AMIDST the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur city, a blind man and a deaf man navigate through an adventure speckled with romance, drama, crime and action. Sounds intriguing?
Promising team takes on strong concept
You don’t get press premieres for telemovies often. As such, Astro First‘s Tulus Ikhlas was special, given that it’s inaugural screening took place in a Golden Screen Cinemas Signature hall, complete with reclining seats and free popcorn.
Newcomer Hafiz Ibrahim helms the film, which was based on his own 2012 Padiberas Nasional Berhad (BERNAS) raya advert about two disabled orphans. With screenwriter Al Jafree Md Yusop (Melur VS Rajawali, Senandung Malam) in tow, Tulus Ikhlas ages the popular commercial’s protagonists by about twenty years and chucks them in the middle of Jalan Alor.
Starring Mohd Safiq Arshad as Adi and Azmi Bahron as Buyung, the film tells the tale of two disabled grown-ups who find themselves becoming targets of an overzealous cabaret dancer. But trust us, it’s not as funny as it sounds.
Adi is calm, witty and genuine. Buyung meanwhile is very much a child regardless of his visible age — sulking, pouting and sobbing his way through scenes, in equal turns hilarious and heart-wrenching. Both Adi and Buyung work for a Chinese employer in a foot massage center.
However, Buyung’s long-lost father comes looking for him, which triggers other events around town. At the same time, a journalist is working with a group of villagers in protesting the construction of a coastal pipeline.
This combination creates an interesting premise for new director Hafiz to play with in terms of visuals. His optimistic take on the film’s gritty, urban setting results in a very distinctive aesthetic for television.
Decent cast hides problems in execution
Tulus Ikhlas‘s story and tone is somewhat inconsistent. This yarn begins strong and believable, but as it unravels it slowly erodes and loses much of its initial earnestness.
This story of friendship, forgiveness and acceptance for the most part tends to veer back and forth between sincere and calculated-tearjerker. At some point however it decides to become Cuak, but with a gentle, 48-year old Azri Iskandar going in for the kill instead of a brooding, gun-wielding Tony Eusoff.
In any case, it’s worth mentioning that the acting showcased on Hafiz Ibrahim’s debut is far from problematic. Marissa Yasmin is frightening as a gorgeous, female antagonist, while seasoned actor Rahhim Omar portrays a conflicted father subtly and elegantly.
Both lead actors shine in Tulus Ikhlas.
Mohd Safiq — blind in real life — is grounded and amicable as Adi, a presence which keeps audience members at ease. Azmi Bahron meanwhile received a huge compliment during the post-screening Q&A; there were audience members present who believed that the experienced actor had a speech and hearing condition like his character.
Screenwriter Al Jafree does justice to the film’s protagonists, displaying a sharp sense of humour in writing Adi’s lines, while opting for a more juvenile mindstate in his realisation of Buyung.
But in saying that, Buyung has also been given the ability to tell someone’s health from touch. This bizarre addition forms an underdeveloped, unnecessary detail which barely contributes to the story.
Persistent scoring ruins viewing experience
Tulus Ikhlas‘s score unfortunately is such an issue it becomes impossible to focus on the movie midway through. A huge portion of the overall film has melodic scoring, at times competing with on-screen action for audience attention.
Different variations of its theme music play so frequently it rapidly becomes irritating — how did anyone in their right mind green-light this amount of music in a single film?
Saniboey Mohd Ismail, Senior Assistant Vice President at Astro proudly asked if we knew of any other telemovies with such extensive scoring. As someone in his position, surely he must realise that you can have too much of a good thing?
You see, Tulus Ikhlas has some great characters, not to mention distinctive visuals and well-written lines, but for all its merits, the film is ultimately derailed by an unrelentless, sadistic soundtrack so intent on evoking emotion from its viewers.
Hafiz Ibrahim believed in his product enough to want to dedicate his film to the late, great Yasmin Ahmad, someone he credits for his venture into film. The well-meaning man however was at least humble enough to acknowledge quality concerns from guests at the premiere.
“Forgive me for my mistakes, and yes I do see a whole lot of room for improvement,” he politely stated upon being asked if there was anything he would change in the film.
Hafiz should be glad that Tulus Ikhlas despite its flaws holds promise and has already surpassed many local releases from 2015 in terms of storytelling and cinematic quality. We look forward to his next venture.
Tulus Ikhlas runs on Astro First from 20 February 2016 onwards.