A review of ‘Tanda Putera’, a film that takes liberties with the truth

By Erna Mahyuni
The Malay Mail Online
September 1, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 — For Merdeka, I watched Shuhaimi Baba’s docu-drama “Tanda Putera”. Fourteen other people were in the cinema at GSC Paradigm Mall in Petaling Jaya at 11.30am.

I am unsure if any of them enjoyed the film, though an elderly Chinese gentleman in the audience walked out halfway. My one regret is that I could not do the same. The heart of “Tanda Putera” is the friendship of the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, played by Rusdi Ramli and Zizan Nin respectively.

Sadly, neither of the actors was up to the mark, but more on that later.

To call this revisionist history would be too kind. “Tanda Putera” is a poorly written, abysmally researched train wreck that makes our local soap operas look like arthouse films.

What amazes me is that it cost RM5 million to make this schlock.

Let me first start with the writing. The dialogue is cringe worthy and I am unsure if it is properly representative of the times. At a critical juncture, an aide described civil unrest as a ‘tension’ situation. Oh my bahasa.

There is no proper use of narrative in the script. Flashbacks are dumped into the film willy-nilly (possibly to keep the audience from sleeping), nonsensical subplots and completely superfluous characters abound with the last half hour dedicated to the deterioration of Razak’s health.

What Shuhaimi attempts to do is paint her impressions of the era and for the first time in film, address Umno’s favourite bogeyman: May 1969.

The problem here is that “Tanda Putera” makes no attempt at nuance. There is no balance; it is a limited and unabashedly prejudiced view of history, painting Malays to be put-upon, virtuous and generous people who have to put up with the ungrateful Chinese so easily swayed by the evil Communists.

To top off a horrid script, we have an ensemble cast with the collective expressiveness of IKEA furniture. Rusdi Ramli’s attempt at ‘method’ acting consists of him speaking in an unconvincing ‘old-time’ accent where he pronounces ‘rahsia’ (secret) as ‘reh-sia’ and having just two expressions. Either he is smiling with teeth or looking constipated. Like Keanu Reeves, for Rusdi there is no in-between.

Zizan Nin as Ismail fares no better. His forced camaraderie with Rusdi comes across as a parody of bromance, with a total absence of chemistry. A third of the film is just long, awkward dialogues where both men conspire to keep their wives (and the whole nation) in the dark about their respective health conditions.

The biggest travesty about Shuhaimi’s script is that it paints two of our greatest statesmen as pompous idiots who do not trust their wives.

And the Chinese and the DAP are mostly painted as radical subversives out for Malay blood and total dominion of the country. The ‘communist leader’ is never even given a name, as obviously it is easier to have just one Chinese baddie represent them all.

What about the women in the film? Both Razak and Ismail’s wives are miscast. You have a casting problem when supposed middle-aged women look younger than their teenaged children.

It isn’t all horrible acting, though. Ida Nerina as the stenographer Jah manages to out-act the entire “Tanda Putera” cast in her one minute of screen time.

Also difficult to believe is that Shuhaimi is an experienced director when the overall production value of “Tanda Putera” is the level of a first-year film student. The video-editing is sloppy, old footage is dropped into the film without proper context and looks out of place and there are so many stereotypical devices to the point of unintentional comedy.

For instance, characters show they are dying by either coughing blood or being unable to balance a teacup and saucer. The death scenes are badly done to the point of parody, making you think the director or actors have never seen someone actually die.

All the assassinations of senior police officials seem to happen on the same street, in the same car. Makes you think they should have put up a sign saying, “Do not stop at this junction or a Chinese communist on a motorcycle will shoot you.”

This film makes no mention of the fact that the Malayan Communist party had Malays in their ranks as well, even in their senior leadership.

But apart from all the artistic and technical problems, my biggest gripe is that “Tanda Putera” is a government-funded piece of propaganda masquerading as an artistic work based on ‘history’.

Sure, films like “Braveheart” and “Black Hawk Down” put entertainment value over factual accuracy. But they are well-made films that are at least worth the price of admission. “Tanda Putera” has no redeeming value whatsoever. It does not entertain, neither does it enlighten.

Instead, the film is a sad reminder that there are few cinematic works about our nation’s history. It should not be banned but screened as a challenge to anyone who thinks they can do a better job, because someone needs to offer an answer to this slapdash insult to all the people who lived and died for our country — including the non-Malays and yes, the Communists.

Watch “Tanda Putera” if you must, but I fear that if you’re not Malay, all this movie will leave you with is either anger or sadness that some would consider this film truthful in any way.

  1. #1 by negarawan on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 8:56 am

    Shuhaimi Baba, the pathetic response to your schlock of a movie clearly shows that you do not have much talent. You do not have the vision, talent, and charisma of great movie producers like Yasmin Ahmad. Yasmin Ahmad is remembered for promoting universal love in her movies, breaking ethnic and religious lines. Such is a great movie producer highly respected by all Malaysians.

    On the other hand, you’re a mediocre wannabe, who are overpaid by UMNO with taxpayers money, to make films that are packed with historical inaccuracies, pathetic cinematography, and D-class actors to spread UMNO lies. Your films only create more divisions among the people of Malaysia. Worst of all, you do not have the humility to accept criticism and are pretty arrogant, very typical of UMNO cronies.

    We greatly miss Yasmin Ahmad.

  2. #2 by pulau_sibu on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 9:07 am

    we are to be refrained from talking about sensitive issue? but the government is making a film to scare the people? who should be taken to court? I heard about an account of may 13 by ghafar baba’s son during the election.

    whatever may 13 was, sarawak was peaceful at that time. we heard of it only much later during the late 70’s. i must say the racial climate in sarawak has never been tense, even now. because we don’t have a party like arm-know. despite all the corruption accusations on taib, he has been a more honest leader in terms of non-money issues.

    may 13 is more like the Japanese invasion on china and korea, taking their women as comfort ladies, etc. Japan never admitted the wrong doing and yet bringing the issues up frequently, even changing history books, etc to annoy the chinese/koreans. more recently, Japan is seen as preparing to invade china/korea again (trying to take thir islands), not to mention about insulting time ever since. who wants to live togther in harmony with such a japanese?

  3. #3 by sheriff singh on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 12:32 pm

    Next it will be shown in all schools as part of their ‘civics’ or ‘History’ curriculum, and a compulsory item in the BTN programme. Even all National Service trainees will be required to view the movie and pass an assessment test after that. All in the name of ‘Nation Building’.

  4. #4 by worldpress on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 1:03 pm

    Brainwash movie with lies

  5. #5 by waterfrontcoolie on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 3:16 pm

    Look it this way, it is the ONLY show left before the General UMNO Assembly; so all their candidates are going to add more drama to the film itself! As for the rest of us, let us take this as the desperate attempt to bluff the majority of Malaysians that without them, the Malays would have had been a long forgotten lot but because of them, they are able to Stand Tall! And to STAND TALL and be seen they need CASH to convince the world as most of them don’t think much of them! This is the only way to tell the world; hence some corruption should be acceptable; well it is a lesser evil! We can all wait to see the finality of this mode of empowering a race!

  6. #6 by silat88 on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 3:36 pm

    of course lets blame it on the scape goat.
    can the Chinese do a movie from the other side of the coin and release it to the public or will it be deemed seditious ?
    wat a joke, Malaysia with this ruling party will never develop like Singapore so long as it keeps having a chip on their shoulder. They have to keep patting themselves on the back to feel good.
    just remember self praise is no praise

  7. #7 by bryanbb on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 4:12 pm

    An accurate depiction of events that exploded into a racial conflict and the relationship between 2 of our country’s political icons.?

    Tale from the 2 Babas, Tamrin and Shuhaimi…the movie’s plot just smells like a “Red herring” when a smelly stinky fish is dragged down a street to divert attention away from something..( here it is painting an alternative truth)

    Like what/who were really responsible for May 13.
    Tamrin Baba’s revelations had a credible ring of one with access to direct intimate knowledge that he revealed to the public on the real reasons behind the May 13 incident. that it was not merely a racial conflict but a diabolical plot within UMNO, A successful “coup” orchestrated against the Tunku plotted by some , then young Turks in UMNO., that ultimately led to his downfall- which the late Tunku also revealed in an interview years later.

    Shuhaimi Baba’s red herring is the sub plot of the friendship of the 2 political icons, diversionary ploy while 1st part of the movie was insinuating the “truth” of May13 into the psyche of receptive minds or upon those not so internet savvy, just ask , where were the screenings done before and the ethnic composition of the test audiences ?

    So ., Come on..Who are we kidding? The movie is as political and as racist they come in attempting to drive the Malay community support away from DAP and back to UMNO ..via insinuating that DAP is associated with the communist bogeyman , and as Chinese as Mao Tse Tung..?


  8. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 4:33 pm

    We spent millions if not billions on MSC but none of our Universities even crawl into the Asian Region of the IBM sponsored ACM contest year in and year out! Of the latest TOP 50 [2013] at the International level, we have Indonesia and Singapore representing Asean; and in the Top !00, we have Vietnam!
    Among the Top 50, we have 15 China’s universities; 12 Russian, 7 USA; 2 Japan, 3 Poland, 2 each from Canada, South Korea, Brazil and Ukraine.
    The Champion seems to be shared between China and Russia who is champion this year; after China took the past 2 years.The surprise is India offered 6 universities mostly in the 3rd and 4th quadrants of top 100.
    Among the top 100, we have universities from Chile, Egypt and Iran [ thought only for Islamic Studies]; Cuba with 2 [ well by now they had given up on Communist ideology[?] Yes continue to create our kind of UNIBERSITI that bring along all the social problems and the show under debate, which most of us would have tolerated if it were to be produced during the 60s of the last Century!

  9. #9 by worldpress on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 7:06 pm

    It mean they have no objection to live a life full of lies. They respect great LIARS

  10. #10 by tuahpekkong on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 8:56 pm

    Judging from the response, I wonder if the ticket collection can come up to 10% of the production cost. UMNO needs a bogeyman in order to solidify its support among the Malays and the Chinese are the most convenient scapegoats. With the Ringgit dropping to all-time lows against the Singapore Dollar, it is more advisable to spend time to work out ways to address our economic woes rather than waste time on the hate Chinese campaigns.

  11. #11 by sheriff singh on Sunday, 1 September 2013 - 11:59 pm

    To make sure the movie is box office ‘hit’, I hear that UMNO will soon make it compulsory for all its 4 million members to watch the movie to ‘understand the struggles and sacrifices’ of you know who. At say RM 10 a piece, that will be RM 40 million in the bank. The money will come from ‘sponsors’ of course who will also sponsor students, youth groups and the like. It will soon be a ‘must see’ movie especially in the run-up to the UMNO elections. Why maybe Obama will get to see it when he comes.

    Endless possibilities.

  12. #12 by Noble House on Monday, 2 September 2013 - 5:00 am

    May13th has nothing to do with race. It only happened in Selangor, not elsewhere in other states. The same modus operandi is used since 1968 whenever UMNO B loses its Malay support. Just blame the Chinese for everything and anything that comes to mind. It is also about ousting the Prime Minister from office.

  13. #13 by undertaker888 on Monday, 2 September 2013 - 11:50 am

    Probably they should consult with the Jews to make the movie more believable, if not, more entertaining. Like Steven Spielberg, etc.

    Like 1malaysia, 1israel endless possibilities thingy.

You must be logged in to post a comment.