Tuesday, August 18, 2015


By Mansor Puteh

I thought I had created history for the School of Mass Communications and also ITM and would be offered a special scholarship from MARA to allow me to enroll at Columbia in the Fall semester of 1977.

And when I tried to apply for a scholarship with MARA, it was rejected. I felt dejected.

The others who were offered places by the non-competitive universities were all given full scholarships by MARA, despite them wanting to do courses which are mundane that the country had many who already have them.

I thought the MARA officers would have foresight and were happy to see someone, never mind a Melayu being able to study film directing at Columbia, because the government would definitely want to develop the industry which was in the doldrums following the collapse of the Old Studio System in Singapore that had created many wonderful films that are still being shown on television today.

But they did not have such foresight or even knew that few years later Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, who was then deputy prime minister would propose the creation of the National Film Development Corporation or Finas (the acronym for Filem Nasional) under the Finas Act of 1980.

I had in fact written to Mahathir when I was studying at Columbia to ask about the Finas Act and received a prompt reply from him saying that the government was establishing the film agency.

I was shocked. I thought he would be shocked to learn that there is a Malaysian then studying film at such a prestigious university, so that he could bring me back for consultation on how best to establish the film agency. But this did not happen.

I supposed Mahathir who had just studied medicine at the University of Malaya then located in Singapore and at no other university abroad, did not know the Ivy League universities to know what he could do with someone who was majoring in film from Columbia.

I graduated from ITM and got my degree in October, 1977, when I was supposed to have gone to study at Columbia.

I attended the Graduation Ceremony at ITM in Shahalam feeling dejected knowing how I had been denied a MARA scholarship and how some others who did not come close to achieving such a distinction are now working on their master’s degrees at some of the non-competitive universities in America who could not be at ITM to received their diplomas.

I had already started work as a journalist at the now defunct Utusan Melayu whose history and organization turned out to be a ‘university’ of its own right; and it is when I began to find ways to file an appeal with MARA who finally offered not a full scholarship but a study loan instead, which I gladly accepted.

So I only managed to work as a journalist for thirteen months and thirteen days with Utusan Melayu before I flew off from Subang Airport on 13 August, 1978 to enroll at the Film Division of Columbia University for the Fall semester.

In my second semester, I was told by the doctors at the Columbia Health Center that I might have a tumor in my left leg, so they sent me off to St. Luke’s Hospital near the campus to have a biopsy where they found that I had a giant cell tumor of the upper left tibia.

And the doctors there sent me to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to have a surgery to remove the tumor, and had to walk on two crutches for one and a half years, before the doctors at this hospital could perform the third surgery which was to remove the plastic cement they had inserted in the area where they had removed the tumor.

However, because of an infection, the doctors decided not to follow this procedure but instead replace my knee with a prosthesis, which I still have today. And in all I had to walk on two crutches for fifteen years.

Because of this I was not able to complete my master’s degree at Columbia and decided to return home to do it, so that I can also impress my professors and university by coming up with a Malaysian feature film which is also for the general audiences in the country.

Unfortunately, I have not managed to get any support from the government or the respective ministers or ministry officials who looked down on my unusual academic background in film; they are happy to support the idiosyncrasies of many who do not have formal training in film or who only have just confusion to add to the industry, which they like.

No wonder the New Malaysian Cinema was not able to be developed with the participation of such individuals pretending to have talent as film directors and producers who have managed to get full grants to produce their forgettable films that cannot go anywhere with many that bombed at the local box office.

They were all lucky to get all that they had wanted without ever contributing much to the development of the film industry, while I was shamed, denied a MARA scholarship and even sued in the High Court by a Malaysian government agency whose officials did not want me to produce my master’s thesis film which is also for general release because they did not know what this film could do to the industry.


I had tried to pursue to work on a degree in film directing at a university in New York City in America since I was in Form Five studying at the St. Francis’ Institution in Melaka.

My brother-in-law, Syed Abdullah Barakhbah, who is the nephew of Tun Sharifah Rodziah Barakhbah, wife of Bapa KeMerdekaan, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who adopted him, gave me a PanAm airline brochure which he got when he flew to Canada and America with Tunku and his group from the newly formed Federation of Malaysia in 1963, which had photos of the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty that I had not seen before.

Tunku had gone to Canada to seek support from the Canadian government to help Malaysia establish their own television station and from there he went to Washington DC where he was received by the then American President Lyndon Johnson at the White House and was given a full military honor and formal banquet.)  

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