Friday, 31 August 2007

Pre-sales: About half gone

In the space of four days, we have sold 49 of the 100 copies of Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things that are reserved for pre-sales.

There are 2 weeks to go, so if you want to order, do so lah.

The book is still with the printer.

Got an email from the editor of Kakiseni offering to write a promo about the launch. This is the second media outlet (after Malaysiakini) that has expressed interest in writing about it. Will the word only be spread online?

We shall see, we shall see...

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Everyone is a filmmaker

(This article o' mine appeared in The Sun in a Merdeka pullout, where various people speculated on how Malaysia will be like in 50 years' time).

14 films were released in Malaya in 1957; they included the first Pontianak (which has since been lost) and the first Bujang Lapok. Both films spawned many sequels, imitations and tributes.

Over 30 films will be released in Malaysia in 2007. In contrast to the class of ’57, they will be in several languages and shot with different formats (ranging from consumer-level video to traditional 35mm).

On the one hand, it’s futile to talk about what Malaysian cinema should be in 50 years’ time. Firstly, because I will most likely no longer be around and will therefore not give a toss. Secondly, because technology would have changed so much that the shape of film-making and film-watching will be quite inconceivable to our contemporary selves.

Who would have thought, even a decade ago, that an irreverent Internet video that riffs on our national anthem can be viewed and discussed by more people than the RM3.5 million failed blockbuster Diva? This shows that the paradigm of film reception has shifted under the noses of bureaucrats and market researchers alike, and this can only be a good thing.

But if I were to put on my pointy wizard’s cap, I would say that the main change would be that Malaysian cinema will become plural: Malaysian cinemas. Like in India, there will be a diversity of languages and experiences. But hopefully, unlike in India, there will be interaction between the various camps. Because, after all, it’s good to talk.

In 2057, everyone will be a film producer, because everyone can produce their own environments and contexts in which film is made and received. There will be a proliferation of voices, from the libertarian to the fascist. There will be the crassly mercenary, the nobly altruistic, the shamelessly narcissistic and combinations thereof.

If you don’t like something, you just switch to another channel, and by ‘channel’ this will include media forms we have not even begun to imagine. The censor will become increasingly irrelevant because there will be no economic imperative to maintain content control. And when there is no economic imperative, things tend to disappear.

This also means that films in various languages will qualify as Malaysian films, unlike in the present, where films not in Malay are taxed as foreign productions. This has less to do with the forces of bureaucracy getting all benevolent on us, but because there will be economic benefits to making and exporting stuff in many ‘Truly Asia’ languages, including English.

There would have been many other Malaysians who have screened at the Cannes Film Festival by the time of its 110th year. There will even be Malaysians who have been nominated for Oscars, albeit for working on American films. These Malaysians (depending on how politically pliable they are) will get Datukships and rake in the moolah by conducting motivational workshops. This, more than anything, will persuade middle-class parents to send their kids to film school and scream at them if they choose medical school instead.

But even film schools will be redundant. Broadband and piracy will have become so efficient that a Felda kid would have watched all the world’s classics by the age of 20. And she would have read all the necessary texts for free somewhere, as a Felda kid has to be nothing if not resourceful.

Although I would have most likely kicked the bucket, I wish I could watch the films made by the children of fresh immigrants who now wait on our tables and fill up our petrol. The best stories will come from them, as they will see the country in a way that we, who have lived here for generations, take for granted. They will help us see things that we literally do not see. Along the way it will help break up the tiresome Malay/Chinese/Indian hegemony that we have been saddled with all along.

In 1957, most of the films were directed by expatriate Indians and Filipinos. In 2007, there are also expatriate directors working here, although they are now in the minority. In 2057, the notion of the nation-state and national identity will become so fluid that these distinctions cease to matter; everyone can contribute depending on talent, which includes the talent for survival. After all, that is how Hollywood started – and continues to flourish.

Of course all this sounds very roseate. For all we know, we could end up with a Taliban-style system which bans films altogether, in which case any discussion of its possible shape would be moot.

But film, among many other things, is an act of love. The very fact of recording something is also an act of faith: You believe that this will survive somehow, and be seen. So that is why we are children of hope.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007


(I am neither a poet nor a singer-songwriter so I am unsure how I got roped into this, but how can one refuse Bernice anything? I will be working with, erm, found texts).

No Black Tie Merdeka Showcase

featuring local poets and singer-songwriters:

Amir Muhammad
Pang Khee Teik
Bernice Chauly
Zalila Lee
Isaac Entry
Reza Salleh
Mia Palencia
Pete Teo
Azmyl Yunor

Date: Friday, 31 August 2007
Time: 930PM

Venue: No Black Tie, Lorong Mesui, Jalan Nagasari, Off Jln Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur.
(Call 03-21423737 if you want to book a table)
Admission: RM20

This event is organised by Reza Salleh and Bernice Chauly.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Serialisation, part deux

The second part of the serialised text from the book is in the September issue of Off the Edge magazine. It is a very pleasing bumper Merdeka issue – twice the normal size, but still only RM6.

And if you are dying to pre-order the book, die no more and read the post below!

Monday, 27 August 2007

Started: postal pre-orders

You are now able to pre-order Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things by Maybank2u (014105120512). The first edition costs RM20 per book and I will not add extra for postage by registered mail to anywhere in Malaysia. So generous one! There is no minimum or maximum number to order.

Of course, all orders have to be made before the launch date of 16 September. After that, it will no longer be available through this method.

I shall reserve 100 copies for mail orders, and the books shall be duly posted the day before the launch. A running tally will be kept at the Comments section of this here post.

Simply let me know ( ) when payment is made and where the book should be sent.

One of the Things To Do in my quest to become a publishing tycoon is to set up a company current bank account, which costs RM2,000, but until the cash comes in the personal one shall do lah.

Other updates? The final proof pages were sent to the printer two days ago. It should be done by 10 September. Then I gave Andrew of Malaysiakini the first advance media copy (of a photocopy of the manuscript). Strangely enough, no other newspaper has asked to write about it. Mwahaha.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

The next book

The next title from Matahari Books will be the first part of (one hopes) an annual series!

New Malaysian Essays 1 will feature previously unpublished, non-fiction work. There will be only six writers per book, but each one will get 10,000 to 15,000 words, the equivalent of 30-50 printed pages.

The length is ideal for any of the following: polemic, ode, lament, critique, memoir, travelogue, reportage, biography, rant, confession...They can either be one continuous essay or a bunch of chapters organised by a theme. I do not want (shudder) academic writing. I do not want words like 'modernity' and 'identity' and 'post-colonial' in the sub-heading. I am open to rudeness.

Most will be in English and one in Malay.

I want previously unpublished stuff so that we can break away from the pernicious Malaysian habit of repackaging old newspaper columns. And I want longer pieces than the norm to also encourage more sustained feats of writing, by people whom I know can write. Who knows? A Malaysian answer to In Cold Blood or Freakonomics or The Female Eunuch could come out of this.

Unlike the Silverfish New Writing series (of which I edited the first and most popular book), this will be open only to Malaysians (including residents), and only for non-fiction.

Publication date is aimed for February 2008. An ideal Valentine's Day gift if your lover is – or if you want your lover to be – an intellectual.

The writers for the first book have been chosen. More details will follow next month.

Monday, 20 August 2007

The launch

Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things will be launched on

Sunday, 16 September
Gallery One, The Annexe, Central Market Kuala Lumpur.

The book will be on sale for RM20. Murah je bang.

All are welcome.

We will also be happy to do home deliveries on that day, provided you live in the Klang Valley and are buying at least 5 copies! Please send your address and contact number to and we will get back to you pronto.

We are also working on selling it at other venues at different times of that day itself. Details will be posted here when we have 'em. For the reasons set down below, this first edition of 1,000 copies will not be sold in bookshops.

If there is sufficient demand, we can even work out one of them Maybank2u postal-delivery deals.

Review copies will be given earlier to a few media outlets like Malaysiakini, but other than that, no copies will be available before the date.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

7th Asian Film Symposium

I have been curating the Malaysian section of this event in Singapore for seven years!

Three of us (Yuni Hadi, then of The Substation of Singapore, Chalida Uabumrungjit of The Thai Film Foundation, Thailand, and myself) started S-Express in 2001. We wanted to share the shorts made by each of our countries.

It's a testament to the efficiency of The Substation, a venue started by the late playwright Kuo Pau Kun, that The Asian Film Symposium has developed so well, and now we have many other countries joining in.

The Malaysian programme (4 shorts) is on the night of 9 September, but if you are in town, come for the whole thing lah.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The paper

Just got back from the printer. This is the same printer that Silverfish uses.

There is a dire lack of paper in the country! By this I mean that almost all books are printed on the same stark white, 100-gsm paper. Even Singapore has a wider range. I wanted something different, since this will after all be the first edition of the first book by my first company.

So I am going with recycled, 140-gsm, off-white paper, the technical name of which happens to be cyclus offset. The paper is thicker and less blinding than is the national norm.

The use of recycled paper isn't just to please Al Gore but is ontologically apt, since Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things relies on recycled quotes to get its groove.

Of course, the downside is that it will cost me RM6.70 per book (which is 120 pages long), almost twice what a typical Malaysian paperback will cost. But I also want this book to be affordable, so the first edition is priced at a mere RM20.

If I were to distribute it in bookshops, I will make no profit at all, since distributors plus shops take 60% (!) You can do the math yourself. In fact, there will be not enough money to even print the second edition (if there is a demand lah).

So I have decided to go ahead and print 1,000 copies, but to sell them directly on the launch day. It will not be in bookshops.

You have to come and get it yourself, or we will bring it to you, on the launch day. Let it be a bit special. At least for the first edition.

There is, erm, another reason for this. I had a phone conversation with a potential distributor two weeks ago. This is one of the largest book distributors in the country. The person expressed extreme reservation about the content (based purely on the title). Her exact words were, "But scared if controversial ah, we will get into trouble ... we will need about a month to go through the book before deciding whether to carry it."

One month?? I assured her that the book can be read in one day and that there is nothing libellous in it. But still she said, "You never know month to be safe, all our managers will take a look at it."

So that is that. I certainly do not want the first edition to just sit there in boxes while a distributor dithers over whether to sell it. I'd rather do it myself, dithering be damned.

Details of the launch will be announced next week, once I confirm the venue. For the next few days, I will be in the Philippines!

Thursday, 9 August 2007


Just got back from Menara Selborn, Jalan Tun Razak. The National Library offices occupy a few floors and you need to go to the 18th to get an ISBN for books. (The actual Library, where the books are, is further down across the road, and looks as hideous as ever).

I filled out two forms. There were no other clients around. Is no one else publishing books?

It was free and quick; less than 20 minutes. I just needed to give photocopies of the company registration and the book's front cover. So now, it behoves me to say that Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things (Vol 1) has an ISBN:


It was all explained for me. The first section refers to the book industry, the second part is Malaysia, the third is Matahari Books, the '0' refers to the fact that it's the company's first book, and '7' is ... something I didn't quite get – something to do with computer code?

As for the barcode, Nizam is enterprising enough to download it based on the number. Yes, aside from the illustrations, he's also doing the layout. Is there no end to his talents?

Oh yes, when the book is published I will then need to give the National Library five copies.

Now I have to fill out another form to get a National Library Catalogue in Publication thing. This is, I suppose, so that it can be shelved according to the right subject. I will need to give the Introduction, Index, Contents page and Synopsis. I am not sure if our Contents page will be much help as it simply has works like "Keling" and "Lipstick" but I will oblige.

Aim to send those over by this evening, as the process takes two days. And the book launch is next month what!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Malaysian Shorts (13 Aug)

(I have been curating this since 2002 and this is my last edition).

Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia
Aug 13, 2007

HELP University College
auditorium, Pusat Bandar Damansara, KL.
Admission: FREE!

9 shorts (out of 21 entries).
Curated & hosted by Amir Muhammad
Total running time: 1 hour 48 min.

1. BATTHOSAI (Amir Sallehuddin/22 min/Malaysia/In Japanese)- ASWARA

2. NOT HOME (Allan Koay/Malaysia/10 min/In Cantonese)

3. QALAM (Hadi Koh/10min/Malaysia/In Malay)- ASWARA

4. EYE CANNOT SEE (Idora Alhabshi/12 min/ Malaysia-Australia/In English)

5. COMOLOT (Mohd Ikram Ismail/8 min/Malaysia/In Malay)- ASWARA

6. OBSTACLES (T. Sathiyavarmaan/14 min/Malaysia/In Tamil) - ASWARA

7. A (Foo Wei Xiang/9 min/Malaysia/In Mandarin)

8. VERTICAL DISTANCE (Edmund Yeo/6 min/Australia-Malaysia/In English)

9. SEHARI DALAM KEHIDUPAN (Syed Omar/12 min/Malaysia/In Malay) - ASWARA

We will also re-screen Akashdeep Singh's PINTU (5 min/Malaysia/In Malay) to celebrate its win at Festival Filem Malaysia ke-20 as Best Short Film.

See yawl there!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


Like an eager beaver, I was there at The Mall by 7:30am.

I expected a crowd but I was only the second person waiting at the Companies Commission. By the time the counters opened at 8:15, there were about 20 of us in the line. (I wonder what businesses they are in? And how many would end up bankrupt and suicidal? Dark thoughts).

Instant flashback: I was there at the opening day of The Mall way back in 1986. There used to be a fountain that would periodically gush almost right to the ceiling. It was a mad crush because Yaohan had come to Malaysia, with fainting shoppers here and there.

End of flashback.

Time to be an entrepreneur.

I first needed to fill out a name-search form to make sure that no one else has taken the name Matahari Books. I put Mahahari Press and Matahari Publishing as second and third options. But I was in the clear, so Matahari Books it is.

So I filled out the forms in blue ballpoint. (The sign said I should use a black pen, but I only brought blue and I noticed the sign late and then they said it was OK and I was glad). I filled out my apartment address as the business address of this sole proprietorship, which now has the registration number 001703047-H. The nature of business: Penerbitan Buku (Book Publishing), natch.

Total cost: RM140, including for a transparent display thingy to house the certificate. Total time spent since the office opened: 2 hours 10 min. It should have been shorter, but for some reason my address came out wrong in the first certificate (it lacked a crucial Opal), so I had to wait 40 minutes for them to amend it.

Outside the office, I politely declined an offer to get a company stamp made. I don't think I need one, or am I wrong?

Tomorrow morning: Getting an ISBN for Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things, so that it can be sold in bookshops and all. Do tune in for the riveting details.

And if you can read Chinese, you might wanna check this out. (But it should be BOOKS, not PUBLISHING! Oh well).

Monday, 6 August 2007

Publishing for dummies

The fact that my NST column has been terminated means that I have more time to devote to setting up my publishing company.

I want to publish Malaysian non-fiction books, written by myself and others. Unlike other companies, I will not be repackaging old newspaper columns. They need to be stuff written specifically as books. (Snooty, eh?)

The first one will be Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things. Yes, it's coming out next month but I am only registering the company this week. I always mean to stop being a procrastinator ... one of these days.

I wanted a bilingual name and thought of Amok Books but imagine my horror that it was already taken (by a Los Angeles company, of all things)! So I will go for Matahari Books instead. After all, 'Mata Hari' has associations with English speakers too. And it sounds cheerful and life-giving, a source of good vibes.

I will go early tomorrow to the Companies Commission place in The Mall, Kuala Lumpur. This will be the first time I am starting my own 'concern' and I am right chuffed. Tune in for details!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

NST: 2 August

The Elephant and the Wins

Over the past weekend, a Malaysian movie won an award overseas. Roll out the kompang, beat the flag, wave the bunga manggar, or combinations thereof! But wait, it wasn’t one movie, it was two. No, I lie again (what’s wrong with me today?) It was three different movies.

All three were made on very low budgets (less than RM150,000 each) but managed to beat more expensively mounted productions from more developed countries, so this should make us feel all warm inside.

James Lee’s Before We Fall in Love Again won the Best ASEAN Feature Film award at the Bangkok International Film Festival. He had won the same award in the same festival two years ago for The Beautiful Washing Machine. Deepak Kumaran Menon’s Dancing Bells won the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award at the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival, New Delhi. And Woo Ming Jin’s The Elephant and The Sea won two separate awards at the inaugural Cinema Digital Seoul festival.

The first two movies have already received limited release in Malaysia. The third has never been seen here, which is why I want to talk about it.

The Elephant and The Sea
marks a leap forward from Woo’s debut, Monday Morning Glory and also his “commercial” venture Salon. (The word is in quotes because the film did not actually make money). Many lesser people would have given up after Salon. But the California-trained Woo is, to quote a theatre performance title of some years ago, “bullish on bouncing back.”

It is set in a coastal town where a strange epidemic has just occurred, requiring quarantine. There are these two men, a young slacker and an older fisherman, each seemingly hopeless but actually in search of precisely “that thing with feathers.” The two never actually meet but experience parallel journeys.

What strikes you first is the visual beauty; aside from the small town, the landscape includes an almost surreal primordial jungle retreat. And then you notice the quiet dignity of these seemingly deadbeat characters. Gradually, the movie’s sense of humour kicks in.

Although set in a depressing locale during depressing times, there is an offbeat, frisky energy, such as the running gag of the expensive fish with the lucky lottery numbers. There is a scene where the young man needs to make up for an awful transgression to a young woman that must count as some kind of masterpiece.

There is very little dialogue, it’s kinda slow, and it might therefore fit into the cliche of the “everybody suffers, including the audience” perception of arthouse flicks. But it has a special feel to it that is devoid of both modish cynicism and cheap sentimentality, and that’s more that can be said of most flicks. You even get to see a real elephant, unlike that Gus Van Sant film that was called Elephant, so there!

Yes, they will be people who will whinge that The Elephant and The Sea, Dancing Bells and Before We Fall in Love Again are not “real Malaysian” productions because they don’t happen to be in Malay. But such people are welcome to kiss these awards.

The only festival I attended personally was the New Delhi one. There was even a panel discussion on the topic of “cooperative filmmaking”. It seems that the Malaysian model (of people helping out on each other’s shoots) is considered so inspirational that it needed to be introduced to young Indian filmmakers.

So we talked about our experiences. My quotable quote was, “If you don’t have money, you might as well have friends.” Along the way, we dished on how certain segments of our media have labelled these films as being “an insult to national sovereignty” for their choices of language, and therefore “for failing to portray the correct image of Malaysia.” As if all the ghosts movies we are now being served are a correct image of our reality!

But even while talking, I couldn’t summon up outrage. The truth is, the attacks have become amusing more than anything else. So I said, “The reason we stick together is so that we can annoy these bigots even more.”

When I got back, we got an email from the panel organiser. He said that our session had an invigorating effect and was much discussed. For this we can be glad.

Merdeka with The Simpsons

I wonder if any of our public-funded programmes for this month can come as close to articulating Merdeka as The Simpsons Movie.

Homer’s own bumbling actions get he and his family kicked out of Springfield by a vigilante mob. Swearing never to return, he is nonetheless persuaded that he will only be complete once he loves others as much as he loves himself.

Through the machinations of a ruthless politician, the town gets sealed by a giant dome. The image of townsfolk being held literally captive by “a man on a giant TV” is a brilliant parody of media control. In countries where the media is not so autonomous, it can also mean other types of control.

True enough, it is the combined strengths of these outcasts that saves the day. Like any self-respecting blockbuster, it pits ordinary mortals against overwhelming foes. The difference this time is that these mortals are yellow, bug-eyed and seemingly dysfunctional.

The portrait of grassroots resilience against occupation is stirring, but the heroes are not placed on pedestals. The Simpsons has always had a healthy irreverence for authority, recognising instinctively that veneration can create a culture of corruption. And instead of saying that evil only comes from the Other, it knows that oppressive power structures can easily be replicated anywhere, even in your own home.

These small-time heroes are not without flaws. But Springfield is capacious enough to embrace all its citizens; any spurts of anger are short-lived, because everyone realises, at one level, that they are all in this together. Everyone feels they have an equal stake in the town, which is why they can come together despite surface differences.

Despite its 2D images, the film is rich, and only a Mr. Burns type will leave the cinema without a happy grin.