For years, TV personality and comedian Nabil Ahmad had heard stories about the abandoned theme park Mimaland in Gombak, Selangor, being a popular spot for “dumping” unwanted spirits. These tales inspired the 34-year-old to write comedy-horror telemovie The Hantus.
“I wondered what ghosts would do at a place like Mimaland? I imagined, since it’s a theme park, the ghosts there would be having fun,” he said during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
The Hantus unfolds as an anthology of five short stories based on urban legends like the haunted yellow Volkswagen Beetle car, creepy Karak Highway and pontianak terrorising humans.
In the film, the ghosts – played by the likes of Faizal Hussein, Khatijah Tan and Hannah Delisha – meet up at Mimaland and hang out. One night, a mortal named Fami (Alif Satar) joins them.
“In the theme park, the ghosts play games like bumper cars and try to win prizes. They also go on a haunted house ride. If you want to know what ghosts are scared of, then you’ll find out in The Hantus,” Nabil shared.
While it’s easy to think of The Hantus as just a fun ghost story, the telemovie also touches on faith. Nabil tackles subjects like the spirituality and the afterlife through Fami’s journey with the ghosts. Just like Fami, who is on a journey of self-discovery, Nabil is on a path to see if he’s ready to step away from the spotlight and take on a new role.
The Hantus marks Nabil’s directorial debut (with Helmi Yusof credited as co-director).
The jovial entertainer is currently at the top of his game as a TV host, but Nabil is also ruminating about his future.
“Eventually, my fame will run out. I’m not going to be needed as much as I am needed now,” Nabil reasoned.
Nabil rose to fame as a Raja Lawak winner back in 2008. His life changed from office errand boy to become one of Malaysia’s top entertainers. The father of two daughters is the host of Astro’s top entertainment programme MeLetop. His ever-expanding resume also includes correspondent duties on the red carpet of 2017 Oscars in Los Angeles, United States.
“I want to keep going in the industry by doing something different in terms of content offering. What I do is out of the box. I don’t want our future generation to be consuming the same kind of movies and TV shows.”
Throughout his years of observing the Malaysian entertainment scene, Nabil said viewers don’t seem to have much of a choice. It’s always the same love story or drama about rich people talking about “land development deals”.
“It has always been about this rich guy who likes this girl but he has to compete with another man. I don’t understand. You’re rich, why can’t you find another girl?”
Nabil denied that he used his position in Astro to get ahead in the pitching process.
He said, like everyone else, he had to schedule appointments to pitch story ideas, and went through different stages of interviews. He was surprised when the head of Astro First Eksklusif and Astro Best, Sharmin Parameswaran, said yes to his idea.
“At that time, during the pitching process, I thought even if I didn’t get to do the project, I should be thankful that I learned something. I didn’t pitch my story as Nabil Ahmad, the celebrity.
“I was a nobody looking for an opportunity to make a movie. I believe Astro saw the strength in my script.”
When it came to directing, Nabil said he likes to get away from the monitor to guide his actors. He also relied on co-director Helmi to help him realise his vision.
“I kena sedar diri (be aware). I needed Helmi to guide me for what I didn’t know and what I might have missed while doing everything else. For my upcoming projects, I hope to work with directors like Ghaz Abu Bakar and Osman Ali. I’m not ready to be a director on my own.”
Although he may be unsure about being behind the camera alone, Nabil is looking forward to shake things up and step out of his own comfort zone.
“I wasn’t fooling around when I talked about making my own movie. As a comedian, I understand why some people won’t take me seriously. I hope now they change their perception about comedians.”