A writer’s dream

ABOUT 10 years ago, author Ramlee Awang Murshid started a film production company, Layar Sunan, hoping to adapt his novels into films.

Tomorrow, the 50-year-old’s dream will come true. The film adaptation of his best-selling novel Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba will be released in cinemas.
The film is produced by Astro Shaw, with the cooperation of Layar Sunan.

“This could be the first time that a novelist has turned into a film producer,” says Ramlee, a native of Papar, Sabah.

Asked why he chose this unique route, he says: “There are those who have not read my novels and are not aware of my existence. I [had hoped] this production company would change [that].

“Maybe, after watching the film version of my novels, they will be tempted to pick up my books and read them.”

Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba tells the tale of a man who is the protector of both the forest and the local aboriginal community.

The book follows Tombiruo’s fierce battle with a logging company that is trying to destroy the forest.

The novel has two sequels, Tombiruo: Semangat Hutan and Tombiruo Terakhir.

“There was a lot of illegal logging taking place in my hometown (in Sabah), and these novels deal with that issue,” he says.
“We should not abuse our environment, because nature can strike back.”

Asked if the film would be a faithful adaptation of the novel, Ramlee diplomatically replies: “It is impossible to translate everything from the novel to the screen.
“You cannot compress a few hundred pages into a two-hour movie. Some parts you have to [leave out] so the film will make a better impact. Sacrifices have to be made.”

However, Ramlee says he is happy the film has managed to capture the essence of his novel, which was written in 1998.
Next year, Ramlee plans to release the series’ fourth instalment, Tombiruo Legasi.

To date, Ramlee has written 35 novels, beginning with a thriller about revenge and murder titled Igauan Maut, in 1995.
At the time, he says, Malay readers were more keen to read romance novels, and his horror novels did not get a good response.
“Some bookshops refused to carry my titles,” Ramlee recalls.

But over the years, readers began to expand their interest, and his novels started selling like hotcakes.

One reason for this change, says Ramlee, is because “too many romance novels were flooding the market”.

He adds: “Readers were getting tired of them. They were looking for something different. If you eat chicken every day, you will get bored with chicken.”
Asked about his inspirations, Ramlee cites his father – a prison officer – as the one who sparked his desire to be a storyteller.

“He would tell me what took place in the prison, [including] stories of criminals, in the most suspenseful manner,” says Ramlee.
“There was a period where he even handled the last meals the prisoners had before they were hanged.”

One of the stories that Ramlee remembers vividly is about a prisoner who was extremely depressed when he learnt his sentence was ending.
“He had spent his whole life in the prison, and the prison had become his home,” Ramlee recalls.

“He did not want his freedom. A month after his release, he committed a robbery so he would be sent back to prison.”
Another story that has an impact on Ramlee is about a murderer who was sentenced to hang.

“A few minutes before [his sentence was to be carried out], the prison office received a call that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was visiting Sabah, and no hanging was supposed to take place [that day].”

One month later, the prisoner was facing the hangman again.

Ramlee says: “A few minutes before [it was to take place], the prison office received another call that the Agong had pardoned everyone who was supposed to be hanged that day. The prisoner escaped death twice!”

Ramlee has written about many interesting subjects, that one wonders if the next step is for him to write an autobiography.
“I have tried to write a book about my life. But my story never got completed.

“To write about yourself is the most difficult thing to do. You have to true to yourself and that is not easy.”
He adds with a laugh: “I have done some naughty things in my life.”