Friday, July 25, 2014

Seniman Bujang Lapok (P.Ramlee, 1961)

            Seniman Bujang Lapok (P.Ramlee, 1961) is about the journey of three jobless bachelors, Ramli, Aziz and Sudin of becoming film stars without any special skills and knowledge of the film industry. It also illustrates how they deal with their lively and intriguing neighbours in a funny way while highlighting some of the social issues during the 60s in Singapore.

            In this film review, I would like to discuss about the social issues such as ethics and manners, post-war effects, education, unemployment and poverty that was depicted in the film.

            During the 60s, despite Indian directors had produced numerous of excellent films for the Malay community, many of them believed that some of the basic cultural norms had been overlooked and did not realistically portrayed the Malays’ manner towards certain situations. (Chou & Houben, 2006, p. 167) In the midst of that era, one sole director, P.Ramlee had successfully meet the needs in vividly depicting the common Malay and the dignity of people who work for a living, as well as valuing peace and harmony with friends, family and Allah over wealth in the film industry. (White, 1997, p. 5-6) For instance, the guard of Malay Film Productions had given sharp criticisms to Sudin for his lack in Malay’s ethics and manners when Sudin greeted him with “Oi!” as if he was not human. P.Ramlee was trying to preserve Malay values through this scene when his character, Ramli gave a comment “a man’s manners show his descent” to Sudin. (Aljunied, 2005, p. 12)

            One of the post-war effects such as phobia of bomb attacks was shown in Sudin when he took cover under a table of a coffee shop, right after he heard the sound of a tyre burst and mistook it for a bomb attack during the Japanese colonization in Malaya. Besides of that, Japanese colonization had also greatly influenced the filmmaking of P.Ramlee. According to Timothy White, P.Ramlee’s film style strongly resembles to post-war Japanese films by Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and especially Akira Kurosawa. (Heide, 2002, p. 131-132) Take for example: Akira Kurosawa’s films have always stresses on social problems and human nature, which is also what P.Ramlee has portrayed in his films. (Nowell-Smith, 1996, p. 716)

            Concerning the education during the 60s in Singapore, a lot of Malays had to overcome the ever-increasing challenges in the post-war era due to the fact that many of them were lowly educated, and they had no choices but to engage in fishing, poultry rearing and crop industries. This situation can be seen in the interview session. When the manager of Malay Film Productions, Kemat Hassan asked the three bachelors about their educational background, Ramli mentioned he had attended Malay school up to Standard Five and English school up to Standard Four and half. As he had dropped out after Japanese attacked Malaya. In addition, Aziz and Sudin also had low educational achievements. (Aljunied, 2005, p. 7-11)

The unemployment issue during the 60s has led to severe poverty in Malaya. One of the jobless bachelors, Ramli had tried to sell his “prized possession”, a tattered undergarment to gain some loose change but was failed to do so. He was also shown to place two bricks on a pillow to iron his pants because he was unable to afford an iron. (Aljunied, 2005, p. 15)

            In conclusion, social issues depicted in the film have reflected the challenges the Malays had to face during the 60s. The film itself can serve as an important source when investigating the social history. It is highly recommended to comedy fans and is a must-watch film for those who want to know further about the social history of Malays in Singapore during the 60s.

Chou, C., & Houben, V. (2006). Southeast Asian Studies: Debates and New Directions. Pasir Panjang, Singapore & Leiden, Netherlands: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

White, T. R. (1997, June 1). Pontianaks, P.Ramlee and Islam: The Cinema of Malaysia. . Retrieved from

Aljunied, S. M. Films as Social History — P. Ramlee’s “Seniman Bujang Lapok” and Malays in Singapore (1950s–60s). The Heritage Journal, 2nd, 7-16. Retrieved , from

Der Heide W.V. (2002). Malaysian Cinema, Asian Film. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Nowell-Smith, G. (1996). Early Cinema. The Oxford History Of World Cinema. Great Britain: Butler & Tanner Ltd.

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