Reel women, real Malaysians

Reel women, real Malaysians

Seeing Fatimah Abu Bakar, 59, hanging out with her four talented daughters is like watching a Malaysian version of the Kardashians. The girls are loud, funny and opinionated. Unlike the latter, however, they are down-to-earth talents with a strong aversion to glamour.

Fatimah, a former journalist, consultant and veteran actress from Penang, is proud that her daughters - radio announcer, actress and TV host Sharifah Aleya, 31, actress-filmmaker Sharifah Amani, 28, actress Sharifah Aleysha, 21, and student-actress Sharifah Aryana, 18 - have all followed in her footsteps and become stars in their own right.

Each of the girls has had at least a role in some of the country's most memorable movies, such as Selubung, Idola, Trauma, Mimpi Moon, Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam, Talentime, Muallaf and Mukhsin.

Amani picked up the Most Promising Actress award in the 18th Malaysian Film Festival (2005) for her lead role in the late film director, writer and scriptwriter Yasmin Ahmad's critically-acclaimed Sepet, and the following year, the Best Actress award in Gubra (the sequel to Sepet).

It has been five years since Yasmin's passing, and the girls, who have all acted in her movies, are adamant in continuing her legacy by telling stories about real Malaysians.

What does being Malaysian mean to you?

Fatimah: We are "most Malaysian" when we are abroad. Being Malaysian means that it is okay to be different. It doesn't mean you are wrong. We are a tapestry of colours. If you remove even one thread, it won't be as beautiful. Everyone has something to give.

Aleya: Sometimes we don't realise how much freedom we have. If you have passion and drive, you can go as far as you want. Fifty-seven is still very young. We still have a long way to go with many more mistakes to make but we will learn and end up better than anyone else. That is the Malaysian spirit.

Amani: Being Malaysian is such a blessing. Our imperfections make us perfect. We have so many ways to express ourselves - through our food, art and culture. There is no other nation like ours. We are all individuals. We take influences from all over and still manage to make it Malaysian.

Aleysha: To be colourful. We are the most colourful nation in the whole wide world. We care about traditions. There is an abundance of colours and no matter which hue you mix and match, it will still look good. When you meet a fellow Malaysian abroad, you will click immediately because we just get each other no matter which race we belong to.

Aryana: To be honest and proud of where we came from.

Fatimah, you've stressed on being respectful and not intentionally hurting people's feelings. Do you think that is what this country is most lacking in?

Fatimah: Yes, increasingly so. But I don't know if we have really become more disrespectful as a nation or is it that such voices are only being amplified now because of social media. I am appalled, though, that I rarely hear "please, thank you and excuse me".

I always tell budding artistes: "How can you be big when you neglect the small things?" I am proud that young Malaysians are now daring to speak up - in entertainment, music, politics, whatever. They are coming out to lend their voices and rightfully so. And people of my generation and older should help make their path easier and not overstay our welcome. We must have faith that they have their own minds. Just because we do not agree with their opinions does not mean they are wrong.

What is the secret to making a movie everyone can relate to, a truly Malaysian production that unites?

Fatimah: Surround yourself with positive vibes. Don't belittle, ignore or label a person or community. There shouldn't be a rigid checklist on how to make a Malaysian movie but we must show our spirit, culture and language, warts and all. Be honest. Don't be afraid of our flaws. Experiment. I'd like to see the day when we no longer refer to someone as Malaysian Chinese or Malaysian Indian. It is Malaysian, period.

Aleya: If your intention is pure, you will touch someone. It doesn't matter which culture you come from, but be sincere and make movies from the heart. Movies like The Journey are so important. Even in music, we need to break down barriers, which artistes like Jaclyn Victor, Amir Jahari and DJ Fuzz have done. We have to keep pushing boundaries, like rapping in Negri Sembilan or Kelantan dialects.

Amani: I don't know. I don't think even Yasmin knew. She just told stories that she knew well... stories about herself. If you have the right intention, work with like-minded people and those who share the same values, be true to yourself and your country, you can make an interesting film. We are all humans who want stories we can relate to... stories that evolve.

Aleysha: If you portray life as it is, you will see unity. When you see another in pain no matter what race, you will help. The Journey wasn't about unity but it brought people together. The Journey was about a father and daughter relationship... it was about life. In the city, you see racist moments because we are surrounded by issues like the plight of the foreign workers but in places like Penang, you have a Hokkien-speaking Indian aunty selling pasembur. Performers should showcase themes of love, family and how people care for each other.

Aryana: You want to show foreigners who we are? You want to make a Malaysian film? Just walk around with a camera. There is no need to look for unity or to stress on it in a movie. It is there. We just need to chill out and continue living our lives. It doesn't matter whether you come from an Indian, Chinese or Malay background because if you talk about being human, everyone will get it. I want to tell stories about things I know, to let that honesty come through. I'm not sure which career path I want to take yet but I'd love to work with my sisters and harness all their talents. We are very driven.

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