Pekak, in its second week at cinemas, is still playing on 20 screens across the nation. Go watch this daring thriller (read the reviews of if you don’t believe us) for its outstanding actors, exhilarating story and picturesque scenes. In the meantime, here’s a chat with Sharifah Amani to give readers an insight into her character, Dara. Also accompanying this short interview are alternative proposals for Pekak’s official key art by designer M. Firdaus, as found on Behance.
IT’S no secret: Sharifah Amani is a common favourite among Malaysian movie buffs. Since her start as the late, great Yasmin Ahmad‘s muse, Amani has proved herself a hardworking and capable actress. Turns in films like Gubra and Psiko Pencuri Hati have won her acclaim, while her work in Teater Kompilasi Nam Ron showed that her versatility extends to the stage too.
In new Malaysian film Pekak by Kroll Azry, she revisits her prodigious early days as an on-screen naivete. Playing a curious high school girl with a liking for one particular deaf drug pusher, Amani is innocent, thoughtful but oblivious to the dangers of the real world as Dara.
“Abah throws a big event for Uda and Dara, Melur wears a tudung for real, and Azman goes to rehab.”
This is not how Pekak ends; we had asked Amani to think of a cliched finale for the controversial new film which debuted nationwide last Thursday. Its poster should give audiences a hint of what they’ll get in the film, but trust us when we say it’s perhaps the most exciting Malaysian film out this year.
Reviews for the film have highlighted its resistance to stereotyping by refusing to place judgement on its hedonistic characters. But on top of a drug-laced story of love and crime, it’s also a visually-stunning look at the troubles of the working class.
Save the girl, save the world
“Very rarely do you get these kind of scripts,” notes Amani in a casual interview over lunch, “It’s something different and fresh; it’s about young kids being unapologetic and free.”
“It’s great to have a film like Pekak when our freedom of speech is being comprised. Here is a film which shows us that young people will continue to do what they want because they can, not because they need to or have been told.”
Amani’s talking about sheer drive — something she hopes to see in more young Malaysians.
She wishes for local youth to triumph over their respective circumstances, or the damaging overemphasis on “hafal and regurgitation” in local education. She also believes that the people must invest more in thought if only so the apathy of local youth will end.
“It is important that young people have the urge to make a change or even a statement and get their voices heard. We’re so obsessed with how we look and behave, but have we given thought about we really want?”
Amani trusts that knowledge and a critical mind are vital precursors to empowerment, but equally important is perspective. This meant respecting the lives of others and freeing them to manage their own lives if nobody will be harmed in the process.
In Pekak, her character Dara is a loving, 16-year old girl whose strict father hits and talks to her as if she were still a child. Despite her docile nature and bright disposition, Dara becomes more and more of a rebel. When her father leaves home, she gets in the car of independent artist and meth junkie Azman Picasso, because his girlfriend is also her precocious friend Melur. Melur is her gateway to parties, and an alternate life where she gets to wear a dress and is perceived as an adult.
Dara is a good example of the effects of oppressive, judgmental upbringing.
“That’s the thing when you teach people to think they know what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,” continues Amani.
Human beings shouldn’t be placing restrictions on other human beings, she muses.
“Buat apa pun jangan menyusahkan orang lain cukup.”
Great minds strive for life
After her startling arrival as a serious talent in film, gravitated towards newer, fresher minds in the industry.
As she went on building a reputation as an outspoken young talent and an advocate of industry standards, she found comrades in the form of Playground Productions. Playground comprises the likes of writer-actor Redza Minhat, renowned young actor Amerul Affendi (who plays Azman Picasso in Pekak) and comedian Ashraf “Modee” Zain.
Distancing herself from industry politics and the pitfalls of celebrity life, Amani and friends approached their careers in film and entertainment a bit more seriously.
Her last major project prior to Pekak was television series Cinta 100kg which saw her alongside friend Sherry Al-Hadad. The original series by Playground Productions aired on TV3‘s Dahlia slot, a primetime segment running on weekends. Well-received for its elements of romance and humour, Cinta 100KG also brought body size prejudice to the forefront.
But where do people like Amani and her friends get this spirit in light of an increasingly numbers-driven industry?
“After Yasmin passed away, I tried to find myself in family and the characters I play. Then I found all these people who are proud of their work but didn’t believe they were the be-all-and-end-all,” Amani recalls. “To them, what mattered was the kerja.”
“At the end of the day we are fighters. It’s very much upbringing — we were brought up by freedom fighters who wanted us to have a voice ever since we started school; we were taught that challenging authority is not necessarily a wrong thing to do.”
To date, Amani has sustained more than a decade in the film industry, but one her most valuable assets is honesty.
She tells us that as a Muslim, she believes that Allah will send great minds her away so she can gain different perspectives and experiences. To Amani, these things matter more than money, power and glory: Dara for instance could have thrived with meaningful education and exposure.
“Girls like Dara cannot live by hearsay or what people tell them. They have to go out, mix with others, travel, understand, mingle, live. Never sit idle bawah tempurung, go out, experience, rasa.”
“The only static things are dead things,” she concludes, serious. “If you do not move or change, you die.”
Pekak was made using a very small budget, costing only several thousands more than Shanjhey Kumar Perumal‘s award-winning Jagat. And like Jagat, it is receiving some great praise from many quarters, including renowned filmmakers such as Amir Muhammad and Hassan Abdul Muthalib!
Those interested in catching Amani as Dara will additionally be surprised by the par on screen: actors Amerul Affendi, Sharifah Sakinah and Zahiril Adzim all deliver top-notch performances set to sweep national film awards such as Festival Filem Malaysia (FFM) and Majlis Pengkritik Filem Kuala Lumpur (MPFKL) next year.
The film is still screening in major cities around Malaysia including over five shows a day in popular venues such as Berjaya Times Square and Alamanda, Putrajaya among many others. Find out screening times via CinemaOnline and make sure to catch it before the film ends its run!
Follow Grand Brilliance on Facebook for more details on the film and to access exclusive content from the film. Also read more about the film in our previous coverage! See any more reviews we haven’t added to this page? Drop us a comment and we’ll put it up right away!