb Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka (http://10tahun.blogspot.com).
This is a documentary made with a budget probably smaller than that for Maya Karin’s make-up and wardrobe but with a heart bigger than Onn Jaafar’s songkok.
It tells of Malaya’s left-wing consisting of groups like Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya, Angkatan Pemuda Insaf, Angkatan Wanita Sedar, the Malayan Indian Congress (yes, that MIC) and the trade unions of the time, fighting not only the Malayan Union but also the Federation of Malaya. Fighting with the call for Merdeka.
Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka fills in an important gap in our general knowledge of Malayan history. It tells the poignant yet inspiring tale of those who battled but lost. And because history is written by the victors, their contributions and their sacrifices have been ignored for too long.
For a first time film-maker, Fahmi Reza has been able to create an absorbing and involving story by skilfully piecing together interviews with the surviving individuals of the left from that era, archival footage, and whatever supporting visuals that could be captured from present-day locations.
All backed by a soundtrack that is as fitting as it is unexpected (The Sex Pistols and The Clash for a Malaya history film? Incongruous perhaps, but it works).
It is a fascinating story culminating in the 1947 drafting of the People’s Constitution by this coalition of the left as an alternative to the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya, and a nationwide hartal (general strike) that saw significant parts of the country stop working for a day in a potent show of political dissent when the British refused to acknowledge the alternative constitution. (Who says protesting isn’t part of our nation’s make-up?)
The People’s Constitution was an amazingly progressive document that demanded independence, with equal political rights, a new nationality of “Melayu”, equal citizenship rights and an inter-ethnic council with the job of getting rid of all racially discriminating laws.
It was a truly Malayan document designed to create a nation consisting of Malayans.
The concept of a Bangsa Malaysia existed in 1947.
The hartal which scared the British into taking harsh measures like declaring an emergency and imprisoning and deporting the men and women involved was also an eye-opener.
It was embraced by the people of the country across ethnic lines and goes to show that ordinary Malaysians of the time were politically courageous and willing to accept the progressive, liberal and inclusive People’s Constitution.
Fahmi Reza’s sympathies are clear in the film. It is however not heavy-handed, and at the screening I went to, his call to the audience was for them to not take his word that this is what happened but to research it themselves.
This they should do of course, but this film remains an excellent place to start.
At the end of the day, Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka is more than a simple history lesson, for the struggle of the left in 1940s Malaya has a resonance today in 21st Century Malaysia.
Some of the scenes – like the pro-British press belittling the people’s movement and their call for equality and independence; the vicious and arrogant measures taken by the colonial masters – look all too familiar.
It all drives home the old cliché that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps that is the lesson we, old and young Malaysians, have to learn.
Sumber: Akhbar The Star, 15 Nov 2007
Khamis, November 15, 2007
THE REAL FIGHT FOR MERDEKA