Spilt Gravy

ArtsEquator: “Spilt Gravy…” Makes Us Consider Time, History and the Prickly Question of Family

(Article written by Adriana Nordin Manan, first published in ArtsEquator on 18 May 2022.)

One privilege of being an artist is the experience of creating something from nothing, to then usher it into the universe. For the team behind the film Spilt Gravy Ke Mana Tumpahnya Kuah however, the journey took a bit longer than usual: 11 years from production to its imminent premiere on 9th June.

It is close to double that time if one considers that the source text for the film adaptation—the play, Spilt Gravy on Rice—was first staged in 2002. The play, written by renowned Malaysian playwright Jit Murad, tells the story of Bapak, a dying father who wants to connect with his five adult children, an assortment of characters, each with their own issues and idiosyncrasies. The setting of the play, a leafy colonial-era bungalow, is a palpable presence in the play. Partly inspired by the actual family home of Zahim Albakri, Jit’s long-time collaborator and friend, it was the sale of this same house to a property developer that set-in motion work on the film.

June Tan, the film’s co-screenwriter, alongside Jit and Zahim (who also directs and stars in the film) recalls when the news came over dinner one evening. “Zahim kept mentioning his family had sold the house. It took me a while to catch on that it was his way of saying, it was now or never for the film!” After the stage run, the cast and crew had taken to imagining what a screen version would look like, and who would be in the cast. Tan was the stage manager of the stage production, and was eager to play a scriptwriting role for the film.

In a twist of events, the house, in an upscale Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood close to the Twin Towers, and its surrounding buildings were eventually acquired by the government to build a MRT station. For the film too, things took an untoward turn: years of being held up at the Film Censorship Board.

The rigmarole of red tape is nothing new to the local arts community. Yet, Zahim describes the hours of meetings at the Home Ministry building in Putrajaya as akin to being guided by well-meaning, albeit rigid, tutors. The officers offered their opinions on expletives, supernatural elements and LGBT themes scene by scene.

“They liked the film, and wanted it to screen. They gave suggestions on the edits for the film to be approved. I sensed that they were trying to predict what the public response to the film could be, and were recommending corrections.”

Read the rest of the article on ArtsEquator.

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