War Heroes Come Alive

31 Jul

(From left) Jalaluddin Hassan, Raja Farah and Hairina Halim.
(From left) Jalaluddin Hassan, Raja Farah and Hairina Halim.

Despite commendable performances from the actors, war-time play Patriot lacks emotional depth, writes DENNIS CHUA.

Syukor Ibrahim as Yahya.
Syukor Ibrahim as Yahya.

IN conjunction with Warriors’ Day and National Day this month, Istana Budaya presents Patriot from July 29 to Aug 3.

Written by Rahman Adam and Lokman Ghani with Datuk Suhaimi Mohamad Zain (Pak Ngah) as music director and Rahman as director, Patriot has familiar traces of war films such as Bukit Kepong and Leftenan Adnan in its storyline.

Sadly, it lacks emotional depth, becomes too predictable and comes across like a rehash of all-too-familiar television dramas and films.

Coincidentally, its lead actor Syukor Ibrahim (who alternates the protagonist’s role with Lokman’s nephew Ashraf Muslim) even resembles Hairie Othman of Leftenan Adnan fame.

Patriot is set in the 1940s, shortly after the return of the British to Malaya following the Japanese surrender.

It is about Leftenan Yahya, a courageous and dedicated soldier who is willing to sacrifice his life in the line of duty.

He is one of the Malay Regiment’s best recruits and has even seen action in World War Two as a private.

Beneath Yahya’s steely facade lies a sensitive man nursing a broken heart.

The love of his life, Sapura (Raja Farah of Anak Halal and Apa Kata Hati fame) is engaged to her vain, playboy cousin Zul (Sarawakian actor Mahmud Ali Basha).

While Sapura’s father (Datuk Jalaluddin Hassan) acknowledges her friendship with Yahya, he fears that the lieutenant will not bring her happiness as she might “end up widowed too soon”.

He reasons that Zul, an ex-schoolteacher and anti-colonial activist, is a far superior choice as he is articulate and “has a future” once the country becomes independent of British rule.

Sapura tells her parents that she will only find happiness with Yahya whom she has known for a long time.

Yahya, who cares deeply about Sapura and her family’s best interests, tells her to leave him.

He goes into action with the boys in green, fighting a menace much bigger than the Japanese – the Communist Party of Malaya which has a major kampung mole in none other than Zul.

There is poor chemistry between Syukor’s Yahya and Raja Farah’s Sapura, even though both do a fairly decent job as newcomers to theatre.

Newcomer Ashraf fares slightly better than Syukor in terms of chemistry with Raja Farah who proves that she can carry a tune, albeit with a “strong army” of back-up vocalists.

Mahmud is memorable as the villainous Zul, whose loud voice spells arrogance and pride throughout the play.

Jalaluddin, typecast as the VIP or headman in many a television series and film, virtually reprises his “judgemental parent” role, common in his Cerekarama appearances.

The supporting cast stood out, most notably funnymen Zaibo, Roscha and Rosli Rahman, who play village musicians and family friends of Yahya, and Akademi Fantasia 6’s Hairina (Mama Rina) Halim who plays Yahya’s doting mother.

Notable “sex-siren” of television Ziela Bakarin also gives a commendable performance as Som, Zul’s on-off girlfriend and the village femme fatale, while stage and film veteran Baharudin Omar is excellent as the village’s dignified martial arts instructor-turned-independence fighter.

Zek Taipan (Zul Isa), who often plays the enemy in combat, also does well as the Communist chief.

He steps back in familiar waters – reprising his role in the film Paloh.

However, it is unfortunate that a character representing the Malaysian Indian community, Muthu (played by P. Jeganathan), is typecast as a jovial “milkman”.

Maybe it’s time for some theatre practitioners to put such ethnic stereotypes to rest!

The costumes of the soldiers, including that of the Japanese and the Communists, look authentic enough.

Props could have been improved further to include a Bintang Tiga flag in the Communists’ jungle camp, while Zul would be better off in clunky spectacles popular with teachers of those days.

There are memorable moments in the play, which include the march of the Malay Regiment, the sound effects during battle scenes and the climatic finale where Yahya fights the Reds on a raised platform above Zul’s wedding scene.

Kudos to Istana Budaya for highlighting the country’s top-ranked war heroes in a brief film clip at the play’s end. That was far more moving than the play itself.

 

New Straits Times

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