Tanda Putera: History or fiction?

Mahdzir Ibrahim
Free Malaysia Today
September 4, 2013

How can Finas justify this work by Shuhaimi Baba, investing millions of ringgit and in the process jeopardising our racial harmony. For what? The truth?


I’ve watched Tanda Putera. Aside from wanting to know what the hype was about this film, I considered the price of the ticket as my contribution in support local filmmakers. Hopefully, the small amount I paid, to some extent, will be able to help develop the local film industry.

According to media reports, Tanda Putera cost around RM4.5 million, with the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) contributing RM2.5 million and the Multimedia Development Corporation RM2 million, excluding sponsorship from GLCs such as MAS.

With that huge amount of investment, the technical aspects of the film was far from satisfying. The quality of computer generated images were messy. The settings, props and costumes also fell short of capturing the atmosphere of the 60/70s era, unlike Bukit Kepong or Leftenan Adnan. Is it because the producers wanted to save on budget?

After watching it, I wondered if the film was about the history of May 13, or something else?

There were the infamous scenes depicting youths urinating on a flag pole. But, it’s not clear if this incident really took place or derived from historical facts. If true, where and what is the source? Before this, we never heard about it. So we want to know the facts, either from police reports or notes by historians.

It is not clear from the scene where the flag pole is located. Was is it in the compound of Harun Idris’ (Selangor Chief Minister) residence or at the government office or a hawkers area? If it is linked to the residence, it’s probably an assumption just because the pole is flying the Selangor flag. Or, is the urination scene a figment of the director’s imagination?

According to an eyewitness account by one Habib Ahmad, based in Kampung Baru at that time, it is almost impossible that the incident took place in the Menteri Besar’s residence.

So, if it did not happen at the residence of the Chief Minister, then where did it happen, if at all it did? This scene is not a stunt that can be fictionalised. It is directly related to the history of May 13.

The events of May 13 intensified early in the movie seem to incite anger and portrays the opposition as cooperating with the communists. Communists and opposition parties are painted with the image of the Chinese as well as the DAP logo emblazoned here and there in that particular scene. A reminder to the director – DAP is not a communist party. DAP is opposed to any struggle through the use of weapons.

Director owes viewers an explanation

I thought that this film would retell the May 13 incident in chronological order and include solid witness reports. I was hopng it would provide a clearer picture about what really happened. But the director abandoned the topic of May 13 halfway through the movie. The topic was dropped after embedding the DAP logo and the image of communists in viewer’s minds.

The rest of the movie revolves around Tun Razak’s family and his friendship with Tun Dr Ismail, and several brief scenes about his efforts in creating Felda, the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the struggle to fight the communists.

The characters of Razak and Ismail were well cast and played by Rusdi Ramli and Zizan Nin. I could not see or understand the significance between the incidents of May 13 and Razak’s legacy.

If this film is not about the history of May 13, is it about Razak and his friend Ismail? If that were so, certainly more time should have been spent developing the important and memorable contributions by Razak, such as his efforts to establish Felda.

Is this a fictional movie, hiding behind history and half-truths so that the director or producers need not be accountable to the audience or anyone? I can understand that any adaptation of the first source to another medium may be manipulated with elements of fiction to make it more entertaining.

However, the nuance between fact and fiction should be clear. But in this film, fiction and fact were mixed and messed up. Anyone not familiar with the history of May 13 will assume that all the scenes are 100% based on facts.

Finally, I would like to ask director Shuhaimi Baba what this film is all about? History or fiction? I’m entitled to an explanation because Tanda Putera is funded by tax payers’ money collected by the government from all races, Malay, Chinese, Indian, even from Umno, DAP and PKR members, Muslims, non-Muslims, the poor and rich.

If this is a historical film, then it belongs to the people and they are entitled to an explanation. If it is fiction, the director must be responsible for the images or scenes in her work. I support freedom of expression and freedom of creativity and I will defend the right of Shuhaimi Baba, if she is honest.

Nevertheless, I wonder how Finas can justify this film, investing millions of ringgit and in the process jeopardise racial harmony. For what? The truth?

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 4:21 am

    The over 1/2 century history of the ruling party is one of perpetual factionalism and power struggle amongst it members based on personal pride, ambition feeling of entitlement to secure positions including the top post/prize – and with them the benefits of patronage- over the rivals. So if Professor Clive is talking about regime “implosion” represented by May 13 1969, yes it was, but implosion is not a one off phenomenon. Due to characteristic power struggle/factionalism, it is always tend to head towards that but never quite reaching there – thanks to the saving formula of Ketuanan set firmly after events of May 13 1969 used as jutification.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 4:37 am

    Ethnocentric Ketuanan ideology must exist so that the organisation whose DNA is perpetual factionalism/power struggle towards implosion within could avoid reaching that tipping point of being booted out by opposition into the political abyss. Which means that every time nearing this tipping point of actual implosion, the formula of Ketuanan -leveraging on fears of its majority constituents of loss of political dominance to others- could be used to rally unity / support behind it from being pushed over the edge into the opposition benches. As the real May 13 set this framework based on raison de etre of Ketuanan, even if there is no real May 13 – because too much is at stake nowadays to afford it – then, in times nearing that tipping point, a fictional one in the controversial Tandas Putra will suffice as practical substitute, to remind and serve the same purpose of regime maintenance as against change.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 4:51 am

    Which is why national unity based on multiracialism is always paid lip service, the hypocrisy of which is so glaring that it imposes on even the naïveté. Its getting farther at national level because the worst of communal politics based on divide and rule learnt by our elites from Colonial masters must be allowed to sustain in order to preserve the party in perpetual political dominance, and not being actually pushed in a GE over the abyss, thus losing the very power necessary for the intra party fun and games (ie jockeying for power/positions) to continue and play out in line with the dictates of that DNA.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 5:06 am

    The above postings address issues raised in both preceding Clive Kessler’s “Regime Crisis and not just race riot” as well as Mahdzir’s comments here. History or fiction? Probably both, serving the same cause.

  5. #5 by Loyal Malaysian on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 8:31 am

    It is history to the UMNOputras but as thinking rakyat we not treat it as such.
    Tanda Putera is perhaps more suitable to be trashed!!

  6. #6 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 9:02 am

    ///There were the infamous scenes depicting youths urinating on a flag pole. But, it’s not clear if this incident really took place or derived from historical facts.///

    “Historical facts”??!! Hey bro, it was based on rumour / stories spread by umno.

    And about the budget of 4.5m lets face it. With umno all costs will balloon by a factor of 20. (A 2,000 ringgit laptop was supplied to an umno institution for 40,000.) So really the 4,500,000 sum on record is in reality only 225,000 ringgit in hand. And what happened to the rest? No guesses needed. We know the answer. Dont we?

    Umno thought it was a good idea to release the movie to the public. Actually, not many people watched it. And that was completely contrary to what umno had imagined the situation would be – the long queue for tickets etc etc.

    And so far I have yet to read anything positive about the movie. The most ridiculous (stupid, really) comment of course came from nazri who proclaimed the movie to be a true historical record when the director herself said it was a fictionalised piece of work.

  7. #7 by undertaker888 on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 10:28 am

    To 47% of the people it is the truth. The other 51% this is Tandas Pundek. The other 2% are foreigners and phantoms. They don’t have a clue.

    Syiok sendiri movie is what they are good at. Let’s make movies and put in YouTube on our version of truth.

  8. #8 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 10:45 am

    I like the idea of someone making a Tanda Putera 2 and putting it online and even charging a nominal price for it..Bet you many will just pay rather than just get the pirated version which is what I will be doing to check the so called ‘facts’..

    Buy pirated Tanda Putera, don’t go see the movie at the theatre.

  9. #9 by sotong on Thursday, 5 September 2013 - 11:38 am

    It’s about everything….up to your interpretation and imagination.

    It should educate not politise to further create division, hatred and confusion….what a waste of taxpayers’ money.

    Only criminals are afraid to face the real truth.

  10. #10 by boh-liao on Sunday, 8 September 2013 - 1:25 am

    Of course, dis piss of crap is d prized possession of UmnoB which will always use it n screen it to Malays before each general election 2 brainwash them 2 hate DAP while they vote 4 UmnoB

    To thinking M’sians, dis piss of crap is another reason why racist UmnoB must b BURIED n voted OUT 4 d sake of a better Malaysia dat truly appreciates racial unity (rather than now when UmnoB continues 2 polarise n segregate d nation based on Ketuanan Melayu n UmnoB-supported lies)

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