Gubra… A Malay Movie?

I watched Gubra in the cineplex last Friday afternoon. The cineplex was empty, save for a few annoying teenage girls, whom I presumed wanted to see more of the ‘unfinished’ love story of Orked and Jason.
I tried not to read any review of the movie before I stepped into the dimly-lit cineplex, but I did read S.B.Toh’s highly positive words in The Star about Gubra.
Yet, even if the review was not positive, I rarely trust movie reviewers. Opinions are based on emotions. And emotions are subjective. And what I loathe, you might love. The best way to determine if Gubra was any good was to pay money to watch it in the cineplex.
I still remembered Sepet, and it was the first Malaysian movie which I enjoyed a lot and which restored my confidence in Malaysians. Well, this batch of Malaysians anyway.
It was real, people spoke like me and you, and there wasn’t any filthy rich Datuk or Datin in the movie. And it probably gave me, the idealist of sorts, a renewed hope in people like Yasmin Ahmad who believes in good old-fashioned values like love, honesty, friendship and piety. And lots of spirit-infusing words of wisdom from Tagore and Rumi.
Gubra is a two-in-one. Two mini-movies going on at the same time. Both are related in a way though both never do meet. It continues with the story of the human spirit. Intertwined with snatches of humour so it never becomes a prolonged, dry treatise.
One part of the story, the story of the ‘bilal’ I knew even before I saw it on the silver screen. I had read the idea and the story on Yasmin’s blog sometime ago. The ‘bilal’ and his wife share a healthy love, a love that’s sexual as well as pure. They live with their son on simple means, and religion forms a large part of their lives.
Unlike what I’ve heard and seen, Islam the religion is potrayed here with a face of humanity. It accepts, loves and cares. It takes the harsh hand of the world and transforms it into gentleness and a pure kindness which is seen in the way the ‘bilal’ and his wife care for the two prostitutes who live in the same vicinity. Never once judging or reprimanding.
The older prostitute has a son who is about the same age with the bilal’s son. When she finds out one day that she is HIV+, she starts thinking of herself and her son’s future. She asks the bilal’s wife to teach her how to read the Quran.
The second story, which runs parallel to this is of course the much anticipated love story between Orked and Jason. Is Jason dead? Did he *really* die? (I possess, and I am sure many moviegoers also possess this frantic, almost perverted desire for the sepet-eyed boy to live, despite the motorcycle accident). In Gubra, I want to see Jason and Orked have their happily ever after.
But what I get is that many years have come and gone, and Orked is now married to a much older guy (played by the ‘uncivil’ LRT ad guy) who is an ad exec. (This movie is peppered liberally with people, things and stuff of the ad world – and Pensonic gets mentioned too.. hmm, is Gubra getting onto the commercial bandwagon?). She gets a call from her mother one morning that “we’re losing your Abah”.
Orked still clad in her baggy pajama pants and tank (her baju tidur ensemble) then jumps into the car (a BMW no less) with her husband and drives to her family home. A mad scenario of sorts ensues and everyone, Kak Yam included, end up in the hospital. The father is admitted – a case of dehydration in a diabetic – and the actual story begins at the hospital when she meets with Jason’s brother, and later, Jason’s Peranakan kebaya-clad mother and crochety bed-ridden father.
I won’t give the ending away because you may decide to watch this movie and find out for yourself what exactly happens and why. It’s not a happily ever after either because tragedy does strike. In both mini-movies. On different emotional levels.
Of course, I found certain bits to be a bit eyebrow-raising and certain dialogue to be quite stilted. Other parts were quite corny and seemed like they were put into the movie just to take up some time.
Despite those unsettling bits, the vintage Yasmin is ever present. She adds a point or two about how the Chinese feel about Malaysia – “It’s like loving someone who doesn’t love you back”. But she also cleverly inserts questions, provokes thoughts and make us just a little bit uncomfortable – after all one must get out of the comfort zone to begin seeing in new light.
Her movie is layered and sharp, and contains more than a mere message (I would have loved to use her movies for a research dissertation – it would be the ultimate movie dissection).
Like her Petronas ads, she’s subtle and works the movie up to a state where the audience suddenly “gets” her and her little crafty jokes. Smiles aside, she is able to take the ordinary and foregrounds them, little snippets of everydayness, and force the truth out of it.
Like, why did the bilal stop to pet a stray dog? Isn’t it haram for a Muslim to do so? Or does his love and compassion for animals show us that it is not the manifestation but the intention?
Like, why did the prostitute continue to tolerate the mean customer who hit her blue black each time? In the end, it is because she needs to get enough money to go home to her kampung. But why, we are not told. So does it matter that she sold her body so that she could go back to a place where she could be safe?
Perhaps there is no real black-and-white in life.
Gubra is more complex, more layered, more indepth in its human insights. It is a movie that’s not Malay, but Malaysian. I hope you will watch it, if only to support moviemakers with the true bangsa Malaysia spirit like Yasmin Ahmad.

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