KANTOI is a Malaysian slang many of us are familiar with and may even use from time to time. It is a word that describes when someone gets caught red-handed – in other words, busted.
Filmmaker Adam Zainal, 23, titled his 2018 debut film Kantoi, as a nod to the typical high school drama he knows his audience can relate to (and may even have experienced on some level) and turned it into a social-political discussion.
His film focuses on the taboo topic of teen pregnancy, where a teenage girl is suspected of being pregnant, and rumours begin to circulate around a group of high school students, resulting in chaos.
The comedy film was screened during the Freedom Film Festival 2018, and also garnered much attention online, and within the local movie industry.
What made you pursue film making?
“I started watching a lot of award-winning movies and independent films when I was 15, [which were] nothing like the blockbuster movies we [saw] in the cinema.
“I was so intrigued by not just the cinematography but also the [end credits]; the number of people that were involved in making a film from the cast members, music composers, writers and producers, makeup artists and costume designers.
“From there, I [always knew] that I wanted to be a storyteller which could lead to being a scriptwriter, an editor or a cinematographer, but [I never] imagined myself [as] a director.”
What does it mean to be a film director?
“As a film director, you have to be a leader and know exactly what you want to achieve. You need to have good communication skills and also know how to solve problems quickly.
“The fact that I get to tell a story I want by putting a vision into work is really fun and satisfying, especially when the film is done.”
How do you define a good piece of film?
“When a film looks pretty but the story doesn’t live up to the aesthetic, then it obviously wouldn’t captivate the audience as much.
“That being said, a good piece of film must have good storytelling, acting, music and cinematography.”
Share with us some of the themes and topics you explore in Kantoi.
“[It is] loosely inspired by a true story.
“Kantoi was my final year project [in university] about teen pregnancy. The initial idea that I pitched to my lecturer was about the dangers of gossiping, but to understand the topic, I had to dig deeper.
“I asked myself what kind of gossip specifically would disrupt the social scene in a high school setting, [and] at the same time, appeal to both guys and girls, which eventually led to exploring the topic of teen pregnancy.
“Kantoi might be a comedy, but there are ways to translate the importance of sex education [which] we need so urgently in Malaysia. I did it in a comedic undertone not to glorify [the subject], but to [help] highlight the many cases of teen pregnancy and baby dumping over the years.”
How was the response to the film?
“To be honest, I was expecting to [get] bad reviews, because the topic itself is undoubtedly still a taboo in Malaysia, but surprisingly there were a lot of good reviews.
“I’m glad that I stood firm [about] what I believed and how I envisioned the film to be, even though many had told me to reconsider [my] approach [to] making the film.”
What was the most challenging part?
“The casting process was the most challenging part. I had to search for videogenic cast members who could be lively, expressive, and charismatic according to their individual scripts.
“Most people can act sad and depressed, but I wanted expressive characters so it was really difficult; even two days before production [began] I was still looking for [a lead actress].”
What advice do you have for other young aspiring film directors?
“Believe in what you want to tell through the film, but always ask yourself if your audience will like the film, simply by putting yourself in the audience’s perspective.”