Thursday, June 28, 2012

KAM RASLAN ~ A Movie You Can Read ~ by Antares

First published December 2006 in The Hilt...

Meet Kam Raslan, college dropout, filmmaker… and now, first-time novelist. Physically, Kam is an unlikely cross between Keanu Reeves and Woody Allen. Mentally, I’d suggest Fyodor Dostoevsky overlaid with a strong hint of John Cleese. Mother: Welsh, fond of classical music, a violinist and closet fan of David Bowie. Father: Malay, successful banker, passed away when Kam was only four.

Educational background: Kam went to some excellent schools in England and flunked all his exams. Remembers seeing his mother with her head in her hands after he failed his ‘O’ Levels, and all he could say was, “I’m going to the pub.” After screwing up his ‘A’ Levels, Kam’s friend at a film school asked him to help out on a shoot, as sound recordist.

The very first day of the shoot, Kam fell in love with filmmaking: “I suddenly discovered something that I understood and something that I was good at.” That was 21 years ago. He has since worked on films in London, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and even Los Angeles. In the 1990s Kam directed a lot of commercials and was making good money… until he wrote a magazine article dismissing Malaysian adbiz as a load of crap.

Not exactly a smart business move – but perhaps it forced Kam to concentrate on writing. He was kept busy for a period scripting material for the Instant CafĂ© Theatre. In fact, rumor has it that Kam wrote the bulk of the skits for their 2nd First Annual Bolehwood Awards - which ruffled quite a few bureaucratic feathers and almost got the show shut down by City Hall.

Kam paid his penance by scripting and directing several Malay TV dramas, none of which he seems keen to discuss in any detail. More recently Kam Raslan’s byline has graced the pages of The Edge as well as Off The Edge (which serialized several chapters from his forthcoming novel).

When I broached the possibility of an interview and personality profile for The Hilt, Kam was pleased with the prospect of some publicity for his soon-to-be-published book – but unsure if he wanted to be identified as the author. You see, Kam’s first novel is a personal narrative attributed to a retired civil servant named Dato’ Hamid. Kam wants his readers to believe that Dato’ Hamid is a real person – not just a fictitious character assembled from components of various personalities he has known or heard about.

After a brief exchange of SMSes, Kam agreed that it was quite pointless to assume the role of ghostwriter – and far too complicated to spin a yarn that Kam Raslan was only the Dato’s spokesman and facilitator. Might as well accept all the credit… as well as the possible censure from certain quarters who may be acutely discomfited by Dato’ Hamid’s published confessions.

Kam’s approach to writing is distinctly more cinematic than literary, in that he prefers to set the scene and then allow his characters to reveal themselves through their words and deeds. This makes his book a painless pleasure to read. By eschewing verbal embroidery and highfalutin stylistics, Kam draws the reader straight into his tale - just as a well-crafted film instantly immerses us in the action and the atmosphere. The naturalism that Kam has achieved in his story-telling grants us a privileged glimpse of a world within a world – that of the upper class Malay in the context of post-colonial Malaya’s rapid evolution into the multi-layered complexity of a multicultural, multiracial Malaysian nation. Dato’ Hamid’s stories engagingly reveal the foibles and follies of the Malay elite, and offer a rare insight into the sociopolitical and psychological factors governing Malaysia.

“What’s the title of your book?” I asked Kam. “Umm, still thinking about it…” he said, wondering if I had any suggestions. I SMSed Kam: “Call it HAMID, in bold 3D font like BEN HUR, with a subhead: Confessions of a retired civil servant.” He shot back an SMS: “Funny, I was thinking along the lines of Ben Hur myself.” Later I Googled the Arabic name “Hamid” and found out it means “praiseworthy.” Definitely a name that looks good carved in stone.

[Note: In 2007, a few months after this article appeared, Kam Raslan's debut novel, Confessions of an Old Boy, was published by Marshall Cavendish. It proved to be a runaway bestseller.]