If Food Is The Music Of Love…

METAPHORS abound in “Sayang Disayang”, with ideas suggested rather than literally displayed. Using such storytelling techniques make for an artistically cinematic offering but one can lose an audience whose fodder has been shoot-from-the-hip blockbusters ranging from comic superheroes to slash-horror and, of course, fast and furious action. Sayang Disayang

So, when a movie shows a fish swimming in a pond — most of the time alone, and then joined by another — or an alter-ego as, perhaps, the subconscious manifesting, today’s cinemagoers will do a mental double-take as a recent question-and-answer session with filmmaker Sanif Olek reveals.

“Sayang Disayang”, Singapore’s entry for the 2015 Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film category, is an enjoyable film. It was screened recently as part of the Singapore Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur.

It is about an old, bitter guy, played admirably by Datuk Rahim Razali, who is angry with his own state of feebleness after an accident that killed his wife.

His son asks the comatose Pak Harun in the hospital: “Why were you so careless with mother?”. He hires a live-in maid, Murni (played by Aidli Mosbit), from Aceh, Indonesia, to look after the incapacitated man and leaves for Australia.

The story opens with Murni singing as she prepares sambal goreng, said to be Pak Harun’s favourite dish according to his son.

But she doesn’t seem able to get it just the way he wants it — exactly how his late wife did it. Her sadness over her being far from her family members in Acheh, who are recovering from the effects of the 2004 tsunami, and the inability to please her boss, as well as the dark quiet of the house is palpable.

Her subconscious (played by Asnida Daud) provokes the question on whether she is cooking her way into his heart, and not just his stomach, and one knows the two go together.

The patient Murni has to take care of Pak Harun in a nurse’s capacity too, including bathing him, cleaning him up after “accidents” and even carrying him up to his bedroom. (Sanif said this scene was done in one take, and that it was the most difficult part of the film for the cast and crew.)

The 78-minute film uses flashbacks to tell the story, with chiaroscuro lighting to show the sadness of the old man, stuck with infirmity coupled with old age, as well as his sombre mansion.

Murni is shown bathing (berkemban with a sarong), where she washes away Pak Harun’s angry chides over her cooking, and her sorrow over not being with her nephew and niece, among others. This is where she sobs with despair over not pleasing her boss. These are emotionally binding scenes that tell her backstory.

The soundtrack of gamelan with Malay songs from the 1970s, delivered in solid vocals by Aidli and Asnida, stirs the heart in this love story of not just people but food too.

The sambal goreng is meticulously prepared throughout the movie, with either modern kitchen gadgets (blender) or the small tumbuk (mortar and pestle).

“Sayang Disayang” does have a social commentary woven into this culinary tale — that of filial piety, or the lack of it. Kudos to the actors, Rahim, a veteran Malaysian actor/ director/sports commentator, Aidli, a Singaporean thespian, and Asnida, as well as the directors of photography, M Senthilnathan and Vincent Wong.

At the question-and-answer session after the film at Golden Screen Cinema 1 Utama, firsttime film director Sanif divulged his secrets on making “Sayang Disayang”, from a crowdfunding budget to music and other ingredients.

In fact, the working title, “The Missing Ingredient”, itself is a good metaphor for the movie’s story.

Why sambal goreng? “It is to Malay food the same way sushi is to Japanese cuisine,” says Sanif, who had made his mark in television (TV) in Singapore. “Every Malay household must have this dish.”

Sanif finally settled on “Sayang Disayang” (Love Beloved), from a song featured in a 1950’s movie, “Rachun Dunia”, composed by Zubir Said.

While the making of the dish in this film tends to get repetitive, with each onion, chilli and long bean being cut, piece by piece, time and time again, until the cinemagoers could get the ingredients down pat, it is this very detail that works as a metaphor for the maid’s drive for perfection in love.

So, too, are the many scenes of fish swimming, which also act as a metaphor for finding a partner in the journey of life.

The finale of this movie is borderline soap drama, but, generally, the scenes that are devoid of dialogue save “Sayang Disayang” from becoming a made-for-TV movie. Those sort of scenes are just the kind that irks today’s cinemagoers.

One would not need popcorn to watch “Sayang Disayang”. Kudos to Sanif for delivering Singapore’s first Malay feature film in 40 years.

** this review appeared in The Malaysian Reserve



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