Keeper of mystical tiger
By MUMTAJ BEGUM
Monday November 27, 2006
Shuhaimi Baba told actress Azean Irdawaty the story of Waris Jari Hantu when she was directing the latter in the film, Layar Lara, back in 1997. Shuhaimi has been biding time since then – when all parties are able to accept storylines bordering on mysticism and spirituality – before she started on the script.
Not too long ago, the censorship board relaxed its ruling and allowed horror films such as Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam, Mistik and Gong to be made.
Waris Jari Hantu revolves around an ageing Tok Wan (Azean Irdawaty) living in the small village of Mendekar. She also happens to be the custodian of a mystical tiger, which she keeps to protect her family members. She is trying to find an heir to be the next generation’s keeper of the spirit. However, nobody in Tok Wan’s immediate clan is willing to shoulder the heavy responsibility.
Jari Hantu also looks at the relationship between two very different individuals, Tina (Maya Karin) and Ari (Rusdi Ramli).
The title of the film refers to the middle finger that Tok Wan wears her ring, which holds the key to the spirit.
During a press conference to launch the official website of Waris Jari Hantu (www.warisjarihantu.com), Shuhaimi said: “I know some folks who are custodians of these spiritual tigers (saka harimau) and I myself a Minang descent have heard of such stories from family members. I wrote this particular story on behalf of a friend who asked me to make a movie based on it.”
According to her, Waris is a mix of various genre – besides the supernatural element, the film touches on family and love.
“The film shows that love can make a person strong and face all kinds of obstacles. It also looks at the youth of today who have a very different way of life from their elders. They may not necessarily want to follow in the footsteps of their elders.”
Researching for the material proved to be difficult as the stories of these animals’ spirits are told by word of mouth. Her research, however, led her to talk to the older generation and younger custodians. Admittedly, Shuhaimi exercised her creative licence to fill in the blanks.
For the role, Azean learned to speak like a Minang from the locals and watched documentaries on tigers to observe their movements and behaviour.
She would then try to imitate the tigers at home when everyone is asleep. By the time cameras rolled, she was ready for action. Nonetheless, near the end of the shoot, Azean was taken ill and had to be hospitalised.
Azean also found out from custodians of various animal spirits on what to feed these spirits, the proper way to feed them the verses needed to call them.
Azean said: “A long time ago, people were responsible for their own safety. Many family members had to find a way to protect their family and their property from all sorts of danger. Tiger is just one of the spirits called to protect the family.
“My character in the film is dying so it is crucial she finds an heir to be the keeper of the spirit. Since my character keeps a female spirit, the heir must also be a female and she must also agree to be the new custodian for the transfer to happen.”
Azean was not the only one who was challenged in this film. The hardest thing for actor Rusdi was playing an effeminate man. Although he has tackled such a role in a drama series, the thought of being in character during rehearsal and shooting of the film proved to be quite daunting. So much so, he jokingly told the crew to punch him if he behaved the same way after the film had wrapped.
“I hesitated only because I was worried that my little son would be confused when he sees me in this film. But I have known feminine men all my life as a lot of my mother’s friends and my friends are such,” said Rusdi who had Fatimah Abu Bakar as his acting coach.
Shuhaimi added: “We didn’t allow him to watch other films with effeminate characters as we didn’t want him to merely copy their mannerisms. We wanted him to find Ari on his own as the film takes a lot of the actor’s emotions.”
Various locations served as backdrops to the film, including Bahau in Negri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak.
Although the film features a well-known cast that worked well together, the “actors” that were difficult to work with were the four tigers from Perak’s wildlife sanctuary.
“We had to wait around for them to ‘act’,” quipped Shuhaimi.
These tigers were filmed for the purpose of special effects whereby their faces will be superimposed on the actors’ faces. Waris is budgeted at a modest RM1.6mil and is set for release in April next year.