Tanda Putera: Dishonest or truthful reconstruction?
It invites suspicion that Tanda Putera is just one step short of a propaganda exercise to subtly cast Lim Kit Siang as a hateful, anti-Malay figure.
COMMENTThe Tanda Putera filmmakers are marketing their movie as an educational product on the claim that the events they have depicted are based on established truth.
“My team and I did a lot of research, such as studying documented materials and photographs, to make sure the scenes were backed by historical facts,” its producer-director Shuhaimi Baba told the New Straits Times on Aug 4.
One scene in Tanda Putera is reportedly of Lim Kit Siang urinating at the flagpole (in the compound of) the Selangor Menteri Besar’s residence while at the same time shouting a racial slur.
Lim Kit Siang has said that this was a downright lie and dangerous falsehood in an Aug 4 statement.
He has questioned whether there is an ulterior motive to incite mob anger against him.
Is the canard one that is only recently invented to purpose fit Tanda Putera, and if so to what end? If indeed Lim did commit the act, “why had no one ever seen, mentioned or heard about it during the intervening 46 years until now?” asks one Netizen.
Logic dictates that if the powers-that-be had any concrete evidence of any such episode involving the then DAP organising secretary, this damning detail would never have escaped being made public.
So much for Shuhaimi Baba’s careful “research” or is it that amoral pursuit of socio-economic and political gain is reaching new heights with new recruits?
In fact, the photograph of Lim being manhandled by the authorities – featured in the Tanda Putera official Facebook as one of the May 13, 1969 photographs of real-life events – can in reality be dated to a 1984 incident in Kota Kinabalu.
That Tanda Putera – a movie financed by Finas (Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia) and Multimedia Development Corporation – chose to include such an inflammatory and defamatory scene casts serious doubts on the whole government (read: Umno)-backed enterprise.
It is a dangerous enterprise entering into the realm of celluloid demagogy.
It invites suspicion that Tanda Putera is just one step short of a propaganda exercise to subtly cast the opposition stalwart as a hateful, anti-Malay figure.
Against this backdrop of political distrust, it is only to be expected that pro-opposition supporters would see what they regard as “the May 13 film” to be part of a pre-election smear campaign against the DAP.
Or in the words of an online news portal subscriber – “The campaign has now recruited the likes of filmmaker Shuhaimi Baba with her blatant lies on celluloid to demonise DAP.”
Lim has been advised by concerned members of the public to sue the filmmaker for her dangerous distortion or to obtain a court injunction should the scene remain intact during the movie’s general release, rumoured to be given the green light by November.
There have also been calls for the public to boycott Tanda Putera for its one-sided portrayal of the Chinese as the villains of the piece as well as over the bad faith inherent in the inaccuracy – which smells quite deliberate – of placing Lim Kit Siang at the epicentre of the riot outbreak in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur.
Even before the controversial movie makes its public debut, it is already wracked by widespread and confrontational polemics.
The Tanda Putera trailer uploaded to YouTube has registered 4,379 ‘dislikes’ by viewers as opposed to a mere 472 ‘likes’ among those who had watched it. Roughly, nine out of 10 who voted have given it a thumbs-down.
Thus far, the pre-publicity buzz has indicated that the movie is an all-Malay affair –most certainly the main cast is all Malay and if not with a predominantly Malay research and production crew – projecting a staunchly pro-establishment slant.
The ‘timely’ creation of this movie sends the message that the Umno incumbency will not hesitate to conscript the various government agencies that it has at its disposal to maximize whatever psychological advantages the party can attain through entrenching a state-sanctioned national narrative.
Setting the record straight
Some quarters have already dubbed this Tun Abdul Razak Hussein biopic as a brown-nosing hagiography in light of the man’s eldest son possessing a current standing as the country’s prime minister.
The effects of this movie on our racially charged and ethnically divided society are all too easy to anticipate. Tanda Putera will split Malaysians cleanly down the middle along the pronounced race cleavage.
Although the CPI supports freedom of the arts and expression, it is of the opinion that this film is the type of polarizing propaganda aimed at inciting members of an ingroup to hate and scapegoat some outgroups.
Rather than educating the public and enhancing the quality of public debate and analysis on an important watershed in the country’s history, it will only have the opposite effect.
Although banning the film or obstructing its dissemination is not the correct response to it, it is incumbent on all Malaysians of peace and conscience – including the Prime Minister and other leading members of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition – to set the record straight.
The powers-that-be must articulate their response to the film’s depiction of what happened and who were responsible for the tragic day of May 13 and the aftermath.
This response needs to be ventilated and disseminated widely to serve as an antidote to the hateful and dishonest messages contained in the film.
Dr Lim Teck Ghee is the director of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.