‘Kakak’ – Atok’s little princess, had just completed a two week-rehearsal for a stage play which will be touring UK next week. She is to play the youngest princess in The King and I. She is excited and even more so are her parents, well done! And break a leg, Kakak!
Kakak, with her sweet oval shaped face and a hint of Oriental look, is just what the organisers of the play was searching for. Last year, three Malay children were chosen for the play. Indeed, the West End production of ‘The King and I’ a few years ago had no less than five Malaysians – all playing Thais or Burmese. There was Ungku who played various roles from court official to jester, (I think), and there’s Sean Ghazi who played the Burmese prince in the same production. If I am not mistaken, they were also in Miss Saigon.
Our Oriental faces are much in demand for these kind of productions. And also, our voices. And this from experience.
My meeting with Kakak last week brought to mind Pak Man Tokyo’s (See, Goodbye Pak Cik and Thanks for the Memories) brush with stars and stardom and indeed many of his friends too were in the books of Madam Sen, a Burmese lady, who was their agent.
Pak Man and his friends were extras in the Australian film ‘A Town Like Alice’, from the novel of the same name by Neville Shute. This, of course is a wartime romance between Aussie soldier and English woman in Malaya. And Pak Man and co. were of course those horrible, cruel and heartless Japanese soldiers. You don’t need much training 'cos all they needed was Oriental faces that could pass off as Japanese and lots of grunts and fierce looks!
So, it was quite by coincident that yonks later, I found myself at the BBC studio doing the voice of Fatima (the Malay friend of the heroine) for the cassette and radio version of the story. I had to sound all coy and naive. Easy!
Pak Man was also fortunate to have starred with the delectable and suave Roger Moore in the TV series, The Saint. He had also worked with Peter Finch. There’s Pak Mahmood from Singapore, who told me that once when he missed his ship, he became an extra in one movie and earned a lot more then his friends who left him!
Indeed, Pak Man and his sailor friends have had close brushes with fame or names who later became famous. Take Pak Cik Mat Noor in Liverpool. He claimed to have danced with Cilla Black and also served young Lennon who came to his friend’s café.
Din worked in a London west end club, hanging coats belonging to a little known singer called Mick Jagger and his friends. Little did he know then how famous they were going to be!
Now – about moi’s near brush with fame. Apart from the voice that I lent to Fatima of ‘A Town Like Alice’, I have sort of ‘appeared’ in a few more, not counting recordings in lifts and aeroplanes and phone messaging serviceslah!
A few years ago, I received a call from an agent working for Pinewood Studios. And I thought, this must be it! But, luckily I didn’t chuck in my day job. I was to round up ten Malay voices! And with a promise of £600 each for the whole day, I got more than I could manage and we trooped off to the studio. The film we were doing, I told them, was ‘The Entrapment’ at which point the boys in the group shrieked with excitement at the very-very remote possibility of meeting Catherine Zeta Jones, while the Mak Ciks in the group, silently prayed, (oh God, we prayed!) that we could at least feast our eyes on the sexy beast Sean Connery!
Well, not a hint or a whiff of CZJ – and we were briefed on what to do – mainly, we were doing the pasar scene – all kinds of bargaining, shouting, laughing! Then, there’s the scene when the police rushed in the building – only male voices saying "serbu! Serbu!" The party scene was hilarious! We could laugh and scream! Then, my claim to fame – the chatter in the lift!
But you’ve got to put your ears very close to the TV to hear it!
Anyway, even without CZJ – or Connery, we were quite happy – imagine £600 each just for laughing and shouting! We all sounded quite hoarse by the end of the day – but deliriously so.
Before the long journey back to London, we waited for some friends who wanted to go to the loo first and, without Connery himself we felt we had to take pictures with his big poster in the foyer. I was posing while my friend fiddled with her camera when, my jaw dropped to the floor at the sight of the apparition entering the door. I finally found my tongue and squeeked “Sean Connery, behind you!" “Ye, ye,” she said, quite used to my pranks. At which point the Sean Connery, strode in, passed my friend with the camera, (by which time her jaw was already mopping the floor,) and proceeded to say “Hallo! Hallo!” in that sexy voice of his and shook our hands. My friend with the camera was still going gaga – and didn’t even take any pictures. Our friendship ended there and then! If not I would have pictures to paste here as proof that Sean Connery shook my hand!
Then a few years after our very close brush to fame, I was called again – this time at another studio, another movie. Our chatter and laughter must have been so good that we were very much sought after. This time – to contribute to “The Sleeping Dictionary” – set in Sarawak. So called because the British expats were then taught Malay by their sleeping companions – except that they were not sleeping, if you catch my drift (wink, wink). I wonder what the vocabs consisted of? Imagine, "Ini *&^%!. Itu "£%$%$!"
Anyway, again – we were required to do a lot of laughter – and after sometime, it became quite tiring – and it became no laughing matter anymore. But one scene that a colleague had to do, had us all rolling on the floor with tears streaming down our cheeks. One friend, a Malaysian Indian, was to be the head gardener and another gardener – also an Indian was required for that short conversation. The problem was, he was the only Indian. So, this other colleague, a Malay came to the rescue – but his Indian vocab only consists of swear words, which I don’t think would pass the censorship board. Thus the conversation consisted of a lot of Amma,amma! in various tones and intonation, complete with shaking of the head to make it sound authentic!
Oh dear! Such hard work! I had better sign off now and go and do some real work!
ps I have just come back from teaching Malay to some British expats..and that, I promise you, is no sleeping or laughing matter. Quite serious one!