Thursday, July 27, 2017


A young Zahim (r) plays the Angel of Death
Malaysia’s top-ranking actor-director shifts into high gear

By Antares

Appropriately enough I first met Zahim Albakri on stage - in a 1988 production of Maureen Ten’s For The Time Being. I played a dying doctor and Zahim was cast as an angel assigned to assist in the doctor’s transition. Zahim had recently returned from drama studies in the U.K. and this was his introduction to Malaysian theater. With the benefit of hindsight it appears that Zahim’s rôle as an angel of transition was indeed a prophetic one.

In the decades since his return to the homeland, Zahim Albakri has been a key factor in helping shift local theater from the amateur end of the spectrum to the professional. He didn’t accomplish this feat alone, of course. Look at his peer group - Jit Murad, Jo Kukathas, Huzir Sulaiman, Allan Perera, Indi Nadarajah, Afdlin Shauki, Harith Iskandar, Patrick Teoh, Nell Ng, Gavin Yap – all theater luminaries in their own right. They are undoubtedly the fresh wave of talent that has swept up the theater-loving legacy of the older aficionados and carried it to entirely new heights.
Co-founder of Instant Cafe Theatre
In 1989 Zahim got together with a few buddies and founded the notorious Instant Café Theatre, which carved a prominent niche for itself in political satire. He subsequently created Dramalab as a vehicle to explore and develop original works, and to promote the further growth of a Malaysian theater idiom.

Stage actors began receiving modest wages only around 1990, so almost everyone aspiring to a full-time career in local theater had to moonlight in TV dramas and the occasional feature film. Zahim Albakri has appeared in countless Malay TV dramas, many of which are best forgotten, but he did score a Best Actor award in 1999 for his performance in something called Odisi. The Boh Cameronian Arts Awards - inaugurated in 2002 and now affectionately known as the Cammies - was a timely boost to the performing arts in Malaysia in that excellent work was at last getting the public recognition it deserved.

Making waves in theater
Zahim bagged the Cammy for Best Director (Spilt Gravy on Rice) the very first year. In 2004 he was voted Best Solo Performer for The Smell of Language, and a year later he shared the Best Director Cammy with Singapore’s Alvin Tan for Separation 40 (a Dramalab/Necessary Stage co-production). His huge directorial success with Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical has established Zahim Albakri as a veritable icon in Malaysian theater. When I met him over lunch towards the end of August 2006, Zahim was in the midst of reprising his rôle as director of Jit Murad’s maiden play, Gold Rain and Hailstones, first staged in August 1998 to tremendous acclaim, and which begins an 11-day run on September 7th, this time on the big stage at the newly inaugurated KL Performing Arts Center.

Zahim’s mother Valerie is a vivacious Englishwoman with a distinct flair for the arts. Her ambition was to be a professional dancer, but her parents persuaded her to get a bank job instead. Valerie became a speech and drama teacher in Malaysia when she married Zahim’s dad - an eminent architect best known for the National Library and the landmark Putra World Trade Center. In February 2006, Zahim’s father had a heart attack while playing golf, and died. Zahim has two siblings: elder brother Zarul (a musician and film producer) and younger sister Zehan (who followed her father’s footsteps and took up architecture).

Zahim Albakri: conferred Datukships in 2009 & 2015
The warmth and affection with which Zahim speaks of his parents is tangible. He did toy for a while with the idea of becoming an architect like his dad, but instead opted to express his artistic impulses in the more kinetic field of theater where he subsequently earned his Master’s degree in Theater Directing. 

He rarely intellectualizes about directing, preferring to approach his work intuitively, allowing for serendipity and creative inputs from his cast and crew. Zahim’s lifelong interest in architectural forms and physical structures grounds him firmly in the visual aspects of dramaturgy, while his early exposure to the magic of theater gives him a solid grasp of the alchemy that happens when the right actors get together to dramatize a story.

At the ripe young age of 54, Zahim Albakri is a mature actor and director in the fullness of his prime, poised on the brink of ever greater accomplishments.

[First published in The Hilt, September 2006] 


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

11 years on, Altantuya's bigwig killers stay elusive to the law but we all know who they are! (updated)

The three accused arriving at court (photo: AFP)
Despite a detailed confession of pre-meditated murder from Sirul Azhar bin Haji Umar (IC No: RF12559) recorded in Police Report No: 7380/06 on 9 November 2006 at 1635 hrs by Inspector Nom Phot a/l Prack Dit, the Court of Appeal on 23 August 2013 decided to let both Sirul Azhar and his instigator Capt. Azilah Hadri walk free.

Sirul Azhar (left) & Azilah Hadri 
It has been established that Capt. Azilah Hadri was from the elite UTK (Special Operations Unit of the Royal Malaysian Police) and had served as personal bodyguard to then defence minister and deputy prime minister Najib Razak. He was summoned by Najib’s ADC and security chief, DSP Musa Safri, after Abdul Razak Baginda reported to his close friend and biggest client Najib Razak, that he was being harassed relentlessly by a very determined Mongolian woman demanding her share of a RM540 million kickback from a top secret French submarine deal.

Sirul Azhar stated in his police statement that he was recruited by Azilah to assist in “taking care” of a nuisance named Aminah alias Altantuya Shaariibuu. He even added that a cash reward of RM50,000 –100,000 was involved. I doubt Sirul knew who had made the offer, and even if he did, whatever name he mentioned would have been deleted from his statement by police officers eager to protect the VVIPs in Umno Baru.

'Taken care' of at least 6 others

The third accused in the gruesome murder trial was Abdul Razak Baginda who submitted a sworn affidavit to the effect that he had briefed Capt. Azilah Hadri on the problem of Altantuya. Razak Baginda said Capt. Azilah had assured him he was quite up to the task, even boasting that he had previously “taken care” of at least six others.

Nobody in their right mind would confess to cold-blooded murder - more so when the victim is unknown to them and happens to be a pretty woman given the brush-off by some well-heeled and politically connected casanova. Altantuya was obviously not a hardcore criminal. Who would have had the heart to shoot her twice in the head point blank even as she was pleading for her life – and that of her unborn child? Whatever crime she might have committed, blackmail for example, she deserved her day in court. Every policeman knows that – or should in any case.

Altantuya Shaariibuu in Europe with Razak Baginda
However, Capt. Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar weren’t ordinary cops. They were commandos with the UTK, trained as crack sharpshooters and willing to carry out orders without question. Whose orders? Surely they would not obey Abdul Razak Baginda – a mere civilian, albeit one with political clout? The orders had to come from a superior police officer, in this instance Najib Razak’s ADC, former DSP Musa Safri, who has since been promoted and transferred to a different state.

Political masters must take the ultimate responsibility

"Could do with more kickback"
Why was Musa Safri never called as a witness during the trial, which ran a record 159 days? He was security chief and ADC to Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor. Whatever action he took would have been at their behest, in the interest of their personal security. DSP Musa Safri was clearly a loyal servant to his political masters. They are ones who must accept ultimate responsibility for the actions of their loyal servants – particularly if these actions involved abduction and cold-blooded murder, topped by the use of military-grade plastic explosives to destroy evidence of a dead body carrying an unborn child.

We must not forget that somebody in the Immigration Department deliberately deleted from the computer database all entry records of Altantuya Shaariibuu and her companions. Who would have the authority to order such a criminal act? In October 2006 when the drama unfolded the Ministry of Home Affairs (which controls the Immigration Department) had recently been restructured and, although Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad was nominally in charge, it was a period of confusion without clear lines of command.

There must be someone very high in the power hierarchy to accomplish these grievous misdeeds without a hitch (almost). Who does all the evidence point to? Who is the common denominator in this complex web of intrigue?

Was Rosmah really not at the scene? Or was she?

Altantuya Shaariibuu (6 May 1978 – 20 October 2006)
Abdul Razak Baginda had friends in powerful places but maintained a relatively low public profile. He had little to lose except his reputation if his sordid affair with Altantuya became public knowledge - apart from facing the wrath of his wife, Mazlinda Makhzan (a director in the company involved with the submarine deal). Even if this scandal resulted in an investigation by the MACC, it would have been a routine matter to get the case closed after the excitement had subsided.

Same goes for the uniformed personnel involved in the case. Musa Safri may have been guilty of abetting a serious crime, but as a typical Malay police officer whose loyalty to his Tuan Besar superseded his duty as a public servant, he would have received a measure of sympathy had he confessed his role and cleared the path for justice to be served. Capt. Azilah and Sirul were clearly implicated, via Sirul’s confession as well as the detailed statutory declaration signed by private investigator Balasubramaniam a/l Perumal. However, their role was essentially to carry out somebody else’s dirty work.

Raja Petra Kamarudin
In a statutory declaration signed on 18 June 2008 by Raja Petra Kamarudin (the controversial blogger and editor of newsportal Malaysia Today better known as RPK), several others were implicated in the sensational murder. Indeed, RPK’s declaration revealed that Najib’s ambitious wife Rosmah Mansor may have been at the murder scene, along with two high-ranking officers attached to the defence ministry’s engineering corps, Lt Kol, Abdul Aziz Buyong and his wife Lt Kol. Norhayati Hassan, both experts in the use of C4 explosives. RPK claimed he had been given this shocking information by a senior Military Intelligence officer.

RPK subsequently retracted his statutory declaration in April 2011 in a heavily edited interview with TV3, a government-friendly station, explaining that he cannot be certain if what he heard was actually true. His excuse was that he felt it was his duty as a citizen to make public what he had been told in confidence. Others saw it as a clue that RPK might have been instigated into filing his June 2008 declaration by factions focused on derailing Najib Razak’s prime ministerial aspirations.

Who has been leaking the info?

Within Umno Baru there are many who would like to see Najib Razak and his influential wife removed from the game – and the Altantuya scandal serves as the perfect weapon.

Three names immediately spring to mind: Mahathir Mohamad, whose primary goal is to ensure that his youngest son, Mukhriz, eventually becomes prime minister; Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who has been eyeing the PM’s post since the mid-1980s; and Muhyiddin Yassin, Najib’s erstwhile deputy, who certainly wouldn’t mind a shot at taking over as Top Gun (or at least seeing the man who fired him forced to step down).

While an in-depth inquiry into the Altantuya murder would have revealed the fact that the Scorpene submarine scam was first mooted in 2002, during Mahathir’s tenure, Najib Razak would definitely be implicated as he was then Mahathir’s defence minister.

Abdul Razak Baginda, according to P.I. Bala’s explosive statutory declaration of 3 July 2008, had been introduced to Altantuya Shaariibuu by his buddy Najib Razak at a diamond expo in Singapore. In an unguarded moment, Razak Baginda had confided to his private eye that Najib could not afford a major scandal after being appointed deputy prime minister, only one step from the top. So he wanted Razak Baginda to take over the role of sugar daddy to his high-maintenance Mongolian paramour.

It is public knowledge that Najib Razak has always had an eye for beautiful women. This weakness is every public figure’s Achilles’ Heel – especially in a political jungle acrawl with hidden predators and a culture supercharged with hypocrisy and false piety.

Hotbed of intrigue

Dr Shaariibuu Setev, father of the murdered girl
With such colossal amounts of money involved, Umno Baru qualifies as a hotbed of intrigue. Parry and thrust, bribery and threat, playing one faction against another – these are par for the course in our benighted political milieu. Nobody wants to risk losing everything, so marriages of convenience, cynical pragmatism, and political trade-offs become the norm. Who cares about the truth? It’s all a matter of perception anyhow, and that’s where the professional spin-doctors come in. Who cares about justice? It can be bought and sold if you have deep pockets.

Umno Baru has sunk up to its tall songkok in a quagmire of deceit and a conspiracy of silence. While some may be happy to see Najib and Rosmah brought down and taken off the game board, there are others who fear losing power completely in the event of an ugly leadership tussle. They would rather serve a tainted leader who can offer them perks – than a clean one who might immediately sack them for incompetence and greed.

A nation that closes its eye to cold-blooded murder

In happier days: Altantuya with her firstborn
And so, eleven years after her cruel and unnecessary death at the hands of ruthless mobsters posing as the government of Malaysia, Altantuya Shaariibuu’s ghost has yet to be appeased. The deafening silence surrounding this nightmarish episode reveals a conspiracy at the highest levels of power – and the entire Barisan Nasional federal government is, in fact, guilty of complicity in first-degree murder.

Since the government is supposed to represent the whole nation, every Malaysian will suffer the same curse – until we reclaim our collective conscience and our pride as citizens of a nation gone horribly wrong. Is that what we deserve after 60 years of nationhood – to be seen as a gigantic crime syndicate of congenital liars, hypocrites, thieves, rapists, and murderers?

[From Malaysia Chronicle, 28 October 2013. First posted 13 January 2014, reposted 18 October 2014 & 11 August 2015]

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL (revisited)

The root of all evil isn't MONEY, contrary to popular belief. It's JEALOUSY. How so? Consider the greatest of all possible evils - MONOTHEISM - as expressed in the utterly psychotic statement: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me, for I am a jealous god." You may substitute "goddess" for "god" and the results are equally abysmal.

Just ask yourself this: if you were indeed the One and Only Deity in Existence, would you be constantly looking over your shoulder in anticipation of rivals or threats to your Absolute Status? In Barbara Hand Clow's nebulous tome, The Pleiadian Agenda, I was struck by a powerful quote attributed to the Prophet Isaiah: "Monotheism breeds fanatical anthropocentrism, which eventually destroys Earth." How absolutely and tragically true.

Such a jealous, spiteful, insecure, and vengeful deity can only engender generations of jealous, spiteful, insecure, and vengeful humans. The Old Testament records the first instance of murder in the story of Cain and Abel. The archetypal case of sibling rivalry wherein a deity plays favorites with two brothers over their ritual offerings and arouses a jealousy so intense it leads to fratricide. Fast forward to Abraham and his sister-wife Sara, whose greed and jealousy result in the unjust expulsion of Hagar, the servant who bore Abe his first-born son, Ishmael. Behold, the remote descendants of Ishmael (generically known as Arabs) to this day continue to be cruelly treated by the remote descendants of Sara's freak-birth progeny, Isaac (generically known as Jews)!

My savage punk wife Anoora is a real cutie... except when possessed by the demon, Jealousy. This demon she inherited from her mother, whose emotional insecurity was pathological to the degree that it drove two previous husbands to drink, distraction and, eventually, divorce. Anoora's ego insecurity very nearly drove me mad during the first few years of my sharing space with her. She couldn't even tolerate my having a conversation with another woman.

Yet, as time passed, she reserved the right to ogle every good-looking young man who came to stay with us - and after a while became emboldened enough to openly flirt with them. I'm happy to report that in the last two or three years, Anoora has finally matured and relaxed to the extent that she's now open to befriending my female visitors - sometimes to the extent of attempting to hijack their affections. The day Anoora manages to entice another man with her feminine charms, I would consider my Henry Higgins experiment a complete success. There's nothing sadder than being married to a spouse nobody else would contemplate borrowing for a wild weekend or even flirting with.

Now jealousy is in itself a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that the person you proclaim to love - and whose exclusive devotion and sexual attention you demand - invariably begins contemplating the pleasures of strange flesh as soon as nagging suspicion begins to rear its ugly, deformed head.

I can happily swear eternal allegiance, affection, and friendship to anybody who has won my heart... but to insist on exclusivity seems to me the epitome of insanity. Imagine vowing to eat at only one restaurant your entire life. That's an insult to FOOD!

The crux of the problem is that monotheistic religions have programmed their followers into believing there is only ONE way to be married, and only ONE interpretation of wedded bliss - and that's MONOGAMY!

My own parents were married for more than 60 years... but Dad probably had that many lovers on the side (and Mum quite a few too, though far more discreetly)... and most folks do indulge in a fair amount of "illicit" (read "unlicenced") sex, only problem being they have to be hypocritical and sneaky about their behavior - instead of being good-humored, honest, and open-hearted about their own testosteronal or pheromonal propensities. Of all the women I've known, perhaps only two or three were virgins before they met me - but I've certainly loved and cherished the others no less, and enjoyed them all the more for their sexual experience and emotional maturity.

I'm convinced that if POLYAMORY was included as another way to explore LOVE and HARMONY, the world would blossom into a spiritually wholesome and truth-valuing place - where deceit, hypocrisy, guilt, and vindictiveness cannot flourish, and destructive jealousy will be seen for what it is: an emotional disease!

I feel sufficiently seasoned to declare myself a pantheistic pansexual. That's right, folks: everything and everybody is actually quite edible if your perception is pristinely unclouded.

Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution?

[First posted 7 January 2007, reposted 7 January 2011 & 11 September 2016]