Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Gubra, Unrealistic But Still Fantastic

Written by johnleemk on 5:09:23 pm May 19, 2007.

Having watched Sepet (which I highly recommend), it only made sense for me to watch the sequel,Gubra. If you have not already watched Gubra, I suggest you do so (unless you have not seen Sepet, in which case you should watch that first and then watch Gubra) before reading this review. (And keep watching after the credits roll for Gubra — you will be in for a rude surprise here if you do not do this.)

What is there to say? I loved the movie, despite its idealistic and unrealistic portrayal of Malaysian society. I can't say I'm big on heavy literary analysis, but I know that if you are, you will find a lot to ponder upon. (Anything after this will be, in internet parlance, a "spoiler", and you have been warned.)

The movie, like Sepet, does not hide Yasmin Ahmad's blatantly multicultural and plural approach to Malaysian society. It opens with a Hindi (or is it Tamil?) song, over a scene of a Malay woman making a bread and butter (literally) breakfast for her husband.

The scene where Alan and Orked discussed Malaysian society was a not-too-subtle nod at this. I was quite impressed at the fact that even though it's very blatant social commentary, violating the rule of "show, don't tell", it worked in getting the message across without seeming overbearing.

The fact that Orked criticised the idea of Malay assimilation and praised amalgamation is a tad controversial, but not too shocking, given that this is theoretically official goverment policy (i.e. Bangsa Malaysia).

What surprised me was the dig at Singaporean materialism (though I dare not call it a manifestation of the Malaysian-Singaporean inferiority complex), and the statement that being a non-Malay in Malaysia is like "loving someone who doesn't love you back".

Putting in this quiet but blatant mention of the treatment of non-Malays which is now all but apartheid was a really brave thing to do, and you have to salute the filmmakers for this.

Even more shocking, however, is the treatment of religion. Only half the plot deals with Orked's story — the other half deals with a group of totally unrelated characters — a muezzin's family and a couple of prostitutes.

What is truly surprising is how open-minded and tolerant the muezzin is — he pats and talks with a dog, and fraternises with prostitutes. The human portrayal of these working women is a frank way of dealing with an often-ignored class of society, and again, the filmmakers must be commended for this. The movie also closes with an ecumenical juxtaposition of different religions' prayers, another landmark move.

The last, but definitely not the least surprising element is the way the film deals with sex. This is normally a taboo topic for the typically conservative Malaysian society — Sepet already was quite open about this (e.g. a Malay husband referring to his wife as a MILF — Mother I Like to well, I don't have to spell it out, do I?), but Gubra takes this further.

The innuendoes are one thing, but a Malay couple showering together, a hospitalised Malay man making jokes about seducing the nurses, even blatant displays of affection between the muezzin and his wife — the film does not shrink from the realities of society.

Having said all this, the movie is quite unrealistic in a number of ways. Orked's excessively friendly way of relating with Alan does not seem to even slightly resemble how any real Malay woman and Chinese man would approach each other (even if she did use to date his brother).

But this unrealism does lend credence to one way of interpreting the movie's ambiguous post-credits scene. In response to suggestions that the scene suggested Orked was imagining how happier her life would have been if she had ended up with Jason, Yasmin Ahmad has responded that the whole movie (and probably including the last part of Sepet) may actually just be a dream of Orked's — the reality is that she did marry Jason.

Whatever the true ending is (which is something we will never know anyway, since it was intentionally left hanging), the most incredible thing about the movie is despite its frankness and honesty, it supposedly did not receive a single cut from the censorship board.

This liberal approach is particularly unusual, considering that this is the same board which cut from Sepet dangerous scenes like the part where Orked hikes up her skirt to simulate riding on a motorcycle with Jason. For this, the censorship board deserves accolades for either being so open-minded, or so lazy that they didn't even watch the movie properly.

In any event, I highly recommend Gubra — like Sepet, it has accomplished what any fine literary work should do — make an honest commentary about society which makes the watchers think and reflect.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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