It’s only been four months since our nation became Malaysia Baru. But producer Fred Chong with directors Saw Teong Hin, Nik Amir Mustapha and M.S. Prem Nath, have already come up with a film that revolves around the historical day on May 9, 2018.
Rise: Ini Kalilah was conceptualised a few weeks after the 14th Malaysia General Election, with story development done in June, and principal filming shot in July. Then sometime in August, the film’s trailer was launched. Today, it is released in cinemas nationwide.
“This is a topic that affected everyone in Malaysia in different ways,” said Chong, who was determined that Rise was released around Malaysia Day as a tribute to Malaysians who made the change possible.
“I hope all Malaysians will watch Rise and remember this is just the beginning of our journey to becoming a united and prosperous nation again.”
Nik Amir agreed: “The film captures a moment in our history, a document of what happened – that the rakyat did something together, for a common goal.”
However, Chong emphasised that Rise is not a political film.
“My hope is that rather than expecting a highly-charged political film, audiences will see inspirational stories of how different Malaysians find meaning in their own ways and rose up to the occasion during GE14,” Chong explained.
Rise revolves around six main characters, with each contributing a slice of Malaysian life, both the good and the bad.
There is policeman Azman (played by Remy Ishak) who doesn’t accept bribery of any sort, but he doesn’t stop his partner when the latter harasses and blackmails the common people either.
Teacher Shanti (Sangeeta Krishnasamy) is always questioning the authority for any wrongdoing even when that authority is none other than her own father, who is the headmaster at the school she teaches.
The film is also peppered with stories that were shared countless times on social media before the election, like overseas students helping each other to bring home the late ballots to meet the deadline; and public transports sponsored by fellow citizens to encourage everyone to balik kampung to vote.
Prem said: “We’ve all heard these stories, but Rise reminds us that for change to happen, everyone must play their part. In one of the scenes I directed, I had to put in this bit where a character says, ‘One vote is not going to make a difference’, and another character retorts, ‘Every vote counts!’.
“Rise is a chance for me to put this notion out there – one vote does make a difference.”
What also becomes immediately obvious with Rise is that it features the many languages spoken in Malaysia. So, there is one scene where characters are talking in Malay, followed by dialogues in Tamil, Mandarin, English.
“It was interesting that I shot the story revolving around Jack Tan’s character, who speaks in Mandarin in the film, when I don’t speak the language,” shared Prem, with a laugh.
“But I could do it because at the end of the day a human story is the same, despite our racial and cultural differences.”
Each director was put in charge of two characters, with Saw also taking care of the film’s ending scene when all the characters culminate at a polling centre.
One thing the actors in the film agree on is that, it was a privilege to be part of the project. Tan, who has accumulated several international awards for his lead turn in 2017’s Shuttle Life, didn’t mind that he only played a minor role in Rise.
“When I was told that the film is about the Election Day, I thought it was a cool idea. I read the script and found it to be good.
“But when I found out the production wanted to put the film out in a matter of months, I knew the process would be challenging and interesting,” said Tan, who shot his scenes in Singapore for one week, and another week in Malaysia.
In the film, his character Leong, is someone who has migrated to Singapore in search of better opportunities. Even though his brother also lives across the causeway, Leong yearns to be home where he feels he truly belongs.
“I hope for Malaysians who have gone abroad for work to come home, because we got a new hope now,” added Tan.
For Sangeeta, the film is significant because it stamps her own feeling.
“I have always kept myself from talking about politics because I figured it wasn’t my place. I am only an actress. But playing Shanti, I realised it is important to exercise your responsibility as a Malaysian, and not be apathetic,” the actress said.
Director Saw remembered staying up late watching the results of the election as it was unfolding. So when Chong approached him about Rise, Saw immediately told him to count him in.
“And when he told me that he wants the film to be released on Malaysia Day, I said, ‘What!’” said Saw, laughing. “But I agreed anyway. I said, ‘Let’s jump into the deep end and see what happens.’
“Three months is unheard of. But we did it. Rise: Ini Kalilah is proof that if we work together, we can do just about anything,” stated Saw.
Chong concluded with how the film came up with the title: “We started calling the film project ‘Ini Kalilah’ when we first started a Whatsapp group chat.
“The concept was based on the GE14 event but when we further developed the story, we found ourselves drawn to the characters’ personal stories and their emotions within, and how they overcome their own struggle and ‘rise up’ during GE14.
“So, it was a group decision to name our film Rise: Ini Kalilah.”