Director so nervous he could hardly sleep

Director so nervous he could hardly sleep

At the age of 90, Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad can add "actor" to his list of achievements.

In September, the former politician will make his big screen debut in the Malaysian movie Kapsul.

The movie, which blends sci-fi and history and which opens in cinemas in Malaysia on Sept 17, highlights the struggles and determination of the Malays in Malaysia before its independence.

At the centre of the film is a conniving businessman named Zohri (played by Malaysian actor Faizal Hussein) who steals and attempts to open a time capsule, after which he is transported back in time through the decades circa pre-independence, starting from the Japanese Occupation in 1942.

Zohri meets with several of the country's prime ministers along his journey, including Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who plays himself.

Although Kapsul is not strictly political, it is inspired by a time capsule that was buried by Dr Mahathir in 1995 at the administrative capital of Putrajaya, to be opened in 2020.

The move was part of Wawasan 2020, his vision that for a self-sufficient and industrialised Malaysia by 2020.

Getting him to agree to a role, even one that involved only five scenes, seemed like a long shot and the crew were shocked when they received a thumbs-up in March.

More surprisingly, Dr Mahathir, known for his peppery leadership style, was said to be a pleasure to work with on set.

"We were all intimidated, but he was nothing but friendly, humble and professional. We shot for three hours and he barely took a break, even though we frequently offered him a chair to sit on between scenes," producer and visual effects director Amru Najmi Osman, 42, told The New Paper in a phone interview from Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Mahathir's scenes - all top-secret, by the way - were shot within a day in May at Perdana Leadership Foundation building in Putrajaya.

Mr Amru said that while Dr Mahathir has speaking parts, they did not tax him with a lengthy dialogue.

He declined to elaborate on the scenes and would only say: "It added extra impact to the film."

Kapsul's 30-second official trailer includes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Dr M at the end, showing him patting Zohri's shoulder.

Kapsul, shot with a budget of RM2.3 million (S$830,000), began filming in January last year and wrapped up two months ago. It was shot mostly in Perak, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. For Dr Mahathir's scenes, the crew filmed with four cameras instead of the usual two, as an extra precaution to avoid the need for re-takes.


This included a drone, which the crew later allowed their star to test drive when they learnt he was fond of drones.

They need not have worried - Dr Mahathir was a one-take man.

He performed his part dutifully and stuck to his script with no changes.

But a jittery Mr Amru admitted that he had trouble sleeping before the big day.

"Anything can change and I was so nervous. It really felt like a dream that he agreed. We are talking about a great, influential man who agreed to be in our film," he said.

Another unexpected moment came when Dr Mahathir joined the crew for a catered lunch when filming wrapped up for the day.

"We were taken aback and immediately panicked. You can't simply serve Tun Dr Mahathir food on paper plates," said Mr Amru with a laugh.

The crew managed to secure him for Kapsul only after months of failed attempts and false hopes.

Mr Amru got in touch with his special officers by e-mail in August last year and the latter replied that "Tun (Dr Mahathir's title) must be included in the movie".

In March, the much-awaited confirmation call came and filming arrangements were discussed.

"I think it was truly God's will that he agreed and maybe he saw that it showed how the Malays progressed towards independence and beyond," said Mr Amru.

He added: "My hope is for at least 15 million people in the nation to watch the movie and that the message is delivered - we all have to unite and stand together."

This article was first published on July 27, 2015.
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