Why I get emotional when talking about P. Ramlee

Fashion, legacy, education and a great artist. Jiman Casablancas talks about how a session at the Clubhouse transported him to the (almost) emotional

* A birthday commemoration for one of the silver screen’s greats

LAST week on a rather ordinary night I, quite by chance, got involved in a discussion on the hottest social media platform presently, Clubhouse, about the greatness and unparalleled artistry of a renowned legend of this country, Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

I was not sure about what, specifically, the topic discussed was, but as far as I recall, the panelists roundly praised his greatness in the art of film directing, songwriting, singing and acting, all of which I agree with completely.

The legendary Tan Sri P. Ramlee. – Screengrab from YouTube

To me, it was a conversation rooted in truism – since everything was accurate.

In my view and in my heart, there is still no one else, so far, who can match the abilities of P. Ramlee in the various fields in which he was engaged. He had a magical touch midas. His loss has still not been filled.

I listened intently to the arguments of each panelist while nodding my head in agreement. And to those out there who still don’t know what Clubhouse is, it’s very much like a podcast. The main difference here is that anyone can come forward to express an opinion.

And because of that, all sorts of things can happen and disagreements are inevitable.

Aware of my presence during the session, the moderator invited me to the discussion room to give an opinion.

Since my interest often leads me to the topics of style and fashion and since this topic had yet to be touched on by any one of the panelists, I was called upon to speak on this very subject so that it would provide a fresh perspective.

I can honestly say that no other Malay film can match the film ‘Tiga Abdul’ in matters of styling, especially with regards to menswear.

Released in 1964, with direction by this national artist, in which he also plays the lead role, ‘Tiga Abdul’ places great emphasis on the element of fashion in the development of the main characters of this film.

Pic from 'Tiga Abdul'. – YouTube pic
Pic from ‘Tiga Abdul’. – YouTube pic

P. Ramlee plays the role of Abdul Wahub, a musician and the most intelligent child, always dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt matched with a vest or a full bespoke white suit that was neatly fitted on to his body.

Haji Mahadi and S. Kadarisman who play the role of his siblings, Abdul Wahab and Abdul Wahib, greedy and not very intelligent, are styled in dark debonair clothes to symbolize their antagonistic characters. Their suits display white pocket squares and their fez replete with tassels complete their style.

Playing the character of Sadiq Segaraga, Abdul Wahub’s father-in-law, is Ahmad Nisfu who often appears wearing a flamboyant silk robe ala father to all international playboys, Hugh Hefner.

Pic from 'Tiga Abdul'. – YouTube pic
Pic from ‘Tiga Abdul’. – YouTube pic

I also touched on the prima donna fashion style of Jalan Ampas evident in the film. Sarimah, Mariani and Dayang Sofia as Ghasidah, Hamidah and Rafidah are individually so elegant with their tight brocade dresses, beehive hair, dramatic black kohl make-up on the eyes, elbow-length gloves all the way to their vintage handbags.

In short, there is nothing flawed about the whole film in terms of looks and style. It’s Malay cinema at its fashionable best!

A screengrab from 'Pendekar Bujang Lapok'. – YouTube pic
A screengrab from ‘Pendekar Bujang Lapok’. – YouTube pic

P. Ramlee’s black and white films in general do indeed place very great emphasis on meticulous style. The Kampung Pinang Sebatang gangster costumes in the film ‘Pendekar Bujang Lapok’ (1959), directed by Shariff Dol, to the pirate costume in the ‘Ali Baba Bujang Lapok’ (1961) are those I am most interested in.

Dressed in striped pants, half-knee boots, an eye patch and complete with cape – everything is so Jean Paul Gaultier.

Pic from 'Ali Baba'. – YouTube pic
Pic from ‘Ali Baba’. – YouTube pic

In the film ‘Madu Tiga’ (1964), P. Ramlee emphasizes the fashion styling of the legendary actresses who play the characters of his three wives, namely Sarimah, Zaharah Agus and Jah Mahadi.

Each is dressed in a corset tight kebaya laid with batik fabric and matched with very stylish, pairing sunglasses, while driving a sports car conveys the message of Malay women faithful to the image of the East but highly modern in a variety of other ways.

Pic from 'Madu Tiga'. – Screengrab from YouTube
Pic from ‘Madu Tiga’. – Screengrab from YouTube

It turns out that P. Ramlee was an artist who was ahead of his time. Cinematic genius is the right word to describe the styling in his films.

Each time I discuss the aspect of fashion in Allahyarham’s films, I naturally get passionate. I discuss how his films are often an inspiration for every collection I ever released while still with Tarik Jeans.

Perhaps it’s also because I have not talked at length about fashion or the creative arts for all the time I was stuck at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even if there were extended conversations, the topic would veer to the social, economic and political situation of the country. Boring.

Clubhouse also appeared in my life at the very right time when I began experiencing screen fatigue. The audio concept was very refreshing and that night, I took the opportunity to let off some steam.

Pic from 'Seniman Bujang Lapok'. – YouTube screengrab
Pic from ‘Seniman Bujang Lapok’. – YouTube screengrab

After my turn to speak, several other invited panelists gave their opinions and some raised questions about P. Ramlee which, for all this time, seemed to have been locked in my heart.

Where I can contribute, I do so sincerely since, for me, the subject of P. Ramlee is rarely discussed and it is very important for the younger generation of this country to learn about the various creative aspects of this great artist.

In the heated atmosphere of the discussion, one of the listeners posed a question, “How can we continue the legacy of P. Ramlee?”

Ah, good question, I thought. Various answers were given by the panelists. I agreed mostly with the notion of how our national education system does not directly address the importance of P. Ramlee’s legacy in our history textbooks and in our music.

Even if there is anything at all, it is hardly adequate. I further this argument by encouraging all creative industry activists to always immortalize the work of P. Ramlee in their art so that it always flourishes.

We cannot simply blame a system that will endure if our minister himself does not possess an interest in upholding the country’s artistic and cultural legacy.

I choose an example from the present, where there appears a new appreciation of old Malay songs with the emergence of DJ collectives such as Disco Santan, Public School and Wilted Flower, who actively play songs from the golden era of Malay songs according to the taste of their fans, and in doing so open the minds of a new generation of fans to P. Ramlee songs rich in their Malay style.

Within the absence of discussions about P. Ramlee in the national education system, I still have confidence in the new generation of this country who are becoming increasingly aware about their environment.

We can’t always keep pointing fingers. A panelist that night seemed to want to refute my views, and in the silence of that night, I could hear my voice getting more vehement in upholding my opinions.

I tried to moderate my emotions but I felt that there might have been those that night who might have thought me a little rude. I apologize (cue the song ‘Maafkan Kami’ from the movie ‘Pendekar Bujang Lapok’).

I do not remember the name of the panelist, but if he had the chance to read this article, I would like to thank you for having drawn my attention to a study that was written in 2010 (Journal of Malay Studies Volume 21) namely ‘A Semiotic Analysis of the Lyrics of Songs by P. Ramlee’ written by Abdul Hamid Adnan and Tengku Intan Marlina Tengku Ali.

We are, after all, all in a long learning process.

The subject of P. Ramlee is indeed very interesting, even sensitive for many people. If anyone has watched a documentary about him on the History Channel, you would certainly appreciate how miserable the end of his life was.

A man who had greatly contributed to the country’s creative industry with a love for Malaysian culture, his contributions were only celebrated after his death.

Following that night’s debate, there are days when I only listen to Allahyarham’s songs in the car while on the way to work. Each time I am able to hear things from a new perspective. What a great human being. He is seriously worth arguing for. – The Vibes, March 22, 2021

By : Jiman Casablancas (a public relations and media practitioner) – THE VIBES

*This article has been translated from the original, on Getaran.my

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