Theatrical distributor and global curated film streaming site MUBI is now home to Al Jafree Md Yusop much awaited film “Mencari Rahmat”. “Mencari Rahmat” features a brilliant and stellar cast line up lead by Namron, Amerul Affendi, Nadia Aqilah, Sharifah Amani, Adibah Noor and Eric Fuzi, together with legendary stars like Fauziah Nawi and Azman Hassan.
“Mencari Rahmat” pursues Razak (Namron) who is the adopted son of a rich couple in Penang and becomes a successful businessman and guardian to a young ward, Ratna (Sharifah Amani), the orphaned grandchild of the couple who adopted him. Razak devises a fictional ‘problematic brother’ in Kuala Lumpur called Rahmat that constantly needs a bail out of trouble. Razak then takes on the persona of Rahmat in KL and lives the outgoing lifestyle.
He falls in love with Roselina (Nadia Aqilah) and seeks to marry her but the class conscious and fearsome Datin Azizah (Adibah Noor) stands in the way. Things become more complicated as Azman (Amerul Affendi), Datin Azizah’s nephew, discovers Razak’s hidden identity and takes on the role of Rahmat to seduce the young Ratna in Penang. The film then ensues to be an absurdist comedy as both men find themselves in a predicament due to their double lives.
The much-awaited critically acclaimed film “Mencari Rahmat” is an adaptation of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” that is interpreted into our local Malaysian scene by Director Al Jafree himself. “The Importance of Being Earnest is extremely interesting to me, especially how the subject is still very relevant even in today’s world,” said Al Jafree. Al Jafree took 10 years to finish writing the script for this film due to the challenges of interpreting and adapting the great works of Oscar Wilde into Bahasa Malaysia.
We recently had a chance to talk to the film director, Al Jafree, along with Sharifah Amani (who plays Ratna) and Nadia Aqilah (as Roselina) where they spoke about the 10-year journey of making “Mencari Rahmat” a reality, their experience on set, the amazing chemistry between the costars and more. Check out our interview here:
1. Out of many other notable literary pieces out there, what intrigued you to choose “The Importance of Being Earnest” as a subject for adaptation?
Al Jafree: Actually there were three literary works, when I was deciding on which story to adapt a long time ago. It was between “Earnest”, another work by George Bernard Shaw called “Man and Superman” and another one by Eugene O’Neill for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”. These are the three that I wanted to adapt into films or even into Bahasa Melayu. But in the end, I made the decision that it should be “Earnest”. Because to me, “Earnest” is the closest to our society, the subject and the issue. Although it was written a long, long time ago, in fact more than 100 years ago, the issues are still very relevant today. So, compared to the two, Shaw’s piece is a bit too controversial and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a bit tragic. So, I decided to adapt “Earnest” first. Like I keep saying, in various interviews, what I got from “Earnest” is that we are never free to be ourselves and we are always contained by this prison called society. So yes, all of us are experiencing it. And I guess “Earnest” is the best way to actually present it and talk about it.
2. What was the experience translating Wilde’s play into Bahasa Melayu like? And then adapting the work to fit into the Malaysian atmosphere…
Al Jafree: It was not easy when I first started writing it. I was quite young back in 1991. I was 25 with no experience in writing whatsoever. I finished the first draft in three months but it was terrible. I threw it out. I mean, probably one of the worst adaptations of “Earnest” play ever. Having said that, I stopped for years and started reading more about screenwriting and scriptwriting. Then I continued again, wrote a better version, and then, it kept going on until 2001 when I finished it and we could staged it at The Actors Studio Dataran Merdeka.
3. What was the most challenging part in translating Oscar Wilde’s work that took you a decade to complete it?
Al Jafree: The language is one thing. To translate or to adapt Wilde’s witticism is another thing. I’m very sure about the plot. But the problem is the dialogues. The issues like what they were discussing, what should be there, and what shouldn’t be there. So, that’s the main thing. That was what kept me from finishing it up until 2001.
4. The interesting part about “Mencari Rahmat” is the female characters’ (Ratna and Roselina) attraction towards Rahmat. How did you decide on the word ‘Rahmat’ for ‘Earnest’?
Al Jafree: I don’t know, probably because that’s the only word that I can use because ‘Earnest’ is unique. It can be a name and it can be a person’s quality. At that point, I even translated/ adapted without having that name. I was still using the word ‘Earnest’. It was until halfway through the process I think, after about 5 years, that I started using ‘Rahmat’.
5. Nadia Aqilah and Sharifah Amani, what drew you to this project?
Nadia Aqilah: We (Nadia Aqilah and Al Jafree) met for coffee with Nani (Sharifah Amani) and I remembered Al Jafree mentioning that Nani would be perfect as Ratna. When I received the script and found out who were the cast, and the role I was playing – I was automatically sold.
Sharifah Amani: I’ve worked with Abang Jeff (Al Jafree) on “Melor Vs Rajawali” before and he has been one of the very strong, vocal people in our film industry. I love people who speak out and I love people who are brave. The rest of the people as well and it was just great because they are my heroes. I mean Fauziah Nawi, Azman Hassan, Merul (Amerul Affendi), Namron, Nadia, these are heavy hitters of our theatre industry.
The moment I heard it was an adaptation from “The Importance of Being Earnest”, I got excited because I am a big fan of Reese Witherspoon’s version of “Earnest” (in Oliver Parker’s “Being Earnest”). Rupert Everett was also in it, but I really loved Reese Witherspoon playing Cecily. I mean Cecily’s character, she’s a bit of a cuckoo. So, yeah, to be in such an absurd play, an adaptation that is going to be filmed with some of my best friends, headed by some of the people that I really admire. It was a no-brainer.
6. How did you prepare for your role?
Sharifah Amani: I read the play and I watched the 2002 film many times. But it was the process of trying to find ‘us’. It was important for us not to do an adaptation of somebody else’s performance. Because when you translate to Malay, the meaning and the intention changes as well. So I think we were trying to find our own ground. To make it our own, to make it as Malaysian as we could.
Nadia Aqilah: Yeah, so that’s why we were lucky enough that we managed to rehearse for about three weeks, if I’m not mistaken. So, Abang Jeff gave us a list of films for homework but then when we met, we discovered a lot of other things. Because we were trying to localize this piece, we had to forget what we had been watching. And let’s see who do you think Rose is, how do you feel about Ratna, stuff like that. We discovered many things in rehearsals.
Sharifah Amani: I think one of the best parts is the organic nature of our process because when you work with such fine actors, it’s beautiful. You don’t mess with their choices and our director is so lovely because he is trusting of our choices as actors. So, it was really cool to see how organic it was. Also, if you do a particular film or drama series that you know, you have to worry about censorship, about what the station would say, but this film was ultimate freedom. We could do basically anything. For performers, it’s like ‘wah’; to be able to be given that trust, to be able to really just play. Ah, that’s the word, play. So it was great, yeah. It was really refreshing.
7. What are the similarities or differences between you and your characters?
Sharifah Amani: I am also a bit ‘tak betul’. I also like to pretend that I marry Shah Rukh Khan and that I wrote a letter to Shah Rukh Khan. So in a way, I am like Ratna. I’m a big romantic and I believe in everlasting love, we have that in common as well. As for the whole thing about letting guys pull us here and there, like we are the prize and all that, that part is not so much like Sharifah Amani. If I were Ratna, I would tell them, excuse me, let me decide my life. But the piece is about a situation that happened in the past, so that’s fine. It’s the piece and how it was written and edited. So yeah, it serves the story. But I think the women in “Mencari Rahmat” like Adibah Noor’s character, Fauziah Nawi’s character were really cool to watch. The things that we say doesn’t always tally with what we are do.
Nadia Aqilah: For me, I think my similarities with Rose is maybe the determination. Rose is very decisive, she will be like, “Okay, this is the one, I decided already.” That’s probably similar to me. But, the rest is a bit of exaggeration. But I have to say, just to add on what Nani said. Actually I think that the best part about this cast is that everyone really indulges themselves in the film. Like that one scene with Fauziah Nawi, I’ve never seen her being that kind of nonsense character, she was excellent.
8. Were there a lot of room for improvisation?
Nadia Aqilah: No, actually we stuck true to the script. Except that we changed the tone repeatedly. And the action and choreography, the blocking basically. It’s a hard script to improvise because the tone is very different, we don’t speak like that.
Sharifah Amani: Yeah, and it’s all related, right. So we cannot simply change it. Basically, we did the part, we did the lines, and the actor added the spice. It was not exactly an improv or big change, we were still on the same plane of what the character was going through. Like the scene where we (Ratna and Rose) finally found out that they (Azman and Razak) lied to us. As I was going out of the scene, from Namron and Merul, I laughed man. You can see the enjoyment. I think that’s what I like also. The freedom of the players and the fact that they can say and do what they want. And the freedom to see actors being able to go the distance.
9. What was your favourite scene within the film or memorable episode on set?
Nadia Aqilah: Honestly I like every scene. But I have to say, when I was shooting the scene where we (Ratna and Rose) sat on the sofa together, whispering, I just came to realize that I have known Sharifah Amani forever and that was literally the first time we were paired together on screen. We have been friends for so long and I was like ‘Babe, do you realise that this is our first scene that we’re paired together?’ So, I was happy exploring things like that with my friend. It was really nice. That was personally my bucket list. That’s the thing, we were so comfortable. We felt so safe on set. It was like a theatre, we just did it. Then we were like, shoot, this thing is recorded.
Sharifah Amani: It was the shot, right? Because in that scene, it was our (Ratna and Rose) conversation but then the boys joined us. So how do we do it, when we talk to the boys and then talk to each other? So that was the discussion and that’s the best thing about collaboration. For me, one of my favourite memories that I still remember until today is where Merul and I were trying to block one scene. I forget what scene it was but we were outside in the garden. So it’s quite a long scene.
When Merul and I were trying to get our lines down, in the corner of my eye, I saw the Primadona Fauziah Nawi sitting there and just watching us. Merul was like, ‘I cannot take it like the Sifu (teacher) is watching us’. He turned around and asked Fauziah Nawi to go inside the house. And then she said, ‘No, what for? I want to see you guys.’ And then she even gave us input about what to do.
The whole lollipop thing between Azman and Ratna, was also another highlight. To portray how these two people like each other. It’s a matter of how you tell that, how you express that without going overboard. So, it was cool and it was nice to try new things. And having a director that trusted his own players, that’s the best.
Al Jafree: The lollipop thing was one of the most talked about scenes in the movie. The lollipop scene, the smoking weed scene, the Rose and Razak’s scene. Those are the most talked about scenes.
Sharifah Amani: Again, these are the few scenes that people keep talking about and this again is attached to word refreshing. Because I think we have been given a certain amount of typical storytelling. So, it kinda builds up that tunnel vision of oh, Malaysian film is like this. So, the ability to give the audience a different kind of ‘rasa’ (taste), a different kind of play, it’s cool. Like it or hate it, at least we have more colours. The colours are coming back, InsyaAllah.
10. Since “Mencari Rahmat ” was filmed a few years back in 2017, what did you gained from this project that benefited you personally?
Nadia Aqilah: I think we graduate from every single piece that we do. For me, “Mencari Rahmat” was actually being surrounded by all these people. I could not thank Abang Jeff and Abang Madnor enough for trusting all of us. Look, so far, only Abang Jeff would pair me up with Namron. And the fact that we’re like ‘Is this real?’, but how they trust us everyday in rehearsals until shooting day. When it’s not my scene, I didn’t return home, I actually would watch all of them, how they work and I learned a lot. I can’t nitpick one by one but everybody was different like Kak Dibah (Adibah Noor) has her own way. She would sit in one corner and rehearse by herself and then we would act. She performed very well. And then we have ibu Fauziah Nawi who is always loving and sharing and lifts our spirits.
What I got from the team is knowledge. How each pair worked together to get their chemistry. So, Alhamdulillah, all the knowledge that I gained even from the DOP, from the director, from the piece and the writing… It is how we as cast surprised ourselves because we were able to do it in one shot. It was a long scene and if one person screwed it up, we have to start all over from the top. Before we started, everybody would promised to support each other and just perform. Safe to say, it was one of the best ensembles I have worked with, Alhamdulillah.
Sharifah Amani: Same for me, I think it was the people. Again, collaboration between people who trusted each other, the ability to be able to play, is not something we get all the time. To be able to say certain things, to do certain things. It’s weird that it’s become quite rigid nowadays because as artists we are supposed to be free, we’re supposed to portray it as truthfully as we can so when you get the absurdist world like “Mencari Rahmat” and you can do whatever you want, it’s such a blessing. And with people who are on the same wavelength and choices that we made. It is the fun of it. And with Namron and Merul, because they have been friends for years as well. Merul studied under Namron when Abang Namron was teaching in ASWARA. So you imagined a Sifu (teacher) and his disciple you know, going at it. It’s just great.
11. What is the significance of the character Reza played by Eric Fuzi in “Mencari Rahmat”?
Al Jafree: I have received hundreds of questions regarding who Reza is. I even had to post on Twitter saying that I would rather prefer the audience to interpret it themselves. One great example I can give is the Pixar movie “Inside Out” because there are things that you cannot portray visually. There are things regarding humans that you cannot portray visually so they have physical characters to represent fear, joy, etc. So it is easier for the audience to understand. That is a device that has been known to be done by a few other directors. From my point of view, Reza represents their (Razak and Azman) subconscious. Reza also was kind of like a ‘hint’ of the relationship between Razak and Azman. The rest I think you can make it out yourself. But then again, that’s what Reza is, at least to me, that’s how I wrote it, the character. And then, when I decided why Reza’s character should be there. It wasn’t in the original play but I decided that maybe I should put Reza in there.
12. The film was made back in 2017 but never made it to cinema. What happened and how do you feel about it going straight to MUBI instead of our local cinema?
Al Jafree: I was glad in the sense that we made it in 2017, four years ago with the dream of having it screened in the cinema in 2018. But that didn’t happen. Instead we screened it exclusively, we did an exclusive screening all around the country. And then again, I personally would love for the audience to see it at the cinema so that people can enjoy it. The screening was postponed three times. It was supposed to be in June 2020, then it was postponed to 31st December 2020, and then June 2021. So I discussed it with the production team and decided that we shouldn’t wait any longer. We are not even sure when the cinema will reopen..
We decided that MUBI is the best place for us to screen it. As much as I love the cinema, I guess it’s inevitable. I think even if there is no pandemic, we still have to somehow believe that this is the way now. And it will probably get better since television nowadays is not like how it used to be. I guess that’s why streaming sites like Netflix or even HBO are producing TV series and they are shooting it like cinema. I mean the way they shot it, framing and everything. It’s almost like a cinema so I guess it’s changing. And I, as a filmmaker, should start to embrace it.
13. What impact or message do you hope that the audience will achieve from “Mencari Rahmat”?
Al Jafree: At this point of time, all I am expecting is for the audience to laugh. I mean nothing else apart from that, whatever they will get out of it. It’s totally up to them because I’ve written a piece so that they could enjoy it. Now I think everybody needs that. I guess it will get more interesting later because there are a number of people who have yet to watch it. Like I said, I’m hoping that this film will add more colours to the industry as the industry really needs that at the moment. To add on what Nani and Nadia said, the performance is good.
Based on my experience, this is the best ensemble that I have ever seen on screen. I learned from this one director, he said that one way to direct actors is to get the characters out of themselves. Because if you try to impose your (director) version of the character, then the moment will never be consistent. So, I think that’s what we were doing. The reason for them being so consistent because whatever that they performed came out of themselves. So, I guess that has always been my way of doing things. And the bonus is, I got this ensemble. I have nothing to say except that they were superb.
Sharifah Amani: For me, I agree with Abang Jeff. At a time like now, it’s nice to have an escape, hopefully we provided that. We got weird people, everything under one roof, one film, right. We got people that you’ve seen many times on screen but they were doing really weird things that they have never done before. The characters in the film speak in the language that makes us exclaim, you know. So, hopefully we make some people laugh, and some people smile. The conversation that people might have is escapism after all, right? Selling dreams, that’s what we do. So, InsyaAllah that’s what it is.
I just want people to enjoy and let people know that there is no one way of filmmaking, there is no one way of acting. As Malaysians, we are able to do many things, in many languages. So yeah, the colours. InsyaAllah more and more different kinds of film will come back. People will be braver to tackle certain kinds of topics in their films. So that our industry will become more robust, yeah. I’m very thankful for this project and I’m very thankful that I got to be a part of it. I’m very grateful for Abang Jeff and Abang Madnor who trusted us and gave us the opportunity to work with some of our best friends, to learn from each other and have so much fun with each other.
Nadia Aqilah: I hope the story will reach the audience’s heart. I hope they have fun as much as we had fun making it. It’s nice to hear all these reactions, whether they like it or dislike it, it’s really nice because that’s what we are actually curious about and wanted to tap on. We hope that this piece will open more doors for directors out there to hire stage actors. Just because you can discover so many things. I hope you enjoy it.
Watch the trailer of “Mencari Rahmat” here:
“Mencari Rahmat” is now available exclusively on MUBI starting 31st August 2021. In conjunction with Hari Merdeka, MUBI offers a limited time subscription promo at RM3 for 3 months for new subscribers. Promo ends 16th September 2021. For more information visit www.mubi.com