Surat Sabariah - Completing a P. Ramlee Classic

Over 50 years after the movie Ibu Mertuaku was released, writer and director Hariry Jalil seeks to complete the story. Since he was a young boy, Hariry always enjoyed the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee’s all-time classic film but one of the pivotal scenes always left him a tad unsettled. The film revolves around the tragic love affair between Kassim Selamat, a poor musician, and Sabariah who comes from a wealthy family. Sabariah's mother, Nyonya Mansoor is against the marriage. 

"I feel that the reasons behind Sabariah’s decision to write to her mother, Nyonya Mansoor and return to Singapore, causing Kassim so much sorrow that he cried himself blind, is simply non-concrete," Hariry said. "There had to be bigger issues for it to lead to such drastic actions."

Hariry spent so much time thinking about the scene that he wrote a play called Surat Sabariah. or Sabariah's Letter, which he is also directing, "My hope is that this play I’ve written and directed, Surat Sabariah will complete the story or at least provide some context” he said. 

Hariry developed the text under the Development Grant for the Performing Arts: New Malaysian Works initiated by the National Department for Culture and Arts. Hariry said Ibu Mertuaku was once of his favourite files, and he would experience or discover something new every time he watched it. 

“When I was younger, I watched it purely for entertainment, said the Akademi Seni Budaya & Warisan Kebangsaan (ASWARA) graduate. As I got older, I found something about the story I could relate to. The story told of the struggles of the world. But it wasn’t until I got married that I could fully appreciate this movie, that told the tales of a young couple and the trials they face in trying to make ends meet.”

Surat Sabariah tells of the journey of Kassim Slamat and Sabariah as they facethe trials of beginning thier married life together living in a basement. Kassim struggles as his passion for music is restrained because it does not put food on the table. Jegela (Razak Osman) narrates the tragic tale to Tajuddin, who is also Sabariah and Kassim Slamat's biological son.

(L-R) Razak Osman, Hariry Jalil and Azman Hassan

The line-up comprises both quality and personality, with experienced theatre and indie film director Azman Hassan leading the cast as Kassim Selamat. Tajudding is brought to life by Aloeng Silalahi who trained at Asware and Institut Seni Indonesia Padang Panjang, while theatre stalwart Razak Osman returns to the stage as Jegela after a 10-year absence. Winner of Best Supporting Actress (Drama) at Anugerah Skrin 2012, Sherie Merlis, takes on the role of Sabariah. 

Althought the play draws inspiration from Ibu Mertuaku, Hariry said he hoped the ensemble does not try to imitate the original actors but instead give a more relevant and timely interpretation of the characters. 

Surat Sabariah is being stage until Dec 7 at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC). Tickets are priced at RM35 (adults) and RM25 (students). For enquiries, call +603-4065 0001.

This article was published on December 5, 2014 in the Malay Mail.