Remembering the legendary P. Ramlee

4 12 2010

It might have come as a surprise to some to learn from an article in the Straits Times on 20 November this year, that the legendary, charismatic, multi-talented and much revered producer, actor, singer and songwriter, P. Ramlee, whose career spanned much of the golden age of Malay film making from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, died lonely and penniless. His untimely death at the age of 44 in 1973 had as I very well remember, brought an outpouring of grief from his fans on both sides of the causeway. I had remembered that moment when the news broke very vividly as my maternal grandmother, herself a huge fan of P. Ramlee, shed a few tears. She had, in her relatively solitude after my grandfather’s own passing at the end of the 1960s, being conversant only in Bahasa Indonesia, counted the performances of P. Ramlee which she followed whenever it was aired on Television Singapore, as as one of her main sources of amusement.

Coincidentally the article, which featured Shuhaimi Baba’s documentary about the life of P. Ramlee, was published soon after a visit I paid to No. 8 Jalan Ampas, where P. Ramlee had his best moments, rising quickly from a young and aspiring actor to become an award winning movie producer and director, being responsible for over 70 films and 200 songs at what was the very successful Malay Film Productions (MFP) studios. He left the studios in 1963 to join Merdeka Studios in Kuala Lumpur, a year where two events might very well have led to the end of the the golden age of the Malay film industry which besides the MFP also counted the likes of the Cathay Keris studios. The events were the introduction of television in Malaya, and the merger of Singapore with Malaysia (which resulted in Indonesia’s objections developing into Konfrontasi, thereby closing the huge Indonesian market).

No. 8 Jalan Ampas, the premises of the former MFP as it is today. The MFP thrived during the Golden Age of Malay film and was where the legendary P. Ramlee's career took off.

A modest memorial to P. Ramlee at the former MFP at No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

While his premature passing had robbed us of his wonderful talent, which sadly in his final years he wasn’t able to fully exploit due to the unfortunate change of circumstances, P. Ramlee has certainly left us with his rich legacy of films and music – one that certainly deserves to be commemorated in a grand way. It is a wonderful thing that it is indeed going to be in a gala event to be held in Singapore on 5 February 2011, an event that will bring together artistes from that bygone era, together with guests from both sides of the Causeway who will include Ministers such as Datuk Rais Yatim and Chief Minister of Sarawak, Diplomats, Entrepreneurs, Film Producers, Scriptwriters, Movie Lovers and Fans of the Malay Film and Entertainment. The hosts for the exciting evening will be Ogy Ahmad Daud and A. B. Shaik and the Gala Night will feature performances by artistes of today and yesterday which will include the likes of diva Anita Sarawak, as well as by Ning Baizura, Fredo of Flybaits, Sarah Aqilah, Didi Cazli, Rudy Djoharnean, Syamsul Yusof, R. Ismail and Rozita Rohaizad. Please scroll down for an overview of the event. More details will soon follow.

P. Ramlee in his premature passing, had left a wealth of works, including the last song he composed, Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur, which was composed six months before his death. The song was first presented to the public by P. Ramlee's widow Saloma at the National Musuem in Kuala Lumpur on 29 August 1973.


Event Overview:

Seri Temasek Gala Dinner is the first to be held in Singapore to commemorate films from the Golden Era. Artists from the 1940s will be honoured for their works and contribution to the film industry.

It was during the Golden Era, a famous Malay entertainer created a name in Singapore. From the Jalan Ampas studio, P. Ramlee (b. 22 March 1929, Penang- d.29 May 1973) was the quintessential Malay entertainer par excellence – actor, director, composer and singer. He accomplished the heights of a legend, with a remarkable track record of having acted in 65 films and sung 390 songs. Closely linked to the golden era of Malay movies, P. Ramlee is the one and only brand name in the Malay Film industry in Golden Era and undeniably, an icon in the Malay entertainment scene in Malaysia and Singapore.

The legend’s influence on Malay popular culture is undeniable. Today, P. Ramlee’s films and songs continue to be enjoyed by many. His films and music have been adopted by succeeding generations. Many expressions in popular Malay culture either originate or were popularised by the late P. Ramlee, with lines from his films still being quoted today.

In memory of the legend’s fine artistry works, Seri Temasek serves as the first and only platform in Singapore to bring together artists / star performers / film producers / scriptwriters from Singapore and Malaysia to honour their contributions in the arts, culture and film industry. They will unite in an opulent nostalgic setting that sets to enliven the spirit of the Golden Era and to motivate the younger generation to scale to greater heights.

This is the event and the only platform that sets, records and heightens the memorable scenes and fine works of the past and present, motivating the works of yesterday and today bringing the Malay film industry into the global scene.

The starring night of Seri Temasek 2011 will witness 32 artists honoured for their dedication and contributions to the Malay Film Industry with Seri Temasek and Seri Temasek Life Achievement Awards.

850 honourable guests from various elite backgrounds Singapore and Malaysia alike, Ministers, Diplomats, Entrepreneurs, Film Producers, Scriptwriters, Movie Lovers and Fans of the Malay Film and Entertainment industry will rejoice in the first and only Seri Temasek 2011.

The first esteemed and memorable event to be held in Singapore; will create another milestone in the history of arts, culture and film here as it celebrates success stories of the past and present.






Where legends of the silver screen had once set foot on: No. 8 Jalan Ampas

11 11 2010

It may not be a surprise to some that the legendary Malaysian actor, singer, songwriter and director, P. Ramlee had actually plied his trade and made his mark on the silver screen from a studio that was located in Singapore, the Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Productions (MFP). However, it may surprise some that a few of the buildings that were associated with the studio still stand, albeit somewhat obscurely and forgotten and dwarfed by the many commercial and residential developments that now surround its compound at No. 8 Jalan Ampas, off Balestier Road in Singapore.

Lying somewhat hidden amongst commercial and residential properties is the former Shaw Brothers' Studio at Jalan Ampas.

It was back in the late 1940s, the 1950s and the early 1960s, that the studios at No. 8 had its best days, rising to become the most successful Malay film production house of the time. It was also during that time when as a young and aspiring actor at the studios, P. Ramlee, not only made his mark as an actor and a singer and songwriter, but also very quickly as an award winning movie producer and director. P. Ramlee was responsible for over 70 films and 200 songs before his departure for the Merdeka Studios in Kuala Lumpur in 1963. P. Ramlee was of course, well known to me in my childhood, having been given many doses of his exploits in black and white whilst seated next to my maternal grandmother in front of the Setron console television.

A nondescript gate leads to hallowed grounds on which the legendary P. Ramlee had once ruled the studios.

Somehow 1963 had been a very eventful year in Singapore, not just because of P. Ramlee moving to Kuala Lumpur, but it was more importantly, the year in which Malaysia was formed, made by the merger of Singapore and the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak into what had been the Federation of Malayan States. More significantly for the MFP though, it was a year which saw the introduction of television in Singapore, and while it certainly benefited my grandmother who was able to obtain the diet she craved of P. Ramlee and Pontianak movies in the comfort and safety of the living room of our flat, it also led to competition for the Malay speaking audience for the film making industry in Singapore, which besides Shaw Brothers, also featured another prominent film studio, Cathay Keris. Ultimately, this, together with a ban imposed on Malaysian productions by Soekarno’s Indonesia during the Konfrontasi (Confrontation), led to a falling demand and the eventual demise of the hitherto very successful Malay film making industry. The MFP, unable to sustain itself in this climate, eventually closed its doors in 1967.

A peek through the gates into a world that might have once been where dreams were made ...

While many of the events had either been before my time, or had passed me by in the bliss of my childhood, I did have some of my own memories of the MFP after its closure. What I would remember most is the view I regularly got of it in passing-by, from the back seat of my father’s car on the many occasions through the late 1960s and during the 1970s that I passed it on my visits to my paternal grandfather (who lived in the area). I had by that time been very aware of the MFP’s role in providing my maternal grandmother with the endless hours of entertainment which probably kept her sane through some of the lonely moments she had living in the confines of our HDB flat. I would in passing-by often look at what I remember as a desolate looking whitewashed walled compound which had a sign that must have read “Malay Film Productions” for me to have been able to have identified it then. I had also, in passing-by, often tried to picture what it would have been like in the days when the career of the legendary P. Ramlee flourished in the studios, wishing sometimes to have an opportunity to see and explore the place, which I never did get to. In time, with the passing of my grandfather the late 1970s giving me no reason to pass by the studios, it had been somewhat forgotten by me.

To the memory of a legend. A modest memorial to the late great P. Ramlee at the former MFP.

The memories of the studios did come back to me only recently, when I, in recalling the comical antics of Mat Bond (which was produced by the rival Cathay Keris studios), also remembered our very own more Bond like Jefri Zain, played by Jins Shamsudin, which was made at MFP, and the MFP along with it. I had intended for some time, to take a walk of rediscovery in the area where the MFP was (I wasn’t even sure if it was still around), which I somehow never go to doing. It was by sheer coincidence, a group involved in this concept of Urban Exploration, which I was only very recently introduced to, the One° North Explorers, obtained permission to visit the former studios and were kind enough to extend an invitation to me (see One° North Explorers’ post about the exploration of the studios) – an invitation at which I was quick to jump at. It wasn’t for me, so much a walk down memory lane, as I am often inclined to do, as it was to satisfy that unfulfilled childhood desire to see and explore the hallowed grounds that my grandmother’s silver screen hero, P. Ramlee, had once trodden upon.

Where the more serious of the two local Bond like characters, not Mat Bond, but Jefri Zain, was created.

There isn’t really a lot to remind us of the past use of the abandoned buildings which stand silently and forgotten in the compound at No. 8 Jalan Ampas. For one, they are well hidden behind a nondescript gate that one might only notice because of the two misspelt signs that might convince vehicle owners not to park there. There is however, an easily missed marker that does stand just by the gates, which does tell of the forgotten past and of the fact that it wasn’t just local legends whose feet had once trodden on the grounds, but also the feet of hallowed legends of Hollywood, including John Wayne and Ava Gardner. Beyond this, there is perhaps only the faded Shaw Brothers (SB) logo at the top of one of the buildings that gives away a clue to its past.

Information on the Shaw MFP Studio on the marker at No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

A scene from the filming of the last movie to be made at the studios in 1967, Raja Berslong.

I guess I would have been disappointed if I had expected to find much that would have connected the buildings with their glorious past, with most of what had equipped the rooms within the buildings disposed off in the 1970s. However, being there just for the opportunity to satisfy that desire to see and explore, I was quite happy to discover there were indeed some little reminders, this despite most of the equipment there having been moved out, and also the four decades of relative neglect. Within buildings that are still in relatively good condition, beyond the external walls that exhibit some of the ravages of weather and time, were rooms illuminated by the soft glow of light filtered through frosted and textured window panes which did hold a few things that connected the buildings with its past: contraptions that might have perhaps been old film dryers, old reels, posters and photographs that would have been used in promoting movies produced or distributed by the studios … Although that wasn’t really enough to go on to allow me to have a feel of what the buildings might had once been like when perhaps it was the Hollywood of South East Asia, it did not leave me the least disappointed, for at last, some three and a half decades since I last set my eyes on the old buildings behind the wall, I got the chance I had longed for – to have a look around the grounds where the great P. Ramlee had once trodden upon. And, for some reason beyond my comprehension, it felt as if I was home again.

The visit to the former MFP offered me a chance to see and explore the hallowed grounds that I had previously only had a peek at ...

Reminders of a forgotten past ...

Much of the former MFP although worn by the weather and time from four decades of neglect is still in relatively good condition.

The SB logo on top of the building ...

Reminders of the past ...

Evidence of a forgotten time when the MFP ruled the silver screen.

More evidence of the glorious past ...

The Directors' Rooms ... one had been where P. Ramlee had worked from ...

Perhaps Room A?

Some of the current residents of the prestigious address ...

Except for the weather worn walls and a few broken panes of glass ... the studios seemed to have aged pretty well.

A record book ...

A few more scenes from the MFP …





Thanks for the geleks, Dollah …

14 10 2010

R.I.P. Dollah Kassim (13 March 1949 to 14 Oct 2010)

Dollah in his prime and lifting the Malaysia Cup in 1977 (source: ourstory.asia1.com.sg).

It is sad indeed, coming just as we are witnessing a national sporting icon, in the form of the National Stadium, being torn down, to hear on the radio, that another icon, Dollah Kassim, who lighted the Singapore football scene for 11 years as a striker in the national team with his feints and excellent dribbling skills, has passed on this morning. Dollah or “Gelek-King” as he was popularly referred to, had burst to the national scene back in the late 1960s and had his best years during the best years of the National Stadium and the Kallang Roar – in the late 1970s, helping Singapore lift the Malaysia Cup in 1977, retiring from the Malaysia Cup and International scene in 1979. He collapsed following a match between ex-internationals from Singapore and across the Causeway due to a heart attack last October. Thanks for the memories Dollah … and for the wonderful geleks … you were an inspiration to many like me in Singapore growing up on the diet of the Malaysia Cup in the 1970s.





An Oasis lost

3 10 2010

With the news carried by the local print media on Thursday that the demolition of the National Stadium has started, there has been much focus on the stadium itself and how it would remain in the hearts of the many Singaporeans who have sat on its terraces since it was built for the 7th South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games in 1973. Having been a landmark in the Kallang area for close to four decades, the area would probably look a little bare once the grey icon and its four floodlight towers makes an exit from the landscape off Nicoll Highway and Mountbatten Road.

The Today report on the start of demolition at the National Stadium on 30 Sep 2010.

Demolition work has began in earnest and access to roads in the vicinity of the stadium are now restricted (seen on 1 Oct 2010).

For me, the stadium always seemed an invariable part of the landscape in the Kallang area, one that stood firm despite the many changes that have overtaken the area around it since the days when it first dominated the area. Some of the sights familiar to me that had kept the stadium company in the earlier days of the stadium had since abandoned the Grand Old Lady. One of these was the bright and lively Guillemard Circus that I had always been fond of passing … with its colourful neon signs that transformed it into a wonderland of light at night – one that somehow I recall being dominated by the huge Knife Brand Cooking Oil advertisement. There was of course the old Wonderland Amusement Park that had my favourite ride – a roller coaster that I would persuade my parents to return to the park for time and time again – the Wonderland was in fact how I had first become acquainted with the area. Years later, I was to spend a short period of time at a shipyard on the banks of the Geylang River just by the area where the Wonderland was located, walking past the stadium from a bus stop in Kallang everyday to get to the area around Jalan Benaan Kapal which has since been transformed in a way that makes it had to imagine slipways lining what were dirty and muddy river banks.

The newly constructed stadium was the most modern in South East Asia and provided an ideal setting for the birth of the Kallang Roar. The stadium had stood as a landmark in the area since it opened in 1973.

The stadium being prepared for demolition on 28 Sep 2010.

I have had over the 37 years had a love affair with the Grand Old Lady, one that started in 1974 with the first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-final match played between Singapore and Penang. It was where I had first watched a football match live … and became part of the frenzied atmosphere that accompanied the matches played in the stadium featuring Singapore which became known as the much Kallang Roar. In its heyday, as many as 70,000 pairs of feet would stamp on the terraces combined with 70,000 voices that gave the stadium that thunderous blare that put fear in many visiting teams at the stadium.

A reflection on an icon that will soon be a mirage ...

The stadium had often in its life been referred to as the “Lions’ Den”, not after the pair of stone Merdeka Lions that had once stood guard at the ends of the span of the Merdeka Bridge, being moved to stand guard at the area on which Stadium Boulevard had been constructed, but after the national football team which besides being referred to as the “Boys in Blue” – a reference to the sky blue jerseys they wore in the 1970s and 1980s, were also referred to as the “Lions”. The pair of lions also abandoned the stadium – sometime perhaps at the end of the 1980s.

One of the floodlight towers that dominated the Kallang landscape.

A lion watches sadly from across Nicoll Highway as the former Lions Den is being torn down.

Whilst there were many that abandoned the Grand Old Lady, there had been a few that managed to stay with it throughout its life. Among those that have kept the stadium company were the nearby Police Coast Guard (Marine Police) headquarters which moved to Pulau Brani with the construction of the Marina Barrage, and a somewhat forgotten icon of the area: the Oasis Restaurant complex. The Oasis would be going the way of the stadium as well, having stood where it was for some forty years. Indeed the Oasis had been as much of an icon in the Kallang Park area since it was opened in 1969 as the Oasis Theatre Restaurant, Cabaret and Nightclub. Comprising a three storey main building and three auxiliary buildings built on stilts extending out some 100 metres over the Kallang Basin, the complex was a popular night spot for many years. The octagonal shaped auxiliary buildings which housed restaurants provided the complex with its distinctive character which Singaporeans immediately identified with the complex and provided a unique dining experience for many were completed in 1970 and operated until the closure of the complex a few years back. The octagonal shaped buildings and the three storey main building are also in the process of being torn down, and a feature that will also be missing from the area very soon.

The former Police Coast Guard HQ near the stadium.

The distinctive octagonal structures on stilts that used to be part of the Oasis Restaurant complex over the Kallang Basin.

The 3-storey main building of the former Oasis being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

The octagonal buildings being reflected off the Kallang Basin. Once giving a distinctive character to the basin, the reflections of the basin will soon reflect only the sky (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

One of the octagonal buildings being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

With the icons of its past being dismantled, Kallang will no doubt never look the same again. That change is inevitable in land scarce Singapore is something that we as Singaporeans have come to accept. In the case of Kallang, the change is certainly necessary – one that will give Singapore a sorely needed modern sports hub that is sorely lacking at the moment. Still, there is that part of me that doesn’t want to let go … the part that will always remember Kallang fondly for the roller coaster rides not just that Wonderland brought with it, but the ones that the Lions took us on in the thrills and spills that accompanied their exploits in the Malaysia Cup.

Vanishing scenes around Nicoll Highway.

The north east floodlight tower looks like it would be the first of the four to come down.

More views around the stadium and its environs taken on 28 Sep 2010:
















This time it is for real …

16 07 2010

There were a few with doubts after the few false starts we have had on the construction of the Sports Hub, but it does looked as if the time has really come for us to say goodbye to the Grand Old Lady. That is on the evidence of the report and photograph in the sports section of today’s Today newspaper. Having already said a fond farewell to her, and to the area around her for which I have many fond memories of from the days passing by on my way to the shipyard which I was attached to in nearby Jalan Benaan Kapal, and from the many sports events I have attended, of which the Malaysia Cup and more recently the Tiger Cup football matches would be at the top of the list, I somehow feel that I must say goodbye again. So goodbye my old friend … and thanks so much for the memories you have given to me and to Singapore.

The pitch has been stripped and ready for the bulldozers (source: http://www.todayonline.com)

The stadium at the beginning of June this year.





A last look at Kallang as it was

1 07 2010

It does look as if this time it is for real. The signs have come up to confirm that preparations are indeed being made for the long awaited and long delayed construction of the Sports Hub. The car parks around the old National Stadium would be closed from 16 July this year and from the sound of things, the National Stadium would be handed over to the Sports Hub Consortium and the demolition of the Grand Old Lady would be start after the close of the Youth Olympic Games in August. So after a few false starts, it does finally seem that we will be saying goodbye to our beloved National Stadium.

The signs are up and this time it does look like the Grand Old Lady will take a bow.

Based on information on the Singapore Sports Council website, the construction and management, which is based on a public-private partnership (PPP) model, of the Sports Hub would be on a 35ha site in Kallang, and will include the following facilities:

  • A new 55,000-capacity National Stadium with a retractable roof;
  • A 6,000-capacity indoor Aquatic Centre that meets world tournament standards;
  • A 3,000-capacity multi-purpose arena which will be scalable and flexible in layout;
  • 41,000 sq m of commercial space
  • A Water Sports Centre
  • The existing 11,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium; and Supporting leisure and commercial developments

The area where the Sports Hub will be developed (source: Singapore Sports Council).

Having already said farewell to the Grand Old Lady, it is appropriate to also bid goodbye to some of the views of which we have for so long identified with the area around the stadium…

The bus stop inherited from the City Shuttle Service (CSS) bus terminal.

Bench at the bus stop.

Close up of the end of the Bus Stop.

The sun sets on the stadium floodlights.

The old and the new. The stadium waits silently for its end next to the Kallang MRT station which has just had its beginning.

Also soon to go ... the buildings that were the once well known Oasis Restaurant.

The new icons of Singapore peeking out from behind the old.

What used to be the Oasis over the Kallang Basin.

The former Oasis.

The writing for the Oasis is on the wall?

The Oasis from the promenade.

Reflecting on the glorious old stadium.

A last view.

and another, of the Grand Old Lady ...

Floor tiles.

Clearing up would be a tremendous task.

What's to become of this resident, a collared kingfisher, once the work starts?


Some further views of the Grand Old Lady:

Saying goodbye ...

Terraces.

Terraces.

The policeman was a common sight.

A young fan.

The floodlights.

The floodlights.

Daniel Mark Bennett.

The sun sets.

The Vuvuzela came to town long before the South African World Cup.

The sun sets as the stadium waits in anticipation for the start of a match.

Here we go!

A last look at the floodlights as they dim and go off forever.





It does take Diff’rent Strokes to move the world … thanks for the laughs Gary!

29 05 2010

Most of those who grew up at the time I did, would remember cute little character Arnold Jackson in the Sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. Arnold was played by Gary Coleman and provided lots of laughter with his antics and his very popular catchphrase “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” … Sadly, Gary Coleman passed away from a brain hemorrhage following a fall at his home in Utah on Friday. He was 42. Rest in peace Gary, and thanks for the laughs you gave us!

RIP Gary Coleman
8 Feb 1968 to 28 May 2010

What'choo talking about, Willis?

Diff’rent Strokes

(Lyrics from the theme song)

Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum,
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
A man is born, he’s a man of means.
Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.

But they got, Diff’rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.

Everybody’s got a special kind of story
Everybody finds a way to shine,
It don’t matter that you got not alot
So what,
They’ll have theirs, and you’ll have yours, and I’ll have mine.
And together we’ll be fine….

Because it takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.
Yes it does.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.