The Big Durian premiere draws a full-house

By YS Tong
Sat Apr 26th, 2003

The premiere of The Big Durian by writer cum film-maker Amir Muhammad in
Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday night attracted a full-house. It was an evening
in which Amir compromised big screen experience for a 75-minute 'political'
show in what could be considered as rare in the local film scene.

The digital film featured 23 Malaysians who gave their accounts of an
incident o-n Oct 18, 1987 in which a soldier by the name of Private Adam ran
amok with an M16 rifle in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur.

This sparked off a city-wide fear about a racial riot amid political tension
within the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Chinese education issue

Several months before the incident, the Umno-led government had appointed
non-Mandarin speaking Chinese to hold senior administrative posts in Chinese
primary schools.

MCA, together with other Chinese-based parties, opposed vehemently to the

As a result, the political parties involved planned huge rallies to defend
the interests of the ethnic group whom they claimed to represent.

The tension eventually erupted in late October, with the government rounding
up more than 100 opposition leaders, activists, educationists and
environmentalists under the Internal Security Act in Operation Lalang.

Four newspapers also had their publishing permits suspended for fanning
racial sentiments.

After the film screening, Amir told an audience of some 130 people in the
Actors Studio auditorium in Kuala Lumpur that he had used a semi-documentary
approach where some characters were real and some fictional.

"It was to capture the atmosphere at the time - you were not sure what to
believe and what not to believe. There were so many theories to what had
happened, and many people were confused" he said.

Better understanding

He explained that the narration of the film was in Bahasa Melayu, though
English subtitles were provided throughout the show, because he wanted local
varsity students to better understand it.

"The last time I did a screening of my film in the local universities, the
students could not comprehend it so this is really for their benefit," he

He said The Big Durian was an extension from his last digital work called
6hots, a compilation of six short films which talked about, among others,
his thoughts about Islam, his experience of visiting ISA detainees in Perak
and his memory of a Chinese friend.

He also said he was not unduly worried about the film being labelled
pro-government or pro-opposition as he was just trying to reconstruct how
the people felt about that eventful October in 1987.

But he stressed that there was no objectivity in film-making and that every
process from script-writing to actual shooting would inevitably be injected
with his pre-conceived ideas about the incident.

Thorny subjects

Asked why the film was named The Big Durian, he said it was symbolic of the
issues addressed in the film - press freedom, mother-tongue education,
racial relation and the ISA - as they were all "thorny".

The film was produced by independent film-maker James Lee, with Rogayah
Shahariman and Sylvia Tan as the executive producers.

Malaysians featured in the film include theatre playwright and director Anne
James, malaysiakini columnist Dr Farish A Noor, activist Elizabeth Wong,
poet Namron, former broadcaster Patrick Teoh and director Rashid Salleh.


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