Actor chosen for his strong personality for Minds film

Muhammad Nur Arif Muzani acted in a short film released in 2018 called Layang Layang Terbang Melayang (The Kite Soars High). In the film, he plays a son coming to terms with his mother's death.
(From far left) Muhammad Nur Arif Muzani, seen here with parents Jaliah Mohammad and Muzani Jaffar, acted in Layang Layang Terbang Melayang (The Kite Soars High), a short film by Minds.
(From left) Muhammad Nur Arif Muzani, seen here with parents Jaliah Mohammad and Muzani Jaffar, acted in Layang Layang Terbang Melayang (The Kite Soars High), a short film by Minds.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Muhammad Nur Arif Muzani, 22, has global developmental delay, an intellectual disability. He is also an actor.

Arif, as his friends and family call him, goes to a centre in Rosyth Road each morning where he packs airline headphones, then comes home to watch videos or play games on his iPad.

Speaking to The Straits Times, the shy Arif has to be coaxed to talk about acting in Layang Layang Terbang Melayang (The Kite Soars High), a short film. Released in 2018, he plays Rashid, a young man whose mother, his main caregiver, has died. His older brother Razak has to put his life on hold to care for Rashid, but Razak worries for the future: What if he were to die or become unable to care for his brother?

The film touches on an idea that its producers, the social service organisation, the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), hope to highlight: that families try to come to terms with the idea that one day, the primary caregiver might become unable to fulfil that role and what to do in that situation.

In the film, Razak struggles to come to terms with his new role as Rashid's caregiver.

In real life, Arif's parents, Mr Muzani Jaffar, 56, an oil refinery technician, and Madam Jaliah Mohammad, 57, a housewife, tell ST that while the topic is a difficult one to broach, it is one they have talked over with the family. Arif has two older siblings, a brother and a sister.

Minds runs workshops and support networks that aim to help persons from different stages of life should they find themselves becoming a caregiver, a role that can create feelings of anxiety and guilt.

The Minds Film Festival, which features films that deal with the lives of the intellectually disabled, opened yesterday. Caregiver-sibling support, as shown in Layang Layang, is the focus of the festival this year.

The film-maker behind the short film, Ghazi Alqudcy, 37, says he cast Arif after visiting several Minds facilities. He "fell in love" with Arif's strong personality and expressive eyes.

"He is kind of a leader. He leads his group of friends and protects them in a way. He doesn't like to be hugged. He pushes you away if you hug him and I put that in the film," says Ghazi.

Mr Cliford Carbonel Sittaraman, a Minds training officer, was cast as brother Razak.

Ghazi says he enjoys working with non-actors in his films and was given a free hand to choose anyone, intellectually disabled or not, to play Rashid.

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The director says he is aware that in film-making, it is common practice for intellectually disabled characters to be played by professional actors, with many winning awards for their work.

But he preferred to cast someone like Arif, he says, both because it would be the right thing to do and because he would bring an authenticity to the part, especially in scenes in which he is with his friends.

"Arif has a connection with his friends. It's a clear connection a professional actor won't be able to create with the time we have for making the film," he says.

 
 
 

Working with Arif was a matter of making him feel comfortable and breaking down his lines into smaller chunks.

"In one scene, Razak asks him, 'Would you know what to do if I were to die?' After a few takes, Arif was so good at repeating the lines, he began noticing Razak's mistakes. He would say, 'Cut, you should have said this instead of that'."

• Watch Layang Layang Terbang Melayang (The Kite Soars High) at bit.ly/2Tn2xHM

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2020, with the headline 'Actor chosen for his strong personality for Minds film'. Print Edition | Subscribe