Amir Muhammad was a former New Straits Times columnist. At fourteen, he was already a regular contibutor. And if you think about it, he was fourteen about twenty(?) years ago, and those were the glory days of NST. He went to uni, read law under a Petronas scholarship, came back, joined the corporate world for 9 months, opted out and re-paid his loan by instalment to live out his dreams.
In the days of DrM, one of his published articles in "Perforated Sheets" was deemed as anti-establishment, and his column taken out of NST and no longer welcomed. It was a sad, sad day, but thankfully, he resurfaced in Malaysiakini "Counter Culture".
His old articles, ah... those were classics. Stuff like,
For a couple of years in the late 90s I edited the scripts for a long-running Malay-language TV soap opera. By the end of it I was responsible for over 200 hours of the stuff. Oh, judge me not too harshly, dear reader. I realise that as jobs go, it wasn't the most highbrow, reputable or lacking in ickiness. But what's done cannot be undone.
Looking back on those halcyon days can get me all teary and emotional. I remember the fuss created when we got the tycoon's mistress (a slutty model with a penchant for pink minis and arched eyebrows) pregnant. This immoral plot was raised in Parliament, and the TV station forced us to make the mistress repent. (The tycoon was allowed to continue his caddish ways). So the story department concocted a perfectly viable personal tragedy for the model, which caused her to mope a bit and then fall down a winding staircase to get a miscarriage before wearing a selendang full-time and mouthing moralistic platitudes to all and sundry.
The trouble was that, stripped of her former sluttiness, the character became boring. She had no redeeming vices. We needed to get rid of her. So we cooked up a perfectly humane, naturalistic solution by getting her run over by a truck.
Don't you wish all problems could be solved so easily? The nature of the plot dictated that police personnel had to keep butting in and almost finding out the tycoon's dastardly deeds (By the end of the series his catalogue of atrocities included not only drug dealing but murder, kidnapping, arson, fraud and sporting a ridiculous brown/white stripe in his hair). The cops were not allowed to find out anything too incriminating, because that would mean losing our main character. So in other words, the Malaysian police force had to look like a bunch of morons for over 100 continuous episodes. This was a lot more difficult than you might think. You see, the law in Malaysia is that only real policemen can play uniformed policemen on screen. The trouble with getting real cops is that not only were they rather wooden, they kept wanting to rewrite the dialogue to seem more professional. The cops kept wanting to solve the case really quickly, which would have been inconvenient to say the least.
Finally we just got rid of the real cops and introduced a whole squad of plainclothes investigators, who could then bungle admirably. We kept running into censorship difficulties and so the station appointed staff to monitor our activities. Scripts now had to be sent to them for approval, which cramped our style and made the process a lot less fun.
The station people would send back e-mail detailing all the ways in which a particular scene offended their sense of decency. Choice extracts: An amorous couple could not elope to Thailand because "this would affect the friendly relations between the two countries". No big reference to the economic crisis could be made because "this would affect the morale of the public". When we tried an interracial pairing, we were warned that the Malay guy can't be shown accompanying his girlfriend into a Chinese restaurant because "no Malay would do that."
Then of course there was the directive in early 1999 that no English words could be used at all, and so characters had to call each other up on their telefon bimbit, hide cocaine under the permaidani and store information in a cakera liut, just like the rest of us. The whole process to me could be likened to the movie Ben-Hur. The first half was a wild pagan ride, and then moral correctness had to intervene. At one point we even had to rename a minor character because the name "Anwar" was seen as a covert call to reformasi. What started out as a lark for me became a quick, scary lesson in the frustrating practicalities of living within a whole battery of regulations. That was my cue to exit.
"After viewing the movie, there was a lot of talking but no decision was made," Amir said in an interview.
"In fact, the minister himself said he couldn't lift the ban because it's not his preorgative. It was like a circus," Amir said, adding he was not keen for the situation to be repeated.
News portal malaysiakini.com reported yesterday Rais wanted to watch the film, saying it would be wise to review it to see if it was a threat to security or morality.
Amir also noted it was the Home Ministry, headed by Datuk Seri Mohd Radzi Sheikh Admad, which was in charge of the Censorship Board, and not Rais' ministry.
"It's like getting a traffic summons and going to the agriculture ministry to settle it," Amir said.