Reliving golden age of Malay films

Studio caretaker Jumahat Abu Bakar with some of the mementoes that take visitors back to the heyday of the Malay film industry. He was thrilled to see the Jalan Ampas studios packed with people yesterday, with the Jejak Warisan tour attracting over 1
Studio caretaker Jumahat Abu Bakar with some of the mementoes that take visitors back to the heyday of the Malay film industry. He was thrilled to see the Jalan Ampas studios packed with people yesterday, with the Jejak Warisan tour attracting over 160 participants.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

As a teenager, Mr Jumahat Abu Bakar would peer through the gates of the Malay film studios in Jalan Ampas, hoping to catch a glimpse of actors such as the famed P. Ramlee.

In 2012, when he was offered a caretaker job at the studios, located off Balestier Road, he leapt at the chance, even at the age of 70.

The first thing he did was spruce up the studios, which stopped operating in 1967. He put up photos of old artists and painted the walls with a nostalgic motif featuring bamboo shoots and sugar cane.

Yesterday, Mr Jumahat, now 75, showed off his work as over 160 visitors went there to relive the golden era of the Singapore Malay film industry, from the 1950s to 1960s.

The visit was part of the Jejak Warisan tour, an initiative by Woodlands grassroots volunteers to run heritage trips for the Malay community to promote the cultural legacy.

Yesterday's tour, the third since the effort began in February, saw the largest number of participants. It was conducted by local lyricist and film researcher Yusnor Ef, 80, once a student of P. Ramlee, who was also a musician and film-maker.

He said: "This place holds a lot of pride for the Malays. Great artists were nurtured here. They worked from the heart. I hope it can be kept as a reminder of our heritage."

Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Home Affairs Amrin Amin, who was at the event, said Malay films that showcase tradition and heritage remain relevant even in a modern world dominated by Hollywood blockbusters.

He added that "Hollywood can't touch the heart like they can" with "their simple everyday language".

He said he was certain such films could be made again. "We just need to have the cultural confidence."

Veteran actors Zaiton Abdullah, K. Fatimah and Zaini Sattar were there to answer questions during the tour.

Mr Jumahat said it made him very happy to see the usually empty studios filled with people. He said: "This place holds so much meaning for me, and I hope more Singaporeans will know about it and visit it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'Reliving golden age of Malay films'. Print Edition | Subscribe