From Susan and Vanidah to ‘Tiga Janda’, Sofia Jane on the resurgence of older women in leading roles

·3-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 — Despite having known Susan Lankester for half her life, Datin Sofia Jane said it was only recently that she had the opportunity to work with her friend because of the limited scope of roles older female actors are cast in here.

The 50-year-old award-winning actor will share the screen with Lankester, 62, and another of her contemporary Vanidah Imran, 49, in the upcoming independent film Maryam Dari Pagi Ke Malam — and Sofia shared her amusement that this was only the first time the trio had appeared together in a film.

“I think it’s not only a local problem but an international one, be it in Hollywood where we’ve heard about it happening for years, what more in Malaysia, where we have such a small industry and only so many actresses who are 40 and beyond who are still performing,” she told Malay Mail in a recent interview.

Vanidah previously only made a cameo in Sofia’s 2018 film Orang Itu, directed by Low Ngai Yuen. She will appear in the film Juang in September after making a name headlining the political thriller series Daulat.

Lankester recently appeared in the Astro series Projek: Anchor SPM and Viu’s Keluarga Baha Don — with the latter produced by Anomalous Films which is also producing Maryam Dari Pagi Ke Malam.

While the three of them may still find themselves appearing in films or TV shows, Sofia conceded that many female performers of her age have dropped out of acting to pursue others careers that they find more fulfilling and financially rewarding.

Sofia Jane suggested that the local film industry may see a resurgence of elder women in leading roles. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Sofia Jane suggested that the local film industry may see a resurgence of elder women in leading roles. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Sofia Jane suggested that the local film industry may see a resurgence of elder women in leading roles. — Picture by Choo Choy May

However, Sofia suggested that this may be exacerbated by the local film industry, which is lacking in screenwriters and producers who are interested in telling stories involving older women.

“When was the last time you saw women on screen together?” she asked.

She also admitted that another huge issue faced by older actresses is receiving appropriate, what more equal pay — with years or decades of work experience not necessarily translating into bigger reimbursement.

“We hear really terrifying stories about how much producers don’t really care about how much they pay this generation,” she said, referring to older women.

She finds that part of the issue with the lack of hiring older actresses for films lies in producers being reluctant to take risks because of the emphasis on making back the initial investment and turning a profit.

Sofia said this neglect is despite older actors having the ability to bring their life experiences into roles, collaborating on the story being told with directors and producers by being involved in certain aspects of the storytelling process.

In spite of this, Sofia said she sees a silver lining with the emergence of fresh filmmakers who are no longer bound by such conventions.

She cited, in particular, Hyrul Anuar’s comedy film Tiga Janda Melawan Dunia released earlier this year.

Starring three industry legends Khatijah Tan, Normah Damanhuri and Raja Azura, the critically-acclaimed film tells the story of three widows who resorted to selling vape juices and embroiled in the drug trade as they raise money to attend their favourite singer Aiman Zalini's last concert.

“It was a beautifully written story that uplifted the actresses’ sense of comedic timing,” Sofia said, highlighting how the film broke conventions despite the so-called typecast of the trio as widows.

In Maryam, Sofia plays a gallery owner in her 50s from a noble Malay family who wishes to marry Damien, her younger partner from Sierra Leone, but faces opposition from her father (Omar Abdullah).

Producers Anomalous Films and Rhu Graha said the 90-minute film will playfully dissect the tensions, contradictions, and irony that surround polite society in Malaysia.

Currently in post-production, it also stars other renowned names in the industry such as Roslan Madun, Azman Hassan, Pekin Ibrahim and Bella Rahim in supporting roles.