Saturday, June 21, 2014

ACTING DEBUTS - FEATURE FILM (MENANTI HARI ESOK)

Today, I am writing on a topic that has long been lingering on my mind.  These are layers of unspoken words.

I made a spontaneuous decision to leave the entertainment world, and thereon, became a publicity-shy recluse. I was content, and still am. Today, after years of absence, I am back, and sharing my thoughts, and past experiences, in this blog. This is somewhat strange, and unprecidented. Many are curious to know if this means that I am making a comeback. Well, not really!

My disappearance   
I left for a personal reason, and this had nothing to do with my life as an artist. Among other things, I discovered that my exit provided me with immense opportunities to focus on different aspects of life. 

Incidentally, I was raised in a home where Conventional and Traditional Medicines were practiced alongside. I decided to pursue seriously into the study, and research on Complementary Healthcare. This led to many discoveries, which in turn paved the way for me to devote my time to humanitarian work. This was the trend in my family, for generations.

My return
Today,  internet has become a necessity in life,  and there are numerous advantages, when wisely utilized. It can also make, or break a person, even a country. In the late 2008, while making a search on Google, I was surprised to find that my name was suddenly appearing more prominently. As much as I enjoyed being a recluse, I realized that I could not erase my past life, as a celebrity. 

Inadvertently, my songs became more alive on the radio and on You Tube. This was followed by EMI’s sudden releases of my hits compilations, in 2009 & 2011. Then, what I dreaded most, resurfaced. It was the feature film  ‘Menanti Hari Esok’ that I acted in, and the role was similar to the Joan Collins’ conniving role in Dallas, that everyone despised. 

When I saw a rescreening of the movie after a lapse of years, I regretted acting this role. Sometimes people tend to associate actors and actresses by the roles they play. This is inevitable, because I also have my own fixation about movies. I like Johnny Depp for the roles he played, but I'm not so keen to watch his movies without his subtle, sophisticated humour. 

After reconnecting with fans, I am pleased to know that they are matured enough to understand that I was merely acting a role. 

Subsequently, in April, this blog came into being. There are however, unanswered questions raised by loyal fans that needed to be addressed. They wish to know why I accepted the role, when I already reached the peak of my profession as a recording artist, TV singer/actress. 

Acting debuts
To answer this question, I now have to relive these moments again.Anyway, here are the answers - quite lengthy, actually. It started as a passion at the age of 5. I was already on stage singing, and acting in school concerts. I would often sneak into my mother’s room, and stand in front of the mirror mimicking different roles while singing. At 14, I used to dramatize on radio shows, and wrote a few drama scripts. My friends in school named me the ‘funny girl’, for my convincing mimics of some teachers. 

Obviously, my passion had always been in the arts and entertainment. I was able to realize the dream of becoming a singer, but what was left unfulfilled, was the desire to become an actress in a feature film. (Above) with Abdullah Chik in TV drama 'Wajah wanita'.

Comedy sitcoms
Serious acting stints actually began during my TV shows. I performed 7 comedies in my musical/sit-com series, and wrote most of the scripts. 

It was a real joy working with the RTM Producer, Helan Abu. He was creative, professional, and experienced. Without exception, filming took place specifically on time. (Left) - in a TV sit-com with the late Abdullah Chik and the late Ayappan.

TV Dramas
I continued my journey in acting, and acted in several TV dramas. I was pleased with the roles, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The TV producers were professional, and gentlemanly, except for one. He has departed from the world, and regrettably, there is no happy moment to reminisce.




(Below)  - in TV drama  'Cemburu'.
(Right) - with Rahim Razali in TV drama 'Yang mana satu'. 






Feature films
There were several acting offers in feature films. The late well-known film director, Omar Rojek, visited me once at my home, with his wife, and offered me a leading role in his movie. However, I turned down the offer, as I was beginning to establish my profession in the recording industry. 

This was followed by an offer from renowned film producers and directors - the late P. Ramlee, and Jins Shamsuddin. I met them including H. M Shah. They were starting the production of a film named ‘Sandira’, and I was offered a leading role. The role was challenging, and most ideal for me. Sadly, this film did not materialize due to internal problems within the company, that led to an eventual break-up.

‘Menanti Hari Esok’ - (Waiting for tomorrow)
Two years later, film director, Jins Shamsuddin offered me the role as a ‘guest star’ in the movie ‘Menanti Hari Esok’. A representative of PERFIMA, the film company, met me. I told that I would not be able to decide until I checked the script, and my role in the film. This was my precondition. 

The representative could not provide me with a full script, but instead, handed a few sheets of paper with dialogues involving my scenes. It was apparently a normal practice in the Malay film industry. Only skeletal scripts would be revealed, in order to ensure confidentiality of the plots. I was assured that upon signing the contact, I could view the actual script. I was told that if I was not happy with my scenes or dialogues, changes could be considered, and effected during filming.

Not a wise decision
Regrettably, I signed the contract, and it was not a wise decision on my part. As filming progressed,  I realized that the overall film was centred around me being a ‘baddy’ - smirking, frowning, or scowling at someone.There was hardly a shot of me looking happy, or smiling, except in the last scene, when I finally showed some remorse.

Behind the scenes
Contrary to my years of filming experience at TV Malaysia, I was surprised that filming conditions were extremely relaxed here. Many times camera could not roll on time, due to unforseen reasons, including casts turning up late for filming. On some occasions, filming was cancelled, without notice. IncidentallyI did not lay eyes on the promised script. It was changed several times, but not to my advantage. Production work unexpectedly stretched nearly two years. 

Premiere screening 
I did not attend the premiere screening, as I had aready moved on with my life. 

Praises
'Menanti hari esok'  turned out to be a box office movie. I saw the movie privately at a Penang theatre. Many commended me for a job well done, and press reviews were flattering. 






(Below, video featuring my song 'Kalong Emas' composed by Reggie Verghese (EMI), with visuals  of my scenes in the movie).

Remembered
I believe that a movie role can be complimentary, or otherwise, to the image of an actress. To this day, I am remembered for this antagonistic role in the movie. Coincidentally, all other acting performances in TV dramas, my funny roles in sit-coms, are totally forgotten, or unknown. These tapes have long been erased, by RTM. What remains of my memoir in acting, is this movie. 

To realize a dream, I ventured into something that could have been detrimental to my profession as a singer. Nonetheless, this was looked upon as  a 'no venture no gain' scenario in life. Afterall, I did gain the experience that I yearned for - as a silver screen actress ! 

Closure
Today,  I've stirred sudden interests in the movie.  Below,  some encouraging words recently posted by loyal fans/friends on my facebook, that finally brought closure to this chapter in my life. Thank you, guys.

22nd June 2014
RH - quote - "Kak Sarena, don't be so hard on yourself. We would always remember you in the best light. It is your songs that are etched in our minds for the rest of our lives.  At the end of the day, we would be listening to 'Bersama' and 'Jangan Menangis' over and over again. I must say I have seen MHE (Menanti hari esok) at least twice during those days, but I would not equate the role with you"

HL - quote - "Too bad you are not in other features so you can display more versatility but the people here are right, you are being too hard on yourself....so relax  sister"

Laid to rest
Now that I have spoken,  ‘Menanti hari esok’ shall be laid to rest, and will not be discussed again!
   
(Photos with compliments of RTM, News clippings from Utusan Malaysia, Star newspaper, The New Straits Times - 1977). Thank you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

BOLLYWOOD & EMI BOMBAY - KENANGAN MANIS

Sweet Memories - (Kenangan Manis)
Travelling to India, and being received as a VIP guest of EMI in Bombay, the ‘Bollywood’ city, was something to look forward to. I had long been fascinated by mystical India, its music, and histories. Even more so, after  I recorded many songs adapted from Hindi music, and also liked some of their movie classics.

Initially, I was a little apprehensive, after reading several hostile reviews about India. Somehow, this trip turned out to be an eye opener. After the experience I had, I pledged never to believe prejudicial reviews about any country. What were publicized could also be exaggerated. There are good people, and negative people everywhere, even in Malaysia. 

I was over-whelmed by the hospitality, and kindness that surrounded my entire visit, not only from the EMI people,  even those I met by coincidence. A young lady who was a total stranger from an Airline office in Bombay, became a friend. This friendship was sustained for many years.

Upon my return, I wrote lyrics recalling fond memories of my visit.  Below, the song ‘Kenangan Manis’.  

Sweet Memories
I recall memories of my visit there
Sweet memories when I visited the place
The hospitality and kindness I received, 
really astounded me
Although I noticed your country was 
not extraordinary 
Your hospitality  and kindness
were exceptional, and remembered

Your country is renowned for its antiquity
Anyone who sees it will surely be amazed  
by Taj Mahal and your charismatic movie stars
But your hospitality and kindness
Are most remembered 

One day, I hope we will meet again
That you will visit me in my country instead
This will be the chance to reciprocate your kindness 

EMI Bombay
My visit to EMI Bombay was formalized by EMI (Malaysia and Singapore). I did not expect to be received as a celebrity guest there. I later found out that I was the first Malaysian artist to visit EMI Bombay, and the people there were just as excited by my presence.

V. K. Dubey -  the Artist & Recording Manager, was ready to welcome me. He was a polite, soft- spoken, kind, and extremely professional person. He was a man of few words. When I handed a few souvenir copies of my recently released album ‘Sejak kau pergi’ he looked at the album cover of me in the blue sari (right) thoughtfully, then uttered ‘We must arrange for a photo session of you in sari with a Bollywood photographer’.  By these words, I presumed that he was not really impressed by the album cover, or felt that it could have been better. 

I was pampered from the moment I set foot in Bombay, to the very last day. The photo session transpired sooner than I expected. I felt like a doll being wrapped up in this colourful prized sari (right) that belonged to an EMI staff. My apology, for forgetting  her name.  

The photos turned out nice, as predicted. The one on the right, is among the many that were used for promotional purposes, and for an album cover. Thanks to EMI Bombay.

Visited a recording studio
My schedule was meticulously arranged to the last detail. First on the itinerary, was a visit to a prime recording studio, and a meeting with Kishore Kumar (photographed below with me, were renowned personalities in the music and film industries - Kishore Kumar, Pramod Chakravarty (producer), and Laxmikant/Pyarelal (composers/lyricists - their names often appeared in most movies then).
Kishore Kumar
When I was introduced to Kishore as a well-known singer from Malaysia, he apologized for not knowing me. He had never heard a  Malay song, or met any Malaysian singer before. Kishore was interested to know about my recording experiences. When he heard about the sophisticated recording facilities used by EMI Singapore, he said studios in Bombay needed to be upgraded immediately. Recordings were tedious then, as singers had to sing alongside the band like in live performances.  A single mistake meant a re-recording of the whole song. It could even take a day or two to complete one song.
Kishore was aware of his status as the reigning male singer in India, and was pleased that I knew some of his songs. He had a powerful voice, and was very critical about his own recording. It was an undisputed fact, that his voice was exceptionally unique, and a movie without his voice had little guarantee of success.
He complained that he had not travelled much, for some time. Should he decide to visit Malaysia, he hoped that I would be at the airport, together with all his Malaysian fans, to welcome him. I am not sure if that trip ever materialized.  This was my first and only meeting with Kishore. 
Lata Mangeshkar

I met Lata during a photo session, arranged by EMI.  When we were introduced,  there was mutual respect between us. I was familiar with many of her songs, and knew her status, and she was aware that I am acknowledged in my own country.  

I noticed  that she had the same  high-pitched tone when she spoke. This was a familiar trade mark in her songs. Lata was the queen of songs then, and had occupied the throne for years.  A movie without her songs was unheard of, in the Bollywood film industry. 
She  seemed friendly, soft-spoken, but not so chatty. This could be because she was not so comfortable talking in English.  I was told that it was rather unusual for her to pose for a photograph with anyone, and I was surprisingly an exception. 
She was curious, when she heard that I had recorded some of her songs, in Malay.  She insisted that Vijay gave her a copy of my album,  and this was later handed to her by EMI. 

BOLLYWOOD - A gathering of movie icons and celebrities.

Shashi Kapoor 
Shashi looked exactly like he did in his movies - tall and slim.  He was a good conversationalist. We chatted for awhile, and I noticed that he had a strong British accent. He mentioned that he had been to Singapore several times. He was happy to know that he was very popular in Malaysia,  and that  I had seen some of his movies. He asked if Vijay could give him a copy of my album, as he would like to listen to my songs. This was the first and only time we met. (Photo on the left with Shashi Kapoor and V.K. Dubey).

Other celebrities
Rajendra Kumar was very well-known to moviegoers in Malaysia. (A photo of him can be viewed in the 'Kenangan manis' video, above). He mentioned that he had previously visited Malaysia,  and that sparked a conversation.  It had been awhile since he last acted  in a new movie. New generation stars were beginning to dominate the screen.  Rajendra invited me to join him and his wife for dinner, at their home. Unfortunately, I had to turn down the invitation.
  
Present at the function, were renowned film producers, directors, and movie icons.

Dharmendra and Hema Malini 
They arrived late, just as I was leaving. They seemed curious about me. We only smiled and nodded at each other. Dharmendra was the reigning male star then, and as soon as he entered, the press jostled and surrounded him. Hema Malini looked different, and infact, better in person without her heavy screen make-up.  

Dev Anand 
I met Dev Anad briefly during a private dinner hosted by EMI, at a hotel in Bombay. I was introduced to Dev Anand,  when he came to greet Vijay. I mentioned that he was my mother's favourite.  He jokingly asked if by any chance that he could also be my favourite. That was quite cheeky of him!  My mother was very disappointed that I did not take a picture of him.

Media coverage
My visit was widely covered by the media in India, and Malaysia. 

I enjoyed the fuss, and the attention I received in Bombay. I even had a film offer. Perhaps, if I had accepted the offer, people in Malaysia could see me singing ‘Yeh Samma’ instead of ‘Bersama’ – hehe!

Public exposure
This is an interesting piece of news.  Bollywood stars were very cautious about being seen in person, except on very rare occasions at official functions. Those who were reigning high would totally avoid public exposure, outside the silver screen, for fear that their popularity would dwindle, or that they would be mobbed or molested. No star was ever seen at public places, shopping complexes, restaurants, etc. 

Their faces were their fortunate, and people had to pay to see them.  This was how they viewed themselves, and sustained their popularity. 

Farewell Bombay
I was very sad to leave the people I met in Bombay. This was my first and only visit to Bombay.  My last communication with Vijay was in the early 90s.  Vijay had retired from EMI.  I hope that he is well and fine, and if he reads this blog, thank you Vijay, for your kindness,hospitality, and patience in chaperoning me. You were a perfect host.  It is a pity that we lost contact, and I did not get the opportunity to repay your kindness.

A stopover at New Delhi
Mr. Zahir Hamid,  EMI New Delhi, and his staff, were extremely enthusiastic about my visit, and insisted on taking me around to view the historical sites in the city.  I was also treated to a magnificent ‘sound and light’ show that depicted the history of India’s struggles, and liberation. Thank you, Zahir. 

Unforgettable
She was this young lady I met at a ticketing office in Bombay city, close to the hotel where I stayed.  Her name  is  Manju Vanvaria.  We became friends instantly.  She was most helpful when I saw her, to reschedule my flight, to include a stop-over in New Delhi. 

She insisted that I should visit Jaipur, as her sister Pushpa and family lived there. Manju was right, had I not gone there, it would have been a real loss.  Pushpa and her hubby, showed the exotic side of India, that really stunned me.  It was like seeing a Ramayana tale in the movie - the ancient architecture, the outdoor planetarium, the colourful road wedding with the bridal couple seated on  the elephant’s back, the music and beating drums, and most of all, the memorable desert ‘rasmalai’ that she introduced me to. 

All these years, I hunted for rasmalai everywhere in Malaysia, and nobody even heard of it.  Finally, late last year, I stumbled upon my dearly beloved ‘rasmalai’ at the Indian restaurant in Istana Hotel.  Memories flashed back to those brief unforgettable days with Manju, and Pushpa.

I often wonder where they are now. We maintained contact for awhile.  I invited them to come over to Malaysia, but somehow the trip never took place. I hope that by some miracle they read my blog, and contact me.  I've lost their addresses. Wherever you are, Manju/Pushpa, thank you for everything, I will always remember you both.

Life goes on, and as we move on, what remain embedded are memories.  These will continue to linger.  With each step we take, we cherish life even more, for what it has to offer. I feel truly blessed to have met the people who became a part of my memory. They will remain my ‘Kenangan manis' forever!


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