No more fun being Malaysian

TIME was when P. Ramlee was a Malaysian screen idol with a wide following among Malays, Chinese, Indians and others who laughed at his innocuous jokes that poked fun at our racial idiosyncrasies.

No one cared a hoot if he imitated the way in which Malays of Javanese origin spoke, or how some Tamils shook their heads in agreement or the peculiar bazaar Malay of some Chinese. They were neither derisive nor scornful.

His Haji Bakhil scenes were classic, never to be replicated by actors and directors in later movies. His Bujang Lapok series had world class scenes where he helped Malaysians break into stitches at his antics. All of us, Chinese, Malay and Indian identified with Ramlee as only Malaysians could.

Of course, his songs were sung by all Malaysians, tuneful as they were with words that tugged at our heart strings or which tickled us with their spontaneity and light heartedness. I remember learning his songs by heart in school in Teluk Intan in the early 1970s with my Malay classmates in Form Six along with those by DJ Dave and Andre Goh.

People of various racial origin who Ramlee was gently poking in the ribs howled at their quirks, relishing the harmless way in which he told the story of Malaysians with different cultural backgrounds merged into a polyglot nation despite their differences.

Of course, those were the RTM days when there was no Astro to beguile us with a gamut of programmes from at home and abroad. We were glued to RTM 1 and 2 with our worldview crafted to some extent by Malaysiana.

I wonder who watches RTM programmes today which are mostly in Bahasa Malaysia with increasing competition from an array of programmes from commercial production houses.

Perhaps RTM should think of more multiracial programmes for all sectors of the population with P. Ramlee movies that we can all relate to.

Are there no Ramlee's in the Malay community or indeed among the Chinese, Indians and other Malaysians who can replicate his brand of harmless humour for the general good? Please stand and be counted.

Lat, that purveyor of great laughs, also got away with this in his cartoon strip howlers that portrayed us as a multiracial and multi-cultural people who laughed away their differences.

His cartoon on a small Malay man trying to get the thumbprint of his huge wife who is asleep so that he can marry a second wife will forever be etched in my mind.

Or the one where an elderly Chinese gentleman with poor eyesight crashes his car into an eye clinic and addresses the bearded and large Sikh doctor as "missi (nurse)" is another unforgettable one.

His cartoons were conversation pieces at parties and other social functions where his digs at our idiosyncrasies were accepted with good grace and in the spirit that they were created.

No one loved (observe the tense) a good laugh like we Malaysians looking at our peculiarities. But this is arguably no more today except in elite society where affluence blurs racial identity and all jokes are accepted in the colourless spirit of wealth.

By and large, if a Malaysian of any creed or race tried this today in films or cartoons, he would be castigated as trying to incite multiracial enmity or of being unpatriotic.

Racists have taken the fun out of being Malaysian. Over time, the last bastion of unity in this country – humour – appears to also have become a victim of the worsening clash of cultures and religions that seems to intrude into our collective reservoir of good sense.

Politics has taken its toll on the way in which we celebrate our diversity. I think Malay comedians do not dare to include non-Malay characters into their sketches for fear the overwhelmingly Malay audience may not accept the multiracial cast.

Non-Malay performers in this genre generally make acceptable fun of the Chinese and Indians but reserve jokes (usually of a darker hue) about the Malays to politicians and those in government (read Malays).

In Singapore, there are television shows featuring multiracial casts who look at the lighter side of multiracial living (even though 80% of the population is indeed Chinese, not unlike Malaysia where 65% of people are bumiputra).

So are we going forward as a humourless nation that is increasingly partisan because of the dark shadow that politics is casting over every sphere of life in Malaysia? I certainly pray not.

If there is anything that can benefit us from humour, it is the fact that deep down, we are all alike. Our foibles are almost common in nature; we make somewhat the same mistakes; our children are growing up in almost the same manner; price hikes are affecting us the same way.

Can we go back to the way we were when we saw ourselves on the celluloid screen and were regaled by the humorous commonalities that broke through our differences?

We need film producers, cartoonists and writers from all races – a multiracial crowd as it were – able to impress in us the fact that we are no different from each other.

Lets laugh at ourselves. It can be fun besides being a rallying point for unity.

Balan Moses, theSun's executive editor (news), believes that humour can be a great healer. A merry heart makes for good medicine for most things that ail this fair nation. Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com