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Mon, 05/29/2023 - 11:15
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The Contemporary Dynamic Of Indian Cinema's Malaysian Connection

Quiz master Phanindra Ivatury writes on the beginnings of Malaysia’s movie industry, which started with a strong directorial legacy from India and how Indian cinema and celebrities still have a strong following in Malaysia till today.


UTRECHT (The Netherlands), May 29 (Bernama) -- Malaysia is a mesmerizing amalgamation of three beautiful cultures.  The Malay, Chinese and Indian.  The trio’s symphonic co-existence makes Malaysia a role model state for any global nation engaged in the process of bringing diverse races and ethnicities together under one harmonious umbrella. 


As the Malaysian movie industry celebrates nine glorious decades of cinematic excellence and existence this year, it is also very gratifying to reminisce its sublime association with Indian cinema which dates back to the very origins.


“Leila Majnun” the first Malay language film made in 1933 had a strong mutual connect.  The movie was produced by Singapore based Motilal Chemical Company owned by Indian businessman K.R.S. Chisty. 


It was helmed by auteur Balbir Singh Rajhans, popularly known as B.S. Rajhans, an Indian origin Punjabi who also directed other significant Malay films like the post war “Seruan Merdeka” in 1947 and “Nilam”, a 1949 fantasy starring Tan Sri Datuk Amar P.Ramlee, an iconic figure of the Malaysian entertainment industry.  


Coincidently today is the 50th anniversary of P.Ramlee’s death, who passed away in Kuala Lumpur on May 29, 1973.


The spotlight on “Leila Majnun” also paved way to a remarkable trend of importing directorial help from India for movies made in Malaysia during later years. 


To quote a stupendous example, Datuk L. Krishnan, a film director (whose initial roots belonged to ‘Madras-now Chennai’, India) created a niche for himself in Malaysia and is widely regarded as one of the pioneers in Malay film making.


The influx of Indian diaspora into Malaya regions has its origins from the mighty ‘Cholas’ time in history which was further facilitated during the British Raj regime in India where plantation workers from the Indian southern state of Tamil Nadu started migrating to Malaysia. 


Fast forward to present day in the context of cinema, apart from patronizing Tamil language movies made in India, Malaysia now has its own Tamil movie making industry.  


Proving a point further, “Jagat” a 2016 ‘Malaysian Tamil crime drama film’ won the ‘Best Malaysian Film’ and ‘Best Director’ Awards in the country’s 28th Film Festival.


Malaysia’s fascination towards Hindi cinema is also huge and almost runs parallel to its admiration for Tamil films. I have had firsthand experience to Hindi cinema’s imposing presence in Malaysia throughout my fruitful expat years spent in this gorgeous nation.


Back then, it prompted me as a Quizzer to come up with various ‘Bollywood Quiz themes’ for local Malaysians and the Indian diaspora, such events always highlighting Hindi cinema’s popularity with ‘houseful’ participants in packed auditoriums.   


A pair of iconic moments which instantly flash through my mind in relation to Indian cinema’s modern day dynamic with Malaysia concern two of India’s biggest Superstars. 


In 2008,  Shah Rukh Khan became the first Indian movie star to be conferred with the prestigious Malaysian title “Datuk” for his achievements in cinema.  Taking into account his stupendous fan base in Malaysia, the country has always been more than welcoming to him. 


Shah Rukh’s 2006 blockbuster “Don” was shot extensively in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi (two of Malaysia’s most scenic places). 


Personal interactions with Malaysian Hindi cinema fans over the years inspired my 2015 Quizzing event on the ‘Bollywood Khans’ theme, held at the Indian Cultural Centre, Kuala Lumpur.  Probably, a one of its kind live Quiz where all the 70 Questions asked pertained only to the “Khans of Bollywood”.    


The other significant occurrence relates to another Indian Superstar Rajinikanth, who’s luminary presence is gigantic in Malaysia. 


In July 2016, Air Asia, a Malaysian multinational airline dedicated an airplane to the promotions of Rajinikanth’s blockbuster release of that year “Kabali” (which also like Shah Rukh’s “Don” was mostly shot in Malaysia).  The outer fuselage of the aircraft was decked up with a large publicity sticker prominently displaying Rajini’s look from the movie.  It was perhaps the first ever time that an Indian movie poster got to fly.


In today’s time, Malaysia is not just the chosen destination for innumerable Indian movie shoots but also the preferred venue to many Indian movie and audio release functions.  In 2015, the 16th IIFA Awards (International Indian Film Academy Awards) were held in Kuala Lumpur.


Telugu and Malayalam cinema from India also have some presence in Malaysia if not the twin lions’ share mentioned above.  Back in 2012, new Telugu film releases used to be screened in Kuala Lumpur by a few private distributors in select weekend shows, the ticket prices usually hiked up and down based on the movie’s magnitude. 


On one of my more recent visits to Malaysia, I have noticed that Telugu movies are now being directly distributed and shown at prime multiplexes.  

To aptly sum it up in the words of Shah Rukh Khan who while addressing a debate on his eligibility to the ‘Datuk’ title said “I didn’t ask for this.  But I’m accepting it because it’s not just an honour for me, but for my fellow actors in India”. 


While cinematic relations between both nations continue to thrive, they so far have been worthy of their weight in gold.