Malaysian filmmaker ST Bala was inspired to make a film about death after observing the many social behaviours of people at, well, funerals. He said people don’t seem to behave appropriately at what is supposed to be a solemn affair.
“I’ve been to funerals where people treat it as a jovial function. I can hear them laughing and joking around. It’s as if when a person dies, he is no longer remembered as a person. I don’t expect people to be sad but I do feel they should be more respectful,” he shared during a phone interview.
As a filmmaker and graduate of the now-defunct Akademi Filem Malaysia, Bala, 49, feels he can use the medium to send a message about how the deceased should be remembered at funerals. He came up with RIP? – a Tamil drama that centres around the funeral of a man and how his death affects those around him, set within one day.
“RIP? shows what happens after a man dies of a heart attack. At his funeral, family members are fighting over who should get his property and retirement funds. They seem to forget that a man has just died.”
Bala said one the biggest challenges that came with making RIP? was the location. His team needed only one house in Kuala Lumpur for the story to unfold. However, he couldn’t get any homeowners to agree to lend him their place after he told them about the movie’s premise.
“No one would allow us to set up a funeral in their house. Thankfully, we managed to find a place and make it look like a home.”
Filming was completed in five days with a budget of less than RM200,000.
Bala hopes RIP? – starring Ramasuntran Rengan (of Jangan Ketawa fame), Venumathi Perumal and S.S. Shivajee – will be well-received by the audience.
That wasn’t the case when he released his first Bahasa Malaysia film, It’s The Moment Yang Arif, last year. It was a major box-office disappointment, earning only RM4,678.36. Bala said the failure of It’s The Moment Yang Arif hit him hard and, he has no one to blame but himself.
“It’s The Moment Yang Arif was adapted from a Tamil-language play that I wrote. I thought since the play was popular surely it can do well as a Bahasa Malaysia film. So I took a risk and wanted to do something different. I’ve learned my mistake. It has become a valuable lesson for me.”
Bala – whose previous works include Kaliyugha (2012) and Tun V.T. Sambanthan biopic Sambanthan (2014) – described filmmaking as a “life-long passion”.
When he graduated from Akademi Filem Malaysia in 1998, he couldn’t find any opportunity to make films so he focused on theatre. Once the opportunity finally came along, he made sure to continue making films.
“I’ve had people tell me ‘Excuse me Mr Bala, you can’t make movies’. I have been booed. I don’t care what other people say. With every failure, I’m learning to adapt to what audiences like. I won’t give up.”