Saloma remembered

27 Aug 2014 / 17:06 H.

AWARD-WINNING actress Melissa Saila has just produced and directed a biopic for the small screen that is close to her heart.
It focuses on the life of her aunt, the late singer-actress extraordinaire Saloma, who was also wife of the legendary Tan Sri P. Ramlee.
Saloma will be aired on Astro First (channel 480) on Aug 28 in two parts.
This biopic has been a long time coming for Saloma’s sister Mariani Ismail, herself a well-known actress in the 1960s. It was Mariani who inspired her daughter, Melissa, to direct this biopic.
“I have been waiting for more than 30 years since the death of my sister for someone to do a decent tribute in her memory,” says the 81-year-old. “I was disappointed that no one has done that earlier.”
Tired of waiting, Mariani asked her daughter to do something so that Saloma’s life story would be made known to all Malaysians.

“My sister has contributed immensely to the entertainment industry and till today, people are still enjoying her songs. I do not want Saloma to be forgotten.”
The two-part series begins in 1941 when Saloma was aged six and ends in 1983 with the actress’ death at age 51.
Playing the younger Saloma is Puteri Balqish while Nabila Huda takes over as the older Saloma.
Among the cast are Tony Eusof (as Ramlee), Sazzy Falak (as Mariani), Sharifah Amani (as Siput Sarawak) and Hasnul Rahmat (as Pak Ismail).
Mariani has seen the biopic and is clearly happy with what her daughter has presented. Some scenes brought back fond memories and tears to her eyes.
“It was difficult for me to cope with my sister’s death,” recalls Mariani. “For 20 years after my sister’s death, I refused to listen to any of her songs or watch any of her movies. I did not want anything that reminded me of her as it would make me sad.”
Mariani’s favourite scene in the biopic shows Saloma at age seven and herself at age nine when their parents had divorced.
The two girls were staying with their father in Tanjung Karang, Selangor.
“Saloma missed our mother who was staying in Singapore very much,” Mariani says. “She was crying for our mum almost every day. I could no longer stand to see tears in my sister’s eyes.
“So one morning, I took Saloma to the market in Tanjung Karang and manage to hitch a ride to Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. Then, we walked to the railway station and sneaked onboard the train going to Singapore. Our mother was shocked to see us standing at her front door.”
For Melissa, 42, who started her own production house Kus Semangat Aktor Sdn Bhd in 2007, her favourite scenes are those of Saloma struggling to continue living after the death of her beloved husband, Ramlee.
“He was the love of her life and she was not the same person after his death,” says Melissa. “She had lost her will to live.”
Melissa was only 11 when her famous aunt died. She remembers Saloma as an introvert, reserved and shy, and such a contrast to her mother, Mariani, who is an extrovert and rather outspoken.
Melissa’s husband Megat Fauzi Isa, 51, is one of the producers of the biopic and co-wrote the script. He is mindful of the fact that doing a biopic on a legend like Saloma will likely draw many comments.
“We cannot satisfy everyone,” he says. “And they must understand that it is impossible for us to feature everything that took place in her life in a three-hour biopic. With such a time constraint, we had to choose what we want to feature.”
He adds that they chose to highlight Saloma the person first rather than the singer or actress. “Viewers will always be [more] interested about the human side of any famous personality.”
Shooting for the biopic took 33 days to complete and about 90% of it was done in Penang with the rest in Kuala Lumpur.
The biggest challenge Melissa had to face was portraying a bygone period in which she was not even born yet.
“In that sense, I’m lucky to have my mother to fill me in on how that era looked like,” says Melisa. “She was my adviser.”

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