EVERY once in a while, a Malaysian film comes along with no obvious flaw (“turnoff”), reinforcing notion of skill in the local filmscape. This year we’ve had Munafik and Boboiboy The Movie lead us to trust in the quality of local cinema — that it meets international filmmaking standards and can compete with domineering Hollywood releases.
As such, it’s a delight that Tunku Mona Riza follows suit and takes the craft even further with Redha. Her debut feature, out in a matter of days, is a rumination on autism by the blue waters of Malaysia’s north shore, built on two years of research.
With a Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) loan and husband/co-executive producer Ku Mohamad Haris by her side, Tunku Mona knocked on doors of friends and organisations to understand, so she may depict the mental condition in this family drama set in Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur.
In Redha, Razlan and Alina’s relationship is strained by the discovery of their son Danial’s strange behaviour. Alina, with help from sister Sasha and old friend Kat, eventually discover a way to enter the little boy’s world.
But misfortune hits, and the family must learn to make peace with their fate and raise Danial.
Redha is a gripping tale of human bonds and acceptance, starring real-life couple Nam Ron and June Lojong, Nadiya Nisaa, Susan Lankester, and Remy Ishak.
Tunku Mona’s story, inspired by the true lives of autistic Malaysian children, largely sympathises with the guardian’s perspective. Viewers are taken through the lives of both Razlan and Alina as they find ways to navigate Danial.
It’s a commendable exercise made all the more successful with Nam Ron and June Lojong leading the step.
The film reflects often upon Malaysian society, portraying perceptions towards the condition through interactions between Danial and the world. Bystanders audibly comment that he’s “spoilt”, “stupid”. His father refuses to believe there’s anything different about the boy, but some see a fire in there worth feeding.
The consequence of these choices however is that Daniel can only be observed from a distance, his own understanding of the universe remaining a deep secret. What exactly is going on in Danial’s head when he refuses to interact with people? But in lieu of answers, unconditional love flows from Danial’s parents.
Perhaps a testament to Tunku Mona’s ability as an actor’s director, cast members shine. From bit parts to supporting roles, Redha is filled with sincere and captivating characters. Its enthusiastic actors bring authenticity to the screen — highlights include Susan Lankester’s warm and genuine Kat, and Remy Ishak’s upbeat swimming instructor Azim.
Assisting Tunku Mona on visuals are Indonesian cinematographer Yudi Datau (Arisan, Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck) and art director Zaini bin Abdul Latiff (Mukhsin), both of whom make Redha‘s blend of wood and water all the more enticing.
Razlan’s workplace, Wisana Resort, lures viewers over with stunning frames of the sea in the sun. Then there are shots swiveling away from rock structures to encapsulate landscapes, as well as breathtaking underwater scenes.
If Tunku Mona managed to established herself as an able storyteller in telemovie Parit Jawa despite its austere photography and edit, here with Yudi she shows great promise for Malaysian cinema.
As a whole, Redha is difficult to fault. It looks clean, sounds great and holds attention. It doesn’t scream nor push for laughter or tears; Tunku Mona Riza’s take on her subject is warm but objective, and at best, sophisticated.
Whether or not the film has enough draw to break even at the box office remains a difficult question, but at the very least its director can rest knowing her future as one of Malaysia’s brighter hopes has been sealed.
Not bad for a debut feature, not bad at all.
Redha hits cinemas across Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei on 14 April 2016. With each ticket purchased at Golden Screen Cinemas, RM1 will be donated to the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM). Follow the film on Facebook for more information!