IT wasn’t too long ago that Zara Kahan was on POPTEEVEE‘s Giler Selamba Jane spreading wisdom. Utilising her eloquence to simply muse and prod at current issues, Zara was the definitive Malaysian Jane, and her season’s cumulative Youtube views back our claim.
Showcasing raw guts in the public arena came with a price, as seen through the most inane of remarks available in the comments section. For each local Zara won over with her insight, there was someone attacking her for her choice of clothes, her choice of words.
But her gift of the gab was nevertheless noticed: fast forward three years and she’s just directed an exclusive telemovie for Astro.
Originally a FEEFO.TV web-series, Hey Orang Kita began after Lina Tan, Managing Director of Red Communications, green-lit four webisodes to be written and directed by Zara. The series quickly got the attention of Astro executives, and soon enough an offer was made to resolve the story’s cliffhanger through a standalone movie.
“Directing the webisodes was a lot like jogging, while the film was like doing a marathon,” laughed Zara at the premiere. “But I had a great production crew and Lina helping me along, so it became something I could overcome.”
Zara never expected her idea — which formed in her head back during college as a comedy — would grow into a gritty musical tale. Given the changes, she also didn’t foresee such a smooth audition process, given that her film called for video-loggers who could sing and act.
“In Malaysia, we have amazing talent,” Zara gushed. “When I was casting, it was hard to contain myself because I couldn’t shut up on how great everyone were! All four of our chosen actors showed great promise from the very beginning — there were moments during casting sampai semua ternganga!”
Indeed, most exciting about Astro First Exclusive‘s Hey Orang Kita is the sheer, credible talent showcased on the project.
Leading a film in their first-ever screen appearances, indie darlings Takahara Suiko (of The Venopian Solitude), Talitha Tan, Raja Syahiran and Christian Palencia do themselves proud as they navigate through Kuala Lumpur as naive, young adults. These young artists take on their roles with gusto and also do a bang-up job on the soundtrack, resulting in a labour of love that’s to be seen to be believed.
Hey Orang Kita simultaneously plays out four separate storylines but deals with some pretty dark themes — domestic abuse, prostitution, theft and even the friendzone take centrestage over romance and humour. It’s unlike any of the stuff we’ve seen on Astro First and we really, really like it!
But to help make your mind on whether to spend RM15.90 on pay-per-view television, we’ve strewn together some reasons. Read on and discover for yourself the tough but beautiful world of Hey Orang Kita!
Some people have real problems
In Hey Orang Kita, Hartini, Lilian, Hassan and Clayton all arrive in Kuala Lumpur for various reasons, and end up neighbours. Straying from the usual cliché , not all their stories intersect — Clayton for instance doesn’t come across or interact with Hartini nor Lilian, already dealing with his own skeletons.
But don’t expect any Candace Bushnell-isms in this apartment block, fellas!
Hartini is a victim of domestic abuse who — after a particularly frightful beating — leaves her marriage and household. She slathers make-up over her bruises, to the point her new housemate Lilian mistakes her for a “Japanese ghost”. Lilian meanwhile arrives from Penang to find work in Kuala Lumpur while her best friend and crush resumes his education.
Hassan on the other hand survives by smashing car windows and breaking into houses. The alpha male of the lot, he’s the sort that believes in fighting back but also has a heart of gold. He is introduced to new housemate Clayton, a young man who escapes from his bipolar mother in Sabah after stealing and selling off all her jewellery.
Throughout their stay in the city, the four young adults encounter various people and the word “gila” crops up ever so often. In fact, insanity is a particularly important theme running through Hey Orang Kita; depending on context, each one of these characters can and will be labelled crazy at some point in their journey.
Of course, quite a bit happens around our protagonists too; Clayton is beaten on the street but he gets saved by a salesgirl who moonlights as a sex worker. Lilian’s female colleague, a modelesque, weed-smoking presence, seems to want more than just friendship. Hassan’s former hostage meanwhile wants to him to murder her own father for RM30,000.
Now have we gotten your attention?
What is this lovely music?
Songs are an important element in Hey Orang Kita.
Comprising five covers and the titular original, the film’s soundtrack gives new life to Malaysian classics. There’s Feminin‘s “Untukmu”, Meet Uncle Hussain‘s “Pokok” and even monoloQue‘s “Halimunan Abad Ke-21” in the mix, and they’ve all been completely revamped for the film.
It’s worth noting that music direction and arrangements are courtesy of none other than loQue, the genius responsible for such important Malay-language tracks as “Tiada Kata Secantik Bahasa”, “Batu Belah Batu Konkrit” and the recently-released “Badang Kotaraya”.
Although Hey Orang Kita‘s makers dub it a “musical drama”, it’s really a film which gives its songs a more-important-than-usual role in dictating and shaping ambiance. Somewhat akin to traditional Indian cinema, these songs don’t propel the story, but they set the tone and tell you a bit more about each character’s psychological state.
These guys won’t be dancing about however; though set in a party, Talitha Tan’s bare and acoustic “Kasihku Pinjamkan Wajahmu” is pure heartache, while the quartet’s version of Hujan’s “Pagi Yang Gelap” is a shimmering, dewy affair.
Takahara Suiko’s excellent rendition of “Bernafas Dalam Lumpur”, originally by Wings, was mostly cut from the final film — you can hear it in the first episode of the webseries and during some of her scenes — but there is some respite in a highly-listenable version of “Ibu Kota Permai”.
And good news: the excellent soundtrack is available for free on Raku!
Reimagining the future of Malay-language content
Now this is where we’d like to get even more serious.
If like us, you too are disturbed by some of the stuff on television these days, you’ll understand why we’re pretty hell-bent on getting Hey Orang Kita the attention it deserves. It may not be perfect but its as good a direction for the rest of the Malay-language content creators to follow.
It’s rare that positive, intelligent adults get meaningful opportunity and support to appear on a mainstream platform like Astro. Every purchase of Hey Orang Kita is a vote for more diverse representation, unheard stories, young voices and brave ideas on television. In an industry stagnant from inertia and tired, old templates, where else are you going to get a feisty Muslim woman or a Sabahan as protagonists?
It’s highly-commendable of Astro First to support projects like this — we note that to a lesser extent, even Hafiz Ibrahim‘s Tulus Ikhlas was a move in the right direction despite its flaws.
But Hey Orang Kita is miles ahead from the sort of stuff we’ve seen on the network’s more popular channels. For it to work its magic however, investors need to see results and this project will definitely have KPIs to meet. And that’s where you come in, folks! Thankfully it’s not that hard a decision to make, for the film itself is pretty decent and occasionally even breathtaking.
We don’t want to give too much away, but one sequence between Takahara Suiko and a possessed old radio gives us at The Daily Seni goosebumps to this very day — you won’t want to miss it.
And on that note, we rest our case. Have a watch and let us know your thoughts about the entire thing. But if you’d like even more information or a preview of what to expect, make sure to head over to FEEFO.TV and treat yourself to all four episodes of the webseries. Enjoy!