“Sabalik Baju” is the latest film produced by Red Communications that explores the seduction, the destruction and the empowerment of social media for six women, in six different stories that are all in some ways interconnected, changing their lives for better or for worse . The film features a stellar and brilliant cast lineup led by Nadiya Nissa, Juliana Evans, Mira Filzah, Kaka Azraff, Sarancak and Elena Moujing, directed by four women directors that adds up to the uniqueness of the piece.
The first narrative “Hak Peribody”, written and directed by Junad Nor, tells the story of Dahlia (Nadiya Nisaa), a former writer who feels lost after the company she has worked closed down and she blames social media for the shift in live dependency on it. She then started an online business selling sexy lingerie inspired by an argument between a couple that she overheard one day. The next story revolves around Hannah (Elena Moujing) who finds herself involved in an online dating site, “Love Clicks”, where she falls in love with the anonymous User ID 721.
“Dalam Kain” tells the story of Sierra (Sarancak), a relationship coach who finds herself in a predicament when her own relationship is at stake. Both “Love Clicks” and “Dalam Kain” are written and directed by Sarah Lois. Written by Rafidah Abdullah and directed by Umie Salwana Omar, “Bukan Salah Ibu Mengandung” features the story of beauty blogger Myra (Juliana Evans) and her manager husband Irfan (Alif Satar) whose livelihood is threatened when she develops serious aversion to makeup during pregnancy.
The next story titled “Aset” narrates the story of Salina (Kaka Azraff) whose encounter with outspoken and gregarious Sally (Joanne Kim) changes her perspective about her body forever. The last story “Angkat Kaki” is about Aria (Mira Filzah) who put importance to her career more than the need to have a husband. She faces her over-protective, super conservative father who disagrees with her life choice as he thinks a woman should not work so hard in life and should find a husband that will provide for them. “Angkat Kaki” is a piece written and directed by Afiza Asram.
We recently had the opportunity to join the cast, writers and directors during “Sabalik Baju” charity film premiere where they spoke about the inspiration behind the film, the pre-production challenges and more. Check out the interview here:
1. What was the inspiration behind the film?
Sarah Lois: I think what we have done with the show has been really amazing and it is actually a collaboration. Even though we wrote each piece individually, we had many meetings as writers together to hear perspectives from everybody and share input to everyone’s stories. The story “Love Clicks” and “Dalam Kain” are still relevant today although it was done about almost a year from the time it started. One of the decisions that we made at the time was to make it exist in a time without Covid. I think because we wanted it to have longevity.
We know that this is something that everyone, different women at different stages of their life, will be able to relate to. You have the young adult in the story, you have the child, who enters a child marriage. We have an older person going through cancer, we have also someone who is married in a sticky situation with her husband. So, I think the film is very relatable to all kinds of women and yeah, at every different stages of their life. I think that one of the inspirations that I myself drew from were from people around me, my family, friends and my mom. My mom is a marriage and family counsellor, so, I think I took a lot of hints out of the stories that she shared to us at home. Just the idea of how sometimes the issue in a marriage is not always the man’s fault. I think it takes self-reflection to understand that.
Junad Nor: “Hak Peribody” was written during the first lockdown. So, Lina Tan (Red Comm Producer) approached us more than a year ago. During the first lockdown, as a homebody, it was my time to shine, you know, staying at home and such. So, Lina approached me and said ‘Hey, let’s do something for International Women’s Day’. So, before creating or writing something, I would always think about what makes me uncomfortable? Obviously, “Hak Peribody” touches about child marriage, that makes me very uncomfortable, also how adults talk to younger people on social media. So yeah, that’s how I wrote “Hak Peribody”.
Afiza Asram: During MCO, I applied for Red Comm’s writers workshop and I was selected among twelve people. So I suggested a script which I have written for a play and it was performed before. It’s a script for a theatre. I sent the story to Lina and we came up with ideas and it was an interesting process. So “Aset” is actually based on a true story, what women experience, being sexualised for their figure. I myself have experienced it, when we spoke to Kaka, she also experienced the same thing. For “Aset”, I really want it to be written by Rafidah because I wanted to see how “Aset” is written through another writer’s perspective. The original idea of “Aset” is for theatre and I am very happy to be able to direct “Aset” on screen. So, basically “Sabalik Baju” is a new thing and I didn’t expect what started as a story can expand into six varied interesting narratives.
Rafidah Abdullah: The stories were not my original idea. Like “Bukan Salah Ibu Mengandung” was Afiza’s idea along with “Aset”. I just developed the story into scripts. “Bukan Salah Ibu Mengandung” is quite a loose premise where Afiza said that her friend told her about an acquaintance who really cannot stand dressing up while being pregnant. And there is a belief in our culture that the behaviour is supposed to tell the gender of the baby whether it is a boy or a girl. I’m also not so sure about this but apparently that it is a Malay belief. When I researched about it, it turned out to be real. So I thought of it as something that is interesting to think about and tackle in this day and age.
We live in an age where we can just google everything. So, how do our old beliefs and how does our culture interact with the new technology? So, that’s one of the things that we wanted to explore and its impact on the lives of women. In a way, a lot of women, especially women with children, don’t have time to go out and socialise so social media is very important to them. And it so happens in this story, social media plays a big part as the character (Myra) is an influencer. You know, 15 years ago, you would not think that such a job existed. But it exists now and the livelihood of an influencer really depends on his/her followers. So how does it impact an influencer who has to make decisions according to her followers’ and clients’ demand? So it’s this kind of intersection, between technology and real life that we wanted to look at. And then, of course we brought it to life.
2. How do the writers and directors characterise each role to the cast based on the issue in the film?
Afiza Asram: For me, I think the most challenging piece for “Aset” was finding the actor that can portray Salina’s character and the story itself. So, basically, we took a while to find the person that suits the role. We have Joanne and Kaka (whose dynamics are) very interesting and cute. Because Joanne is very cheerful and funny, we paired her with Kaka who is a bit reserved. So, yeah “Aset” is a bit more challenging in terms of the role. For other stories, we just find the actors that can personify the role well. For example in “Angkat Kaki”, Mira Filzah embodies the character who finally stood up for herself against her super conservative father. I think all the cast really embodies their character well and they each have their own strength for each story.
Rafidah Abdullah: In “Aset”, I really want Joanne’s character Sally to be the kind of woman who can retaliate and speak up when being harassed by men. Because it is not something that a lot of women are able to do. When I wrote the script, I also spoke to my sister who had the same experience as the women in “Aset”, She would tell me about her experience when she was working in the office and how the men would speak vulgarly, comparing women’s breast with nasi lemak and the women just stay mute because that’s how women function in life. We just take it. And I want Joanne’s character to be someone who doesn’t just take it but speaks up when she needs to. The script for “Aset” is actually much longer than the film but a lot of things need to be edited out.
So, Kaka’s character Salina, the things that happened to her character is something that happens in a lot of companies in which the men have their own Telegram chat where they share photos of women, sexualising women, and this is what happened to my sister as well. I think it also came out in the news that there are all these Telegram groups where some men use it as a platform to do bad things. They share pictures of women without consent and so on and this is the kind of thing that I touched on for “Aset”. Kaka’s character was also a victim of this. It caused her a lot of stress and really made her depressed. This instance happens to a lot of women and I’m trying to portray its impact on someone. Not many women out there embody Sally’s outspoken personality. Many are more introverted. “Aset’s” characters are also trying to show that this is also how you can handle this kind of issue. (We show that women can be) more like Sally (Joanne).
Umie Omar: So for our choice of cast, we already had a few actors/actresses in mind for the roles. So we asked a few artists and I talked to Ju (Juliana Evans) because we wanted a mother to play the role of Myra so that it’s easier to delve into that pregnancy journey. So I reached out to Ju and told her about the story and she also shared her experience during pregnancy and motherhood. She did not experience something as terrible as Myra did during pregnancy but she does understand that feeling. So, we decided Juliana Evans is the perfect casting for Myra. So that’s done. Another thing is to find a very nice pairing for Ju, a husband. I don’t want to portray the husband as a jerk or anything but the character of the husband, Irfan, tries to understand his wife but finds it hard. Even in real life, it is hard for us to understand what pregnant women go through, all those emotions. So when we talked to Alif Satar, because Ju and Alif have worked together before, their chemistry really blooms in the film, it’s really nice on screen.
Sarah Lois: I was very adamant and really sure about who I wanted as the cast. I think for “Love Clicks”, representation is so important. At the end of the day, we ask ourselves, what is a Malaysian film? And I think we have to ask ourselves, what makes us Malaysian and I think our diversity makes us Malaysia. So I wanted to especially in my story to have a diverse cast. So, Elena as you know is from Sabah and she is a native Sabahan, while Jad Khidir is Malay Javanese. I wouldn’t say that I purposely type-cast them that way but I wanted them to be represented in this lineup of women because we are composed of so many types of people.
As for the story in “Dalam Kain”, I think when we think of social media influencers, the first thing that comes to our mind is a skinny girl, with light skin. That is the idea that I wanted to challenge because who’s to say that a big size girl cannot be an influencer or they cannot have an attractive husband. That was the idea that we want to challenge because all women deserve the kind of validity that they search for no matter their size and they shouldn’t be judged by that notion. When people first look at the images when we first started shooting “Sabalik Baju”, they kind of said things like, “It does not seem that Sarancak matches with Idris Khan”, ‘He’s too good for her,’ that kind of comments. I mean why can’t she have or be paired with a handsome husband, though, right? That was one of the main reasons why we went for that kind of cast. Yeah, I think that representation is everything to me.
3. For the cast, what drew you to this project? And what are the challenges in portraying your character?
Juliana Evans: It was such an amazing experience portraying Myra. I love everything about the film. I love how it’s so relatable to all women in all phases. Of course, especially now that I’m a mother I realised that I have been through all these phases in my life, as a woman. I think this is so important for women to watch something that is relatable to them, and maybe something that’s taboo to talk about. And to tell them, it’s okay, we all went through this. Just like during pregnancy, some women go through bad pregnancy, and some women go through very beautiful experiences. It really depends on the person but there really are women who go through (what Myra experienced).
We just want people to understand that it’s normal. I know that because I experienced it when I was pregnant. I don’t know why when something ticks me off, my reaction is multiplied by ten. After that I would be thinking, why am I like that? Maybe because I’m pregnant and it’s the imbalance hormone. I’m just very glad that this story, “Bukan Salah Ibu Mengandung” gets to portray that and it’s so relatable to so many women. And to add on about the pressure of social media to influencers, it is real and it’s what is happening right now. It’s really weird as well because we didn’t experience things like this ten years ago. This is something new but we have to keep up with it nonetheless even though we’re not used to it. These pressures of social media are both good and bad. Sometimes it goes too far. And we want to reflect that, why has it gone that far?
Sarancak: I think it was very challenging for me. Because the character Sierra is this vogue, very high fashion influencer, very on point in social media which is not me at all. I am this chatty, very all over the place, I don’t bother to opt for beautiful poses or dresses as long as it’s good enough. I’m very calm and composed on social media. So, the character just isn’t me. So when I need to play this character, and when the director, Sarah Lois, is a good friend of mine, the pressure is on. There are a few shots where I have to stalk on my ‘husband’ to see whether he’s really cheating on me, my ‘kepoh’ness came out during that scene. So, Sarah was like ‘No, you’re vogue okay? You’re an influencer’. That challenged me in a way that I cannot at all be my own self. And being with my friend as a crew and cast on set, with Sarah being my director and not my friend on set, that was tough of its own. But of course, I had fun and this is my first leading character as well so thank you Sarah for believing in me.
Elena Moujing: Honestly, I’m so speechless with this whole experience and opportunity. I’m definitely really happy and proud that I could be Sabahan for this character and Sarah Lois even made me go through the script to see which part that I could portray being Sabahan. I think that it was very nice that I could show that on camera because so far, from what I’ve seen, usually people in the Peninsula would be playing Sabahan characters. To be able to fully represent a Sabahan character on screen, it was very nice to see. For acting, this film is my first gig and it was a very fun experience. The experience was different in a way that we have table reading right, and then we go on set and we have to feed off the energy in the room. I have to think of my script, I have to feed off the energy of my other costars. I felt like I was multitasking, it wasn’t just performing or being in the character, it was a lot to think about. That just made me view acting in a whole different lens. It was a very eye opening experience.
Nadiya Nisaa: For “Hak Peribody”, I have known Junad since we first acted together in a series produced by Red Comm. So now we meet again in this film as an actress and director. It all comes back to the vision of “Hak Peribody” in which I remember during the first day of shoot, Junad showed me the script. And during the time, it was such a coincidence because at the time, I was actually exploring to venture into the lingerie business myself. I spoke to Junad about this. Because I’m venturing into online business, I could relate to Dahlia’s character and even more so that I have a sister who worked in a publishing company, so there’s a lot of relatable components there. So, this whole situation is familiar to me. When I spoke to Junad about the lingerie business being the in thing and hot selling item right now, she mentioned about the issue of child marriage and how we could bring it together into the storyline. So in a way I learnt a lot from this character, how when we sell items online, our customers might be someone really unexpected. So, that’s the story of “Hak Peribody”.
What was the most challenging part in producing the film?
Lina Tan: The issue of censorship is the challenging part because when we went for a meeting with FINAS, they said we need to censor a few terms in the film. But I’m so glad that we are able to present this film on Netflix as there is no censorship needed. They will take it completely uncensored. Sarah Lois did a good job presenting this film to the people in FINAS who gave us the first initial grant to produce the film. It is clear that the issue of women’s bodies is still a taboo.
Junad Nor: Because we shot the scene in “Hak Peribody” during the lockdown period last year, we had to stop shooting twice. But thankfully we have people on set to negotiate with the authorities. It was also a challenge to write a piece to shoot during a lockdown. So, that’s why the story is heavily based on social media. Because we could only fit minimal people on set.
What impact or message do you hope that the audience will achieve from “Sabalik Baju”?
Sarah Lois: I think the idea is to make people ask questions and I think it’s up to you to consider the relevance of social media, either it’s good or bad. It’s up to you to decide for it based on the stories that we’ve told you, do you think social media is bad? I think this movie has shown many sides of it and how it can be taken and used. We want you to think about the issues, do you take sides with the girls, or the men? What do you feel about it? We’re not here to say this is the message, believe us. We’re here to say this is what we observe as filmmakers and we would like you to dive into this conversation so that we can all learn together. To add on to why we didn’t cover certain topics, I think one of the main reasons was that we have to keep in mind that this was going to be a collection of stories.
We didn’t want to embark on taking a story that we could not get into the core of. We needed to work within a certain amount of time in the story to get the message across. That is why we decided to take on topics that were still very important but at the same time it could be told in a shorter amount of time. Definitely each of the stories has larger backstories to each of them, and had deeper things to discuss. In regard to this, we were very focused on social media as a platform and how it affects women, their idea of themselves as well as their relationship with other people. So, we also wanted to keep it really lighthearted beside the seriousness of every issue. So I hope that people will enjoy it nonetheless and we do believe that there are so much more in terms of women’s stories for us to explore and we hope to continue to tell these stories.
Rafidah Abdullah: I think now with a lot more streaming platforms, it is an opportunity for us to tell more of the kind of stories that we want to tell. More of the kind of stories that we should tell without necessarily having to worry about censorship or people’s perception about it. So, in that sense, I’m really excited about where our industry can go.
Watch the trailer of “Sabalik Baju” here:
On 16th September, Red Communication held a one-day-only charity screening of their recent feature film “Sabalik Baju” where 100% of the ticket proceeds is contributed to the Sisters in Islam (SIS) in supporting their work on upholding women’s right in Malaysia.