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Should Jagat be Disqualified?

Jagat was officially premiered last year. However, it recently caused a stir among the Malaysian local film scene when it was disqualified for the nomination of Best Malaysian Film for the 28th Malaysia Film Festival (FFM) this year. The reason behind this was, according to FFM, the lack of usage of the Malay language, the official language for Malaysia.

Tamil language was the ‘lingua franca’ of the film because it was a story revolving around an Indian boy name Apoi. Despite Tamil language being a common language spoken in Malaysia, it appears that FFM didn’t take note of how many of us speak Tamil.

As the controversy gathered momentum, Ipohites who didn’t get the chance to watch the movie last year was given a special screening on August 13 at Yasmin Kong Heng. Over 50 Ipohites showed up and gathered to watch the film that was premiered at this year’s New York Film Festival on June 26.

Apoi, the boy who struggled in school was having difficulties understanding his father, Maniam. Unlike two of his brothers, Maniam realised that the only way to get out of poverty was through education. As he didn’t receive much, he vowed that his only child should never suffer like he did. Apoi, however didn’t understand the value of education yet. His questions about life were often answered by one of his uncles, Bala, who had a difficult past but had learnt to overcome it. Another uncle of Apoi was Chicago, a low life thug with principles who vowed not to be part of the ‘powder’ (drugs) business but instead focussing on others such as collecting debts and cars on behalf of his boss. Chicago’s lifestyle was somehow perceived as the easier way to live by Apoi. Knowing how drugs and booze had affected both of his brothers, Maniam was forced to be strict and firm with Apoi. Throughout the movie, viewers will get a glimpse of how a child’s behaviour is often affected by his surroundings.

Should the movie be disqualified? Not in the view of this scribe. It is a film about Malaysian life including the thug life and it is a reality.

“I received some criticism, some were helpful while some asked why I chose to make Indians look bad,” said Shanjey Kumar Perumal, the director of Jagat, after the screening ended.

This wasn’t the first time a local film was rejected by FFM due to the lack of usage of Malay. Muallaf, by the late Yasmin Ahmad, faced the same opprobrium during the 23rd FFM. According to FFM, all nominations must use at least 70% Malay language to get nominations, possibly accounting for the lack of quality in their nominations. The FFM criteria not only stirred conversation among local film fans but also among ministers.

“FFM should let all local films compete in the same category instead of putting them in different categories,” said Khairy Jamaluddin, the Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister.

Ipoh Echo will like to congratulate Jagat on winning the Best Malaysian Film during FFM 28 on September 3. 

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