Saturday, August 2, 2014

Selubung (Shuhaimi Baba, 1992)

Selubung (Shuhaimi Baba, 1992) is a Malay romance-drama featuring a young woman, Mastura and how she develops into a responsible adult through three loves that were consisted of a close friend, the displaced children of Palestine and the cumbrous advances of her persistent male employer. (Heide, 2002, p. 218) During Mastura and her friends’ last year of study in Australia, her close friend, E.J. withdrawn from study and married to Brother Musa as his second wife despite Mastura’s dissent. Upon graduation, Mastura returned to her home country and became a volunteer at Rescaid Malaysia to help the children specifically in Lebanon. Through the stay at Rescaid Malaysia, she fell into a relationship with her employer, Kamal.

            The narrative of the film stresses on the representation of Malay females. Hence, I would like to study about the Fifth Voice of the Malaysian Cinema, feminism as well as the identity and myth of Malay.

The Five Voices of Malaysian Cinema introduced by Dr Anuar Nor Arai indicates the articulation of emotions and feelings about one’s society and its problems through the medium of film. Among them the Fifth Voice is the most eloquent of all. It was aroused by filmmakers who were either educated in film, involved in theatre before or knowledgeable about film as a means of expression. Their films captured the profound understanding of the tensions, frustrations and idiosyncrasies that was concealed in the Malay society. Throughout the film, Shuhaimi has highlighted several topics that deal with young, educated people and their (mis)understanding of Islam that placed her in the category of Fifth Voice. (Muthalib, 2005)

Claire Johnston, Laura Mulvey, Pam Cook and Annette Kuhn suggested that all women possessed an innate ability to judge the authenticity of the representation of women in film and all women filmmakers were feminists. (Hayward, 2000, p. 114) Thus, Shuhaimi is a feminist and this can be seen through the representation of two distinct female characters, Mastura and E.J. as well as different interpretations of Islam illustrated by the changing relationship between them. E.J. believed Brother Musa’s teaching that the only way to suppress temptation is to marry those who are already on the righteous path and she accepted polygamy by becoming his second wife. After marriage, she is forbidden from mixing with Mastura and her friends. For Mastura, she embraces modernity and chooses her own path. In contrast with E.J. she refused to marry with Kamal at first when she knows that he is a married man. Mastura is able to balance between modernity and traditional value as an Islam. (Heide, 2002, p. 221)

Selubung presented a positive portrayal of Malay women within the confines of the conventions of Malaysian cinema. (White, 1997, p. 8-9) It constructed a specific Malay identity through adat, also known as tradition, while still relate closely to modernity for its female characters. The use of performing arts such as the beating of rebana, a kind of traditional large drum is an example of representations of adat. (Levitin, Plessis & Raoul, 2003, p. 232-233)

According to Shuhaimi in a personal interview, she has constructed new Malay myth and tradition in the film. She revealed that the idea of the lucky flying moths was not derived from any specific local belief. In fact, she discovered that there was an existing superstition that moths were lucky after she had written the scenes. (Levitin, Plessis & Raoul, 2003, p. 233)

To conclude, the two distinct female characters, Mastura and E.J. had reflected the women of Malay society during the 1990s. It is a great approach to study about feminism and aware that having a religion is good, but we should refrain from being a religion extremist. Overall, the film had a rather complicated storyline and the editing style was somewhat confusing, it is best to think twice before you go and watch the film to avoid being confused.

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

Muthalib, H. (2005, October 13). Voices of Malaysian Cinema. . Retrieved , from

Hayward, S. (2000). KEY CONCEPTS. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. New Fetter Lane, London & New York & Canada: Routledge.

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

Levitin, J., Plessis, J., & Raoul, V. (2003). Womens Films through a Postcolonial Lens. Women Filmmakers: Refocusing (). : Routledge.

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