Friday 30 March 2012

How I became P. Ramlee's publisher

When I wrote 120 Malay Movies I tried to watch all of the 34 movies that P. Ramlee directed. I almost succeeded.

I even made sure to watch a rare screening of Gelora as part of a retrospective in Paris (the sexy noir is not available on VCD and is not shown on TV). So that's how I managed to watch 33 of the films.

Almost there. But my quest would never be complete. Because there is one film that is believed to be lost, forever. No one has seen it in decades. Even all the money of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud (who is a huge P. Ramlee fan) cannot locate a single copy of the film.

And the film is Sitora Harimau Jadian (1964). It has simply been lost due to neglect.

It's sadly apt that this was the first film he directed in Kuala Lumpur; and its 'lost' status can be seen as an unfortunate foreshadow of how deleterious his KL years would prove to be for him. (When Malaysians wax nostalgic for the films of P. Ramlee, they inevitably wax nostalgic for Singapore, which is where the first 16 films he directed, from Penarik Beca (1955) to Tiga Abdul (1964), were made.)

Technically, Sitora Harimau Jadian wasn't supposed to have been well-made. Merdeka Studios in KL was simply not sufficiently equipped or financed to handle it. When a print was screened for Shaw Brothers in Singapore, the bosses walked out after a few minutes. But I spoke to Othman Hafsham who had seen it as a boy in 1964, and he remembered it as "scary" (in a good way, I presume).

Sitora Harimau Jadian would have been P. Ramlee's sole horror movie. (By contrast, Sumpah Orang Minyak was a horror movie only in its last quarter).

So 120 Malay Movies, the book, was released in late 2010, with no chapter on Sitora Harimau Jadian.

Fast forward a year.

An extremely helpful and enthusiastic ang moh, William Knox, runs The Penang Bookshelf. He wrote in his 1 October 2011 mailing-list (which I subscribe to, and which I recommend) that he would be getting almost 300 Malay books, some in Jawi, from the 1940s and 1960s. They were from "the collection of a Professor Rufus Hendon, a US linguist, who knocked about these parts between the 1940s and 1960s." This professor had bought not only text-books and several editions of Hikayat Abdullah, but he also collected pulp fiction. 

Here's how the covers look like. So I looked at that link and one title leapt out. See if you can guess which cover I mean:

Yes it's this one, in the north-east:

Hang on. A book BY P. Ramlee that was CALLED Sitora Harimau Jadian? I knew I had to have it. I sent an eager email to Mr. Knox and "reserved" a few of the books. I had no idea what would be IN the book, but I wanted it.

There were delays in getting the books shipped (from the US) and then catalogued here. It was nail-biting! So it was only on 5 March that I got hold of the four books I ordered. (This is not the space to talk about the other three.)

When I collected the Poslaju package, the first one I read was Sitora Harimau Jadian. As I had hoped, it was a novel based on the movie. Here's a sample:

The novel was published by Penerbitan Angkatan Baru in 1965. Copyright was assigned to P. Ramlee and only his name appears on the front or back cover. But the copyright page states that it is "di-cheritakan sa-mula oleh Zakaria Mohd Yassin". (Does anyone know how to get in touch with him, if he's still around?)

The novel definitely has a 'penceritaan semula' feel; reading it makes you feel like P. Ramlee is describing what happens in his movie, scene by scene. The book is slim, only 124 pages, and I'm glad it was also fleshed out with pictures from the movie (which might be the only chance we will ever get to 'see' it):

I read it in a few hours. And then had a crazy thought: What if I republished it?

The original publisher no longer exists. So I approached P. Ramlee's grandsons (who'd never seen or heard of the book). Luckily, they thought a reprint would be cool; and so the royalty payments would be going to Zakaria Nasir.

I got the novel scanned, retyped and had the spelling modernised. (Thanks to 22-year old Firliyani Jaar, who by sheer coincidence is the grandniece of one of P. Ramlee's contemporaries. S. Kadarisman.)

The story of the novel is diverting enough; it's about the apparently irreconcilable difference between superstition (tahyul) and medical science (as represented by the protagonist Dr. Effendi, played by P. Ramlee himself). It certainly helped to fill a crucial gap in my knowledge of P. Ramlee's filmography. 

Then again, if the film was as badly-made as had been reported (even the Publisher's note for the 1965 novel states that "P. Ramlee 'agak' kalah dalam perjuangan-nya") perhaps reading it would be a more satisfying experience.  We don't have to be distracted by dodgy make-up effects (especially when the transformation to become a weretiger [harimau jadian] takes place) or fight scenes without the benefit of convincing supporting actors. 

It will be published under an imprint of Buku Fixi, called Fixi Retro. The size will be smaller but the cover thicker, with a flap (like the original 1965 book). This is the 2012 cover by Teck Hee:

I hereby announce, ladies and gents, that the most famous Buku Fixi novelist is now P. Ramlee.The book will be available at next month's Pesta Buku Antarabangsa Kuala Lumpur.You may join the fan-page here.

I thank William Knox, Melissa Saila, Suria Bakar, Zakaria Nasir, Zaidee Nasir, Firliyani Jaar, Julie Anne and Teck Hee for making this possible.



Julie Anne said...

thanks to you amir, now more people can enjoy the book!
it was a wonderful story, and I have to hand it to P.Ramlee to write a story that is beyond his years, and will remain fresh forever.

Boo Twilight! Yay Sitora! :p

sitizan said...


Any idea on how I can get 2 of these A.S.A.P? My father & I are big P.Ramlee fans. This would be a great gift to him who recently said he's lack of reading material. Thank you, Amir!

Amir Muhammad said...

Greetings, Sitizan Citizen! The book will be sold at Pesta Buku KL (27 April-6 May) in PWTC. Do visit! Buku Fixi will be in Dewan Tun Hussein Onn. Join the fan-page for updates :-)

Chet said...

Congrats, Amir!

.adnan qiyas. said...


Jamal ni. 2 things:

1) I want a copy of this please. Thank you.
2) Buku2 yg dlm gambar Penang Bookshelf tuh sumer for sale ke? How much did it cost you to get the 4 books you bought? I saw some gems there & I nak beli.


Btw, Thank You for FIXI RETRO & SITORA. I hope somebody would shoot the film as a tribute the Allahyarham.

Eggy said...

wow!!! (or should it be ROARRRR!!!)

Amir Muhammad said...

Adnan: Semua for sale tapi rasanya kebanyakan dah dibeli. Sila hubungi mereka segera! Harga boleh dirunding, saya pasti ;-)

Ad_dEen said...

i want 1...

Hadi said...

Please don't adapt it into a film.

FaMY said...

Interesting. Macam resurrection of an extinct dinosaur! The dinosaur came out of earth and starts to stomp everyone who killed it.

Cool. I agree with Hadi. Remaking the film would destroy PRamlee's original vision to the movie since nobody ever did 'see' it.

FaMY said...

En Amir,
I wonder if you see this as your greatest achievement? (:

Soalan interview sangat.

jejaka anggun said...


khys said...

terbaik ni!

Unknown said...

Thank you and congrats on your effort. Thanks also for introducing Penang Bookshelf. There are many gems which I hope to still be available.

oni said...

kalau tak silap macam pernah tengok filem sitora ni kat tv masa muda2 dulu. tapi tak ingat sangat story dia. ending filem mamat khalid 'kala malam bulan mengambang' beberapa tahun lepas sangat mengingatkan saya pasal sitora ni. dah tanya rtm ke?

hafiz miau said...

comment to this shorties!