Monday, March 4, 2013


By Mansor Puteh

There is no historian, psychologist or even politician in Malaysia till now, who has come up with such a startling discovery, on how the collapse of the Old Malayan Cinema which was then based in Jalan Ampas in Singapore, mostly with a bit of it in East Coast Road, could be yet one of the more dramatic reasons why the 13 May, 1969 racial clash happened.

Everyone of them had only looked at the political equation and especially the results of the 1969 general elections, and the celebrations and jubilations that those who had won had done in its immediate aftermath.

The road to 13 May, 1969 was created six years earlier with the collapse of the Old Malayan Cinema.

They liked to look at the obvious and come up with conclusions which are also obvious, that racial politics were the only cause for the outbreak of the racial clash and nothing else.

They did not see how the scenario had changed in the country prior to the incident, which erupted in the aftermath of the general elections of 1969, which can now be seen as nothing but a mere excuse and platform for the racial clash to break.

But the backdrop to the racial clash had been created, with the collapse of the Old Malayan Cinema in 1963. And it had to take a mere six years before the 13 May, 1969 racial clash to happen.  

None had bothered to look at the whole issue in a much wider context on how the Old Malayan Cinema and its untimely demise might have created a scenario where racial sentiments were heightened unnecessarily which caused a sudden shift in the political equation which ultimately resulted in the outbreak of the racial clash.

During the time it was formed and beyond its heydays, the Old Malayan Cinema had caused the Malayans then to be united in spirit, speaking in the same language and thinking of the place where they were and not elsewhere.

The 13 May, 1969 racial clash could not have happened if the Old Malayan Cinema based in Singapore had not collapsed.

And where are the historians, psychologists and politicians in Malaysia now in this regard?

Can’t they get the connection between what happened in Singapore and Malaya then, and how the social cohesion between the different races in the country had become bad, when just before the collapse of the cinema, everything seemed to be okay, with the different races accepting their lot being held together by a common goal.

Then suddenly, each of the races had their own goals to achieve, and in the process some individuals sprang to champion the cause of their respective races, shouting slogans and carrying placards and forming political entities when they were at one time social clubs and clan associations with the leaders’ favorite pastimes were playing ‘mahjong’ and smoking ‘madat’ or ‘candu’, and during special occasions, watch ‘wayang’ and Chinese operas to amuse themselves.

Their amusement changed when they found out that shouting slogans and carrying placards were better; they were more dramatic. They could also help trust the individuals into the fore.

So now we have a small group of champions of the respective races, who do not truly care for the good of the nation, but the good of their own particular race.   

Kungfu films from Hong Kong started to flood the market and drawing many young Chinese to the cinema to see them and in the process instilled alien culture of their motherland that they had not been exposed to before, thus severing whatever goodwill and ties they used to have through the production and screening of films that were produced in Singapore then.

Because of the dearth of good films from Singapore the Melayu youth too found such Kungfu films to be interesting even though the impact on their feeble minds was directly opposite to that of the Chinese.

The Melayu were not as enthralled by the Kungfu films than how they were emotionally affected until such a time when their feelings and emotions became so frail that made it so easy for the politicians of the day to manipulate them to their advantage, with them spouting slogans and enhancing them with placards.

* * * * * * *

But why did the Natrah racial riots in Singapore happened in the 1950s?

This is another story, one that dealt with religious fervor of the Melayu and non-Melayu. But the Christians and Catholics in Singapore were not to be blamed, so the Christians were not targeted but the English courts and administrators of the country, which was then under British rule.

They were said or charged for being insensitive to the feelings of the Melayu, and for not giving the case to them, since they saw Natrah as being ‘them’ and forcing her to return to her original religion, meant that the Melayu had been separated from Islam by the English courts in Singapore.

Unfortunately, the Natrah Riots too could not have happened the way it did, if the Old Malayan Cinema was all encompassing; it wasn’t, simply because the issue was not a racial one but a religious one.

And such issues had never actually been dealt with in any film produced by the studios in Jalan Ampas and East Coat Road, so the riots happened unexpectedly as the producers did not foresee such an issue arising; otherwise, they would have done something to create films with.

Unfortunately, religious issues of that nature which had created the Natrah Riots could not have been turned into films as the issue of religion was still considered to be a minor one.

And even till today, such issues of inter-religious marriages or union have never been turned into debate or a discourse in any film.

There were however attempts to create films that deal with inter-racial marriages, but they were dealt on the most superficial levels so that the discourses are obtuse and not direct, and inferred.

Even Hollywood has never made any attempt to produce films that deal with inter-religious marriages or unions. Some have them in the sub-plots and have references to it.

And it was therefore a surprise that the Natrah Riots had to happen, despite it happening during the ‘heydays’ of the cinema, when many important and interesting films were produced during this decade, prior to the riots and immediately afterwards.

It was not a surprise why the Natrah riots happened, and not long afterwards, the 13 May, 1969 racial clash.

These are not totally isolated incidents; they are related, with one happening in Singapore and the other in Kuala Lumpur.

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