A friend of mine recommended this hilarious review of popular Malay novel-turned-movie Ombak Rindu, which really highlights how little attention Malay movies pay to detail and to nuances of character. I have written previously that Malay movies have improved much since the nadir of the 1990s and while unintentionally funny at times. Ombak Rindu is quite good. When all is said and done, the movie was visually appealing, the leads had screen presence and the romance is rather sweet.
But I do hate that part of me (probably the part that is forever 21) responds to the show’s concept of romance, because – objectively speaking? The hero is awful. And the show is full of gendered double standards that rewards male promiscuity and punishes female assertion of her sexuality.
Synopsis: Iza (Maya Karin) is an innocent, chaste orphan kampung girl who was sold to a brothel in Kuala Lumpur by a villainous guardian. Her very first ‘client’ Hariz (Aaron Aziz) – who incidentally, had sex with her when she was unconscious – felt somewhat guilty, so he decided to buy her for his own personal use. Being a particularly pious individual, Iza persuades Hariz to marry her, promising him that she would not make any demands on him as long as they don’t live in sin. And so, they married. Somewhere between him pitching a fit because he thought she was pregnant and her falling genuinely ill because of his bad temper, they fell in love. The problem was Hariz’s mother, a wealthy, titled businesswoman had already picked out a suitable bride for her son. This suitable bride Mila (Lisa Surihani) is, of course, an alluring, heavily made up, sexually aggresssive, rich actress with a penchant for animal prints and histrionics. Caught between his mother’s demands and his love for Iza, the spineless Hariz marries Mila with Iza’s martyr-like acquiescence. This polygamous union could not last long as Mila soon becomes suspicious and Hariz’s mother was still determined to get rid of Iza once and for all.
So, what is objectionable about the guy and the plot?
- He gets away with treating all the women in his life pretty badly.
Hariz might have saved Iza from a life of prostitution but is putting up with a promiscuous guy with hair-trigger temper but unable to stand up to his mother that much better? Well, maybe but not by much. As for the other women in his life, the guy also thinks nothing of marrying a girl without telling her that he has a wife already just because that is the easiest way out for himself. He doesn’t even treat his mother well. Consistently, when push comes to shove, Hariz thinks only about himself.
- He doesn’t really change.
The story arc is supposed to be about someone who is changed by the love of a good woman but Hariz doesn’t change at all. At the beginning of the story, he was a promiscuous selfish weakling and at the end of the story, he was still a selfish weakling. Just because he now prays and is less promiscuous doesn’t mean his character has essentially changed.
[Spoiler – if you ever want to watch this show, don’t read ahead]
After all the protestations of love, all it took for him to leave Iza was a dubious photo showing her having dinner with another man. Okay, people are irrational when they are jealous. But its not the fact that he calls her all kinds of names without letting her explain that bothers me. Its how he chose to sever the relationship. A decent guy, no matter what the provocation, will divorce his wife properly. A selfish guy leaves the woman, undivorced, hanging without any means of support and no chance of starting anew with someone else. (While he is free to marry another because he can have 4 wives).
Of course, he could be worse. In fact, there ARE worse.
This show reminds me of one of the biggest hits in Malay Drama-land a couple of years back called Nur Kasih. Nur Kasih has an essentially similar theme. In Nur Kasih, a sweet and chaste kampung girl, Nur, ends up married to Adam, the wildly westernized son of the village imam. The latter arranged the marriage on his death bed with the hopes that Nur could transform his wayward son. And so she did (sort of) but not before (i) he left her (ii) returned to his un-Islamic lifestyle and married his girlfriend in Australia (iii) got his second wife pregnant and caused a miscarriage by driving drunk (iv) repented and started shrieking at his wife every time she served him alcohol (v) locked up his distraught second wife in a mental institution (vi) returned to his forbearing first wife, Nur. To quote my sister – “Is there a religion called jerk? This guy would have been the imam.”
Both Hariz and Adam are played by pretty compelling leading men.
[Incidentally: I can’t find a screen still but the expression on Aaron Aziz’s face when he tried to embrace Iza and she recites Quranic verses to ward him off is one of the funniest things I have seen on TV all year. There is nothing like people reciting scripture at you to make you lose an amourous mood]
The main couple has good chemistry too. That makes it worse because you can see why these women would have been attracted to them. And I do understand and feel the appeal of the stories – they are about love being patient and kind, hoping for the best in the person you love and transforming them through the power of your love.
But that patience, that kindness, that love is all on one side. Unconditional love is only for flawed men while women in Malay movie/drama land can only find love if:
- They are chaste. and if they are unfortunate enough to lose their virginity, like Iza, they should be unconscious so that there is no question that they didn’t enjoy the experience.
- They wear the tudung stylishly and don’t wear thick makeup.
- They are always willing to make their husbands tea, take off his shoes and rub his feet.
- They are unfailingly polite even to nasty mother-in-laws and bitchy other women.
- They cry silently and never demand anything of their husbands
- They willingly sacrifice their own happiness for their husbands.
The corollary to these axioms is that any other kind of woman doesn’t deserve a happy ending. The other woman comes to a sticky end, often because of the action of the hero – and thats fine. It is fine to treat your wife rudely if she is being over emotional. It is fine to lock up your wife in mental institution because she doesn’t cope well with alcohol and grief. And its perfectly fine to leave someone you are committed to and once in love with just because you found someone less flawed. And I think that is wrong. Because a decent person is someone who is kind to everyone no matter what he thinks of their lifestyle. A decent person is someone who does not demand patience, chastity and compassion from a woman when he does not practise those virtues himself or herself. A decent person doesn’t leave when the going gets tough.
Decent guys are apparently quite scarce in Malay entertainment land. And when they do appear, they are not the hero. Which is a pity.
What I would like to see is a story where maybe a flawed (or what society deems as flawed anyway) woman gets her happy ending. No, scratch that. What I would like to see are two imperfect individuals learning to love each other and changing for the better because of it.
And no, better is not just not sleeping around and going to the mosque to pray.
Postscript: Apparently Ombak Rindu the novel is part of a trilogy. In the third part of the series, Iza loses her memory. One can tell that the author probably watches Korean dramas.
And you can watch all these shows on Cerita Master.