Poem of HDB life by Arthur Yap inspires telemovie

Arthur Yap's 2 Mothers In A HDB Playground among film adaptations of local literature

The late Arthur Yap's well-known one-page poem, 2 Mothers In A HDB Playground, has been adapted into a 65-minute telemovie screening today on Channel 5.

The film, titled The Playground: Gone Kimmy Gone, appears to be the first long-form screen adaptation of Yap's verses about two parents comparing notes on their children in Singlish.

Two years ago, film-maker Royston Tan turned the poem, first published in 1980, into a 10-minute movie, 2Mothers, for the Singapore Writers Festival.

The Playground is directed by K. Rajagopal (I Can't Sleep Tonight, 1995) and stars Constance Song, a familiar face on Channel 8 and HBO Asia's mini-series Grace last year.

Playing her sister is FM 91.3 radio DJ Melody Chen and her son, Kim Cheong, one of two boys mentioned in Yap's poem, is played by newcomer Elijah Michael Tan. DJ Vernetta Lopez appears as herself, as Kim Cheong's on-air agony aunt.

The Playground is among a number of print-to-screen adaptations of Singapore literature this year. In January, Channel 5 aired Lee Thean-jeen's 2 Boys And A Mermaid, a story of two friends in love with the same girl and adapted from Adeline Foo's young adult novel, Thomas Titans: Men Among Boys (2012, Om Books International).

On April 24, the Singapore Art Museum's South-east Asian Film Festival will host the world premiere of a film adaptation of the 2006 play about paedophilia, Fundamentally Happy, written by The Necessary Stage's Haresh Sharma.

In October, an adaptation of Daren Shiau's 1999 novel, Heartland, will air on Okto. It is produced by Verite Productions, which also did The Playground as part of a three-movie anthology about heartland life, Straight From The Heart.

The series was commissioned by MediaCorp to commemorate Singapore's 50th birthday.

Coming up next week is October: The Dreamboat, directed by Wee Li Lin and adapted from playwright Sharma's 1996 play October, about HDB upgrading projects.

Last week, Channel 5 aired Cats And Dogs: Chronicles Of A Pest Detective, which starred Pierre Png as a pet detective in an adaptation of Wong Swee Hoon's short story Of Cats And Dogs And HDB Flats.

Verite Productions' founder Rehina Pereira, 46, says she was drawn to pitch print-to-screen adaptations for the Straight From The Heart series because she had enjoyed adapting a short story The Lost History Of Shadows (Crime Scene Singapore, Monsoon Books) into the 1998 mini-series, Keong Saik Street.

However, she adds: "It's always difficult and even a little daunting when you take a piece of literature and adapt it for a completely different medium."

It was specially hard to adapt a one- page poem into a one-hour film, says director Rajagopal, 50, who fleshed out the poem into a full-length story before handing it to screenwriter Chris Yeo.

The two mothers became two sisters and rather than bringing the text of the poem into the dialogue, the poem's imagery inspires visuals such as the young boy feeding his vitamins to the cat instead of eating them.

"It was a challenge," the director says. "But Yap was a very good writer who contributed to Singapore literature. His work should be recognised and given another platform, another reading."

The late poet's sister Jenny Yap agrees. A champion of her brother's work before and after his death in 2006, she is proud that his verses are taught in schools here and is looking forward to watching the movie.

Commenting on the meaning her brother's poem still holds for readers today, about 35 years after it was published, she says: "It's an everyday HDB local scene that is quite catchy for people here. Maybe some of them could really identify with the two mothers."

The poem can be found in The Collected Poems Of Arthur Yap, published in 2013 by NUS Press and available in local bookstores.

Publisher Peter Schoppert says: "We are happy to see local TV companies paying more attention to Singapore literature as they look for subject matter. It's also great that they've commissioned a local director with a strong artistic vision. There's room to do much more of this sort of thing."

akshitan@sph.com.sg