Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Constructing the Cinema-of-Intent: Revisiting Hatta Azad Khan's 'True Picture'

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Constructing the Cinema-of-Intent: Revisiting Hatta Azad Khan's 'True Picture'

Article excerpt

Abstract

One of the most important works on Malaysian cinema of the last twenty years has been Hatta Azad Khan's The Malay Cinema (1997). Khan's seminal work is located within the critical debates on the notion of national cinema that preoccupied film scholars, predominantly in the West, from the mid 1980s through the 1990s. Comparatively, Khan's conceptualization is juxtaposed in this article for a critical appraisal between the influential Australian and British cinema contexts, as both are forms of national cinemas in their own rights. This article then revisits Khan's scholarship on Malay cinema, particularly the factors shaping his 'true picture' idealism in the context of emerging Malaysian cinema in terms of it as a developmental and critical sphere of cosmopolitan aesthetics. Finally, this article will evaluate Khan's belief in the relevance of social realism as a philosophical interpretation for an ideologically driven cinema-of-intent and whether or not it can serve as a framework for the future of Malaysian cinema.

Keywords: National cinema, Malay cinema, Cinema-of-intent, Social realism, True picture

1. Introduction

One of the most important works on Malaysian cinema of the last twenty years has been Hatta Azad Khan's The Malay Cinema (1997). Khan's seminal work is located within debates on the notion of national cinema that preoccupied film scholars, predominantly in the West, from the mid 1980s through the 1990s. This article attempts to revisit Khan's scholarship on Malay cinema, particularly the relevance of his 'true picture' idealism within the context of Malaysian cinema as a developmental and critical sphere of cosmopolitan aesthetics. In particular, it seeks to explore Khan's belief in the virtue of social realism as the germ of a philosophical interpretation of the direction of what is regarded today an emergent national film industry. In terms of relevance, harking back to Khan's treatise appears sensible as the apparent sociocultural and political consciousness of the zeitgeist and their deployment in creative spaces has become increasingly palpable in contemporary Malaysian films.

Khan's study of the Malay film industry in the 80s and early 90s, can now assume its position as the foundational critique of Malaysian, beyond its traditional realm of Malay cinema. This is undertaken by exploring Khan's notion of a 'sociocultural turn' in Malay cinema. That the film industry today demonstrably displays its inherently emergent and hybrid nature of aesthetic and critical discourses marks Khan's anticipation rather prophetic if inevitable. Yet, although an established filmmaker in his own right, Khan's intellectual thoughts, however, continues or seems to elude the critical reception which it deserves today. Thus, this article attempts to revisit the critical and developmental premise of Khan's philosophy in The Malay Cinema by engaging in a range of comparative and inter textual mode of 'conversations' with cultural theorists, national cinemas and of course, films.

Indeed, for Khan, social criticism has been his philosophical practice ever since he and other student activist-cum-playwrights began writing and directing absurdist and satirical works for the reactionary 'angry young men' theatre in the 1970s, as part of a concerted anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian movement which culminated in the 1974 Baling Famine Protest. (Note1). Khan's experimental stage-plays, Puteri Gunung Ledang and Jebat, were written as critiques of Malay feudalism, embedded in contemporary themes, role-reversals and stream of consciousness of the anti-hero that provide defamiliarising but refreshing counter-perspectives. Khan's more subtle, comic and witty criticism against systemic forms of corruption in the Malaysian bureaucracy plaguing the quotidian life of the city's slum-dwellers can be found in Syyy!, (1987), then renamed Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu by the filmmaker Hafsham, and institutionalized itself as the highest rating and longest running Malaysian sitcom for eighteen years on TV3, a private broadcasting station. …

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