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Thursday, 9 August 2018 | MYT 7:04 PM

‘Pulang’ is a wonderfully crafted story of love and sacrifice

An admirably good old-fashioned love story is not just the strength of Pulang, the movie produced by Media Prima’s Grand Brilliance. Added to that is the visual panache seldom seen in a local Malaysian movie. The incredibly stunning and believable computer-generated images (CGI) gives the movie an expensive look. But the entire film enterprise is not just about seeing and believing, it is also about good acting and smart direction.

I was sceptical when Remy Ishak was announced the lead actor of Pulang. He’s a cool dude, no question about that, but he’s your typical “bintang filem” (film star) – handsome, glamourous, showy and at times controversial. It reminds me of Ron Howard’s choice to showcase Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase the First Mate in the whaling ship Essex in the movie, In the Heart of the Sea. He is simply too gorgeous to pass as a sailor. But he did a remarkable job, one of the reasons, the movie that did not do well at the box-office is watchable.

Remy proves me wrong. He transforms from Othman, a simple village fisherman to a hardened sailor almost effortlessly. He is even better as he aged, nursing his sorrow and misfortune, burdened by the  guilt leaving his wife who waited for him in Melaka and confronting the son he never met after many years. Remy deserves accolades for his acting.

Like Hemsworth, Remy took his role seriously. He matured on the ship, he endured unbearable pain and his tortured soul is well portrayed in the movie. It is a role like this that will differentiate the boys from the men, an actor or  just a bintang filem. This is his best work so far.

Remy Ishak

Remy Ishak shed 7kg to achieve the gaunt look as he plays a struggling fisherman and sailor. Photo: Primeworks Studio

Pulang is a movie that will resonate with many, the love story is almost too good to be true in reality, but as they say, humans are capable of being part of events that are more incredible than fiction. Based on real events, involving the grand-parents of Datuk Ahmad Izham Omar, Media Prima’s head of Primeworks Studio, it has been in the pipeline for some years. Great movies are made of these – good story line with great studio support and brilliant execution. By any standard a story of a husband and wife separated for so many years and remain faithful to each other sound “filmish”. What is needed is to translate the narrative to cinema.

We all love a good sob story. Heart-breaking theme is never off-limit. Loneliness affects us in more ways than one. Pulang is a stupendously sad movie but  a wonderfully crafted love story. And it is brainy story of friendship and sacrifice too.

Izham is lucky to have Kabir Bhatia, one of the most interesting directors working today. Mumbai-born Kabir Bhatia made his mark as a director to watch when he helmed Grand Brilliance’s Cinta in 2006. The original idea came from Rahman Ahmad, the then Group Managing Director (GMD) of Media Prima (currently CEO of Perbadanan Nasionbal Berhad or PNB) and written for the screen by Mira Mustafa. Mira is also the screenplay writer for Pulang together with Ahmad Izham.

Pulang

‘Pulang’ explores Thom’s excruciating wait for her husband and the reason behind his disappearance. Photo: Primeworks Studio

Pulang is a movie that will resonate with many, and the love story is almost too good to be true in reality. Cinta was a box-office hit. Kabir Bhatia’s other notable movies are Sepi (2008) and Nur Kasih (2011)  Last year Astro Shaw released Bisik Pada Langit as a movie, a project meant to be a “super telly” or “extended telemovie.”  Bisik Pada Langit is tear-jerker that forces  us to sympathise with the father who lost his daughter in an accident in Australia. Despite gallant effort by Jalil Hamid as Wak Selamat, the film remains a telemovie in scope and spirit.

Prying emotions in a movie has its downside. Tearjerkers are not the genre that cinema audiences would love to watch these days. The Champ, the 1979 movie starring Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder was probably  apt for the era. Just like the films of Neng Yatimah, the local actress labelled as “seniwati air mata” or the actress who can make audiences cry of the 50s and 60s.

Perhaps Kabir Bhatia realises that the ratap tangis  (cry and wail formula) is not the best for current audiences. The new demography of paying audiences are different than those during the previous decades. While there are heart-wrenching moments in Pulang but Kabir Bhatia didn’t overdo it. The expressions are cleverly restrained. It is in the actors’ faces and behavioural tick that we see sadness, anger, torment and most importantly longing for each other.

Pulang

Puteri Aishah plays her role with poise and confidence, with a real understanding of her character. Photo: Primeworks Studio

Puteri Aishah is a surprise choice to carry the weight of the woman left by her husband. Interestingly it is her first film role with she does with poise and understanding of her character. She is a lady to watch. There is another actor that carries Pulang to where it is – Alvin Wong playing Lum. He is a scene stealer in many occasions.

Pulang is not perfect. But within that imperfections it is  true to the spirit of the story. Since the theme as narrated by the old Che Tom to her grandson is about “Othman meninggalkan aku” (Othman leaving her), Kabir Bhatia chooses to show at least two instances that Othman was “lost.” The first time he was almost dead  while fishing and the second when he was captured by the Japanese soldiers. It took precious movie minutes to be distracted by those events.

Perhaps more details should be given on the costume, mannerism and contemporary verbal expressions. Details like that is always the weakest link for local movies trying to depict a different era.

Nonetheless, Pulang  has a great narrative that is being told with cinematic aplomb. The visual effects are of high standard and worthy of comparison with Hollywood films. Visually it is stunning.  It is never emotional obtuse nor intellectually empty.

Pulang is one of the best films produced by Grand Brilliance so far.

Johan Jaaffar has just published a book, Jejak Seni, about his 50-year incredible journey as an actor, playwright, director and later chairman of the country’s largest media company. He was a journalist and a former Chairman of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP).