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«Mohd. Mokhtar-Ritchie, Hanita (2011) Negotiating melodrama and the Malay woman: female representation and the melodramatic mode in Malaysian-Malay ...»

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Mohd. Mokhtar-Ritchie, Hanita (2011) Negotiating melodrama and the

Malay woman: female representation and the melodramatic mode in

Malaysian-Malay films from the early 1990s-2009.

PhD thesis


Copyright and moral rights for this thesis are retained by the author

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Female Representation and the Melodramatic Mode in Malaysian-Malay Films from the Early 1990s - 2009 By


Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy




SEPTEMBER 2011 Copyright © Hanita Mohd. Mokhtar-Ritchie, 30th September 2011 ii ABSTRACT Melodrama does not only point to a type of aesthetic practice but also to a way of viewing the world. This thesis is inspired by the idea proposed by Christine Gledhill (1988) that at the core of cultural negotiation in melodrama is gender representation which is the cultural product resulting from the linking of textual and social subjects. Central to this negotiation is the figure of the woman which has long functioned as a powerful and ambivalent expression of the male psyche. In the context of Malaysian cinema, film critics and reviewers tend to use the term ‘melodrama’ in the pejorative sense, usually referring to female-centred films. What is significantly comparable between Western and non-Western perceptions, however, is that melodrama is examined in terms of gender, class, and more recently, race and ethnicity. This thesis examines the construction of female protagonists, within the backdrop of both urban and rural settings, through the use of melodrama as an aesthetic mode in selected MalaysianMalay films from the early 1990s to 2009. The general approach is the employment of textual analysis based on concepts of film melodrama and informed by contextual information and social history. Thematically, Malaysian-Malay films of the period between the early 1990s and 2009 that focus on female protagonists largely depict the woman in the capacity of independent-minded personas negotiating patriarchal rules in the pursuit of vocational, romantic, and sexual emancipation. This typology of female protagonists comprises the urban, the romantic and the sexual woman. The problematisation of the female protagonist in this manner reveals the dimensions of social change and defines the new role of women in Malaysia’s market economy from the 1990s to the new millennium.



–  –  –

My heartfelt gratitude goes to my mentor, Professor Christine Geraghty, for her patient, kind, and generous guidance throughout this lengthy, enlightening, and admittedly, arduous learning process.

My sincere thanks and appreciation go to Professor Karen Lury, Dr. Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Dr. Khoo Gaik Cheng, who have given beneficial and supportive comments and assistance.

I am especially grateful to family and friends, both in Malaysia and Scotland, for their help with references, research material and opinions, and especially for their moral support and understanding.

My utmost love and devotion go to:

Andrew, Hannah Ayesha, Aidan Hakim, Mami, Bapak and Along.

v List of Illustrations Figure 1a: ‘In scenes showing Mastura’s encounters with Brother Musa, for instance, she is portrayed as being neither afraid nor perturbed by his sarcastic and accusatory remarks’ (p.


Figure 1b: ‘The magical appearance of the surrealistic butterflies in Mastura’s hospital room hints at the meeting of tradition and modernity’ (p. 88).

Figure 2a: ‘The film utilises the scene featuring her letter of termination as a melodramatic moment to depict Ena’s dilemma of reassessing her goals and of choosing her career over her boyfriend and to mark a defining point in her process of gaining complete autonomy’ (p. 91).

Figure 2b: ‘The forlorn image of a nostalgic Auntie Zai holding an old film award is framed by the outline of her window’ (p. 92).

Figure 2c: ‘The image of the creaking swing at the film’s end reminds us of a previous scene in which Kiah, Temah and Maz are seated in the swing eating coned ice-cream, discussing her illness, making plans for Temah’s son in the event of her demise and lamenting about what the future holds’ (p. 97).

Figure 2d: ‘The independent heroine’s liberal and non-racist mindset is evident in the immediate connection enjoyed by Orked and Alan’ (p. 99).

Figure 2e: ‘This is particularly obvious in a montage of various characters praying but in different ways – Alan and his daughter in church; his parents at a Buddhist altar’ (p. 99).

Figure 3a: ‘The film amplifies Erzan’s quandary with a close-up of him grim-faced clutching a packet of what appears to be marijuana, as though aware of his bleak future’ (p. 102).

Figure 3b: ‘Erzan displays more of an understanding of Atikah’s addiction as when he helps her get a fix under the bridge’ (p. 103).

Figure 3c: ‘The melodramatic manner in which the film shows the destruction caused by drugs is also clear when Atikah, in a ‘high’ state, prances around on the rooftop during a fireworks display evident in the city skyline before jumping off’ (p. 104).

Figure 3d: ‘This bond is powerfully illustrated in the final melodramatic tableau (very much an influence of Indian cinema) of Putera, Jo and Mariam, huddled together on the ground staring into police headlights’ (p.105).

Figure 4a: ‘For instance, Ani makes a habit of repeatedly and playfully kissing her sister’s cheek at random moments, particularly after they conclude their prayers’ (p. 107).

Figure 4b: ‘Ani…provides him [Brian] with profound yet sentimental encouragement to improve his relationship with his mother’ (p.111).

–  –  –

segment of the film which tells us that she has decided to help care for her father who has suffered a stroke’ (p. 111).

Figure 5a: ‘The most noticeable feature of Orked’s outward appearance throughout the film is her baju kurung’ (p.117).

Figure 5b: ‘The bond between the female characters in Orked’s household is definitively illustrated in the stairway scene’ (p. 121).

Figure 5c: ‘Romance is first established through the main characters’ vision, when they first set eyes on each other at the market, in the manner of ‘love at first sight’’ (p. 123).

Figure 5d: ‘This is the part in the film in which the narrative seems at its most melodramatic as Orked, whether by force of will, imagination, or fantasy manages to reach Jason and appears to be holding a conversation with him, at the point when he has actually died’ (p.124).

Figure 6a: ‘The pain and sorrow of both characters heightens the melodrama in this part of the story through the interlacing of scenes indicating what appears to be their telepathic way of bidding farewell and reinforced in the frame showing the Princess clinging to Bayan’s shawl’ (p. 129).

Figure 6b: ‘Much of the love and attraction expressed by Gusti Putri for Tuah is also conveyed through physical gesture, such as the pas de deux in their first private meeting’ (p.


Figure 6c: ‘The film visualises their unfortunate circumstance in the moment when Gusti Putri’s hand reaches out about to touch Tuah from behind, just as he turns, sensing her presence, only to find her not there’ (p. 133).

Figure 7a: ‘the film projects Putri’s ultra-feminine characteristics through elements such as her stylish but altogether impractical design for the Malaysian National Service uniform, and her predilection for pink and pastel shades of clothing and fashion accessories’ (p. 134).

Figure 7b: ‘Putri’s frustration and anguish at breaking-up with Eddy and learning that he has quickly moved on into a relationship with Shasha is clearly depicted via one of the few melodramatic elements that the film utilises – the dream sequence in which an anxious Putri is confronted by her adversary Shasha who prevents her from scoring a goal and therefore from Eddy’ (p. 135).

Figure 7c: ‘When Izam’s malevolent act is exposed Putri, as well as the other female characters, rally around Jijie and provide her with some much needed female support and comfort rather than judgement’ (p. 137).

Figure 7d: ‘This is enhanced in the scene which sees Putri venting her frustration on the futsal pitch only to find comfort and optimism from Reza’ (p. 137).

–  –  –

Figure 8a: ‘Orked is still in the songkok (hat worn by Malay men) she wore in the ‘wedding’ game, portraying a ‘masculine’ image of a strong heroine who is ready and able to contend with her male counterparts and signifying her ability to negotiate her status’ (p. 141).

Figure 8b: The image of the mother gyrating in a 1960s pop dance style, in the downpour and in transparent, wet clothing that emphasises the mother’s figure, again points to a picture of a more moderate Muslim family (p. 142).

Figure 8c: ‘After Orked places the songkok on Mukhsin and demurely kisses his hand, the film injects a brief melodramatic moment as Mukhsin is elevated into the air’ (p. 144).

Figure 8d: ‘As the young Orked goes about her usual business at school there is a clear shot of a young Chinese boy standing by a pillar, whose gaze is following Orked’ (p. 146).

Figure 9a: ‘Rubiah’s decision is also the film’s injection of humanity illustrated in the selfsacrifice and almost maternal-like care that she has chosen to give to him’ (p. 148).

Figure 9b: ‘The portrayal of Taufik’s kindness and growing feelings for Arianna, even when she is pregnant with Khalif’s child, is another illustration of his selflessness and makes him a desirable protagonist in this love story’ (p. 149).

Figure 9c: ‘Harris’s melancholy is also enhanced through the portrayal of their daughter’s concern for him, her teary moments, and her eventual role in his recovery through the heartshaped note left for Airin stating: ‘because a little girl taught me love means letting go’’ (p.


Figure 9d: ‘Their story appears to be more of a romantic comedy, as illustrated in the music montages in which they are seen talking about ideas for his magazine, and in the depiction of his romantic gestures exemplified by their dinner date in which Azlan goes to elaborate measures to impress Azura with a mini orchestra playing her favourite ballad’ (p. 150).

Figure 9e: ‘[Dian] is portrayed as the maternal-like older sister of Dhani who wants him to forge a settled and successful career as an artist rather than draw caricatures for tourists’ (p.151).

Figure 9f: ‘Adam the chef, for instance, is portrayed as a comical yet likeable character who has been unlucky in love’ (p. 151).

Figure 9g: ‘Her flashback – a repetition of earlier scenes of Imaan, sans Khalil – is the point in which the film injects the melodramatic charge to her story before the dénouement of her recovery and happy ending with Ian’ (p. 153).

Figure 9h: ‘Sufi’s melancholic portrayal allows the film to generate sympathy for his circumstance, and to create a sense of frustration at the futility of his relationship with Marya’ (p. 153).

–  –  –

Figure 10b: ‘In terms of images of sexuality, the film presents an obvious juxtaposition between Meera and Nina’ (p. 164).

Figure 10c: ‘The sense of tragedy is achieved in an emotional scene which features Khal sobbing uncontrollably and cradling Meera’s body’ (p. 168).

Figure 10d: ‘…when Zaleha seeks attention by putting on a new outfit and asking if the outfit looks good on her, Amir roughly grabs her by the arm tearing one of the sleeves in the process, and angrily demanding to know where she obtained the money to pay for such an outfit’ (p. 174).

Figure 10e: ‘The brazen nature of Zaleha’s sensuality is also illustrated in the scene in which she attracts the attention of the truck driver by teasing him with flirtatious stares and by suggestively toying with her straw’ (p. 175).

Figure 10f: ‘The film presents the sexuality that emanates from Zaleha in her gesture of using a plate as a fan to cool her nether regions with one hand whilst holding a lit cigarette in the other; a close-up shot shows her uplifted face, her eyelids slightly lowered before her face lights up as her mouth breaks into a slight smile’ (p. 176).

Figure 10g: ‘In the notorious nasi kangkang (straddled rice) scene, Zaleha stands over a hot bowl of rice intended for Amir and allows the rising steam to cause her vaginal fluids to drip into the bowl’ (p. 176).

Figure 10h: ‘The visual depiction of female sexuality in the film culminates in the scene which suggests that Zaleha engages in sexual relations with Tapa in the rubber plantation’ (p.


Figure 10i: ‘In this highly tense scene, Zaleha comes to the realisation that there appears to be ‘no way out’ for her’ (p. 178).

Figure 10j: ‘Like the femme fatale of film noir, Zaitun’s persona and sensuality are illustrated by an appreciative shot of her bare legs in her introductory scene, seen from the viewpoint of Amran who is consequently seduced’ (p. 181).

Figure 10k: ‘Zaitun takes a nocturnal soak in the stream and admits to Amran that she enjoys ‘mandi malam’ (literally ‘a night bath’) before going on to indulge in an illicit tryst with Amran and later uses her sensual magnetism to control him’ (p. 182).

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