By Tunku Abidin Muhriz, first published in The Malay Mail on 19 February 2016.

When I watched Ola Bola in its opening week, I knew it was going to be big.

Although it is not as high-octane as the last movie I wrote about, Polis Evo (also produced by Astro Shaw), its depiction of multiracial cooperation has kicked off much reminiscing from those who witnessed the real-world climax of the film, and renewed discussion of how to achieve the same feeling today.

Although the movie does not claim to be true to life, one bit did unsettle me. I had already known Malaysia, like many other countries aligned against communism in the Cold War, had boycotted the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games. In the film, the moment at which the team discovers this fact is rather dramatic. Alas, as it turns out, the truth was much more mundane. Another controversial point (which irked some others more) was that the scorer of the winning goal was shown as ethnically Malay when in fact he was Chinese.

Presumably, the writers did consider the trade-offs between accuracy and drama in the message they were trying to convey in the current political context. Sure, it wasn’t as sophisticated as a P. Ramlee film (even those set in fictional sultanates of yore still manage to humorously transmit complex metaphors applicable in contemporary society) or as succinct as a Yasmin Ahmad advertisement (some of which could reduce grown men to tears in 90 seconds), but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

By being blindingly obvious in its intended message, by blatantly segueing scenes of multilingual Malaysia and by invoking a sport loved by the masses (a film about the Flying Dayak or even the Sidek brothers would probably have a smaller default audience), the movie has widened the number of people who can enjoy the resultant emotions.

The nostalgia fest is not appreciated by all, though, who point out no amount of reminiscing (especially through rose-tinted glasses) will change Malaysia for the better now.

This is a familiar accusation for me. As Ideas celebrates our sixth anniversary and the 113th anniversary of the birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman this weekend, our usual detractors will make three main denunciations. Firstly, Bapa Kemerdekaan is gone forever and there is no point deploying his name relentlessly; secondly, Ideas does not accurately depict Tunku’s beliefs and even if so, there is no way to appropriately apply them now; and our memory of Tunku is exaggerated and sanitised, since there was skulduggery and backstabbing then too.

To this, I reply the memory of Tunku should rightly be treasured for as long as our country exists. He was the founding father, his image adorns the nation every Merdeka and Malaysia Day, and, therefore, schoolchildren should know about his story and the road to nationhood.

I say “should,” because far too many young Malaysians know only the image of Merdeka and nothing about the substance. As I said in my “Healing the Nation”’ speeches, contemporary political dynamics have led to contestations over our national history, and more worryingly, different expectations about who this country is for.

Instead of having a shared understanding of the past and a common hope for the future, different sections of the population expect the country to deliver completely different things for them. It is in keeping with the spirit of Merdeka that we quote Tunku’s writings and speeches and use them as inspiration to approach the country’s challenges today.

Recently, I wrote an introduction to a forthcoming book featuring never-before published conversations with him that will further reveal the extent of political machinations during his premiership. And yet, again and again, from people who lived through those times — not just politicians (whose flip-flops can be attributed to sinister motives) — I hear similar stories of how citizens had a clear understanding of the principles that underpinned the governance of the country, and how that understanding led to an optimistic view of the future. And for sure, there wasn’t the level of corruption and racism that is perceived today.

Over the last six years, we have been trying to convince people there is a use to recalling and disseminating this nostalgia. Among our partners in civil society, our interns and council members, and our donors, it is not just a vague idea of a better Malaysia that motivates them to contribute to our efforts to educate refugee and autistic children, to work on strengthening anti-corruption efforts, increasing transparency in public spending and other areas of public policy.

It is also the thought of a Malaysia that had, and can still have, so much more potential — and a world-class football team.

See original article at:

Leave a comment