KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — The latest horror film Harum Malam by local award-winning director Dain Iskandar Said is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
The film tells the story of Iqbal played by Idan Aedan, a 16-year-old apprentice faith healer and exorcist, tormented by visions of the dead and spirits from other dimensions.
When a malicious spirit begins to wreak havoc around him, Iqbal is forced to harness his supernatural gifts to save his family and friends.
Although having collected almost RM2 million in box office sales, the film has been criticised online due to some scenes being blurred out and dialogue muted due to unwarranted excessiveness as deemed by the Film Censorship Board (LPF).
Talking to Malay Mail and other media, Daim clarifies that it was their decision to blur and mute some parts of the film as the other option was to cut them out completely.
Dain said it was the only way they could show the film without affecting the audience's experience too much.
“Just imagine if we cut all those things out, you’ll see nothing. That was our strategy and that was our thinking. I don’t want the audience to miss out.
“We want to get the point across. We want the audience to see as much of the film as possible,” said the Bunohan director.
However, Dain argued with some of the censorship board's decisions in the film — for example, the scene where Ah Boy (played by Arnie Shasha) was being possessed in the bedroom and something comes out between her legs.
The scene was later blurred out in the film.
“I can argue ... what’s the problem with that? It doesn’t go up between her legs.
“If you only look at one thing in the shot and you don’t connect it with the whole storyline and the other shots, that’s where the problem comes.
He added that he understands that LPF was just doing their job and he’s grateful that LPF was willing to discuss the film’s censorship with their producer, Nandita Solomon.
"They could’ve ordered us to just cut the parts from the film but they actually chose to discuss it with us. But (the result of the discussion) shows the level we are at today, maybe in the future, it’s a different kind of discussion.
“This discussion is not going to be resolved in one article in the newspaper. It's a matter that needs wider discussion within the filmmaking community, the government and all the stakeholders,” he said.
He also defended some of the brutal and excessive scenes in the film by pointing out that he believes his audience is ‘intelligent enough to connect the dots in the film’.
Dain also called out the decision made by the Terengganu government to ban upcoming local horror film Pulau from the state’s cinemas by arguing that the movie has already gotten its clearance from LPF in the first place.
A look at the 'greenhouse' set in 'Harum Malam' — Picture courtesy of Apparat
Although having some brutal scenes, Harum Malam is classified as PG-13 by the LPF which means viewers under 13 years of age are allowed to watch it with parental or guardian supervision.
Producer Nandita revealed that they were surprised to have been given the PG-13 classification as they were expecting the film to be classified as 18.
“If they had classified the film as 18, we would’ve accepted it. However they later offered us PG-13 with some scenes needing to be revised.
“And they also told us that if they were to classify the film as 18, we still need to cut some scenes. It's not that we want 13-year-olds to watch the film, we want those aged 15 and above to watch it, but we don’t have a PG-16 classification yet,” she said.
Nandita added that the affected scenes are less than 30 seconds of screen time in total.
Aside from Harum Malam, Pulau as well as action film Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang are among films that are classified as P13 by LPF.
Dain Said is known for touching on relevant issues in society through his films and Harum Malam is no exception.
In his latest offering, Dain put forth the theme of abuse in families and its effect as well as shining the spotlight on the local mythology of Hantu Raya, with his own twist, of course.
According to Nandita, the film had over 200 VFX shots with VFX supervision helmed by Roh film director, Emir Ezwan.
“We were truly grateful to be able to work together with Emir. He’s a skilled VFX artist and he is also a director and storyteller, so he understands perfectly,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dain revealed that they hired choreographer Rihauddin Abdul Kadir (also known as Din Sabah) to serve as the cast’s movement coach.
Rithauddin, who also plays the Hantu Raya character in the film, is a contemporary dancer who based his movements on South-east Asia's indigenous culture.
Dain praised young first-time actors Idan and Arnie as well as Angelica Petra who plays Illya, who gave their all for the film. Harum Malam also stars Bront Palarae, Remy Ishak, Pearlly Chua, Nadiya Nisaa and Amanda Ang.
He also revealed that the Hantu Raya character wasn’t initially planned for Harum Malam; instead, they wanted to focus the story on one of the daughters in the film.
However, Malaysian regulations wouldn’t accept the depiction of a haunted soul as it is considered polytheism in the Malay community.
“In the beginning, it would’ve been easier if we made the elder sister come back as a ghost to take revenge.
So that’s when we decided to attach the shapeshifting Hantu Raya together with the elder sister in the film,” Dain said.
Although having to face obstacles in his career, Dain expressed that it does not affect his love for filmmaking.
“Censorship is a challenge for you to become more creative. But after more than 50 years, if it never progresses and they’re still the same, it comes to the point that it does kill you creatively.”
“It is what it is, we can still find a way around it. I might just make Chinese or Indian movies after this to avoid dealing with LPF and their regulations,” he said.
Harum Malam is co-produced by Apparat, D’Ayu Pictures and Skop Productions.
It is represented internationally by XYZ Films and Reel Suspects, and is the first local film to be picked up by international horror Over the Top platform Shudder, which is not available in Malaysia.
Award-winning director Dain Iskandar Said. — Picture courtesy of Apparat