Within the stories of each of these 3 movies, a consistent theme is again and again being unveiled to the audient. Though Sepet and Gubra belong together as a single tale, (I can't find Mukhsin DVD!) the theme embedded within them are identifiable with that which is found in Muallaf.
Yasmin’s unusual perspective on culture is the main attraction in her works. Working on the post-colonized and multicultural background of Malaysia, she was bringing out the vital question facing humans of all ages, races, and religions onto the screen: How to live with the Other? An especially essential question that needed to be ask in a world stricken by terrorism which repeatedly caused by humans’ failure to look meaningfully beyond ourselves (think the Christians’ crusades, the Nazi’s onslaught, Malaysia’s May-13 riot, the 1994 Rwanda massacre, the Sept-11 attacks, and the recent Mumbai incident among many bloody others).
Our individual’s faint vision of the Other ultimately depreciates our recognition of the variegated facades of human’s social, political, and religious life. Hence it is not surprising if we find ourselves in the like of the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.27-37). Yet I think we are like neither the priest nor the Levite; we are more like the lawyer.
If you remember the context of the parable, it was the lawyer’s question that provoked Jesus to tell the parable. Our failure to look meaningfully beyond ourselves is best seen through the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbour?”
Was the lawyer so blind that he cannot see his neighbour? I do not think so. In connecting Luke 10.27 to Luke 10.29, we find that the lawyer was in fact asking, “Who should I love?” It is not the case that he did not know who is his neighbour. Nor was he physically blind. His failure to see his neighbour is due to the wall erected by the social-political constructs of his time and place. The Samaritans who are mixed-blood are deemed by the Jews to be an inferior race.
Are we so blinded by our social-political wall that we fail to see who are our neighbours?
Here, Yasmin has repeatedly pointing out who are our neighbours through the 3 movies. Our neighbours are the diseased prostitute, the family’s maid, the determined yet unfortunate Jason, the sanguine yet fragile Orked, the rugged pub-waitress, the confused and desperate mother, the troubled sisters, and etc.
(The Muslims and Christians were neighbour during the Crusades; The Jews and Germans are neighbour during the second World War; The Malays and Chinese were neighbour during May-13; The Tutsi and Hutu were neighbour in Rwanda...)
In subtle ways Yasmin exposed the causes of this blindness. Whether religious (as depicted in Muallaf) or social (as in Sepet), a citizen in a multicultural context can be unknowingly victimized by unwarranted tensions that hinge upon ethnic and cultural differences. And often, discrimination on such differences is caused by the erection of socio-political walls among the communities.
In a post-colonial country such as Malaysia, these superfluous tensions manifest themselves through cultural secluding trends such as the stereotyping of certain races, or the unfair condemnation of certain behaviour based on religious-motivated instinct. The depiction of the former is found in some of the underlying racial presumptions such as the one in Sepet: “Chinese are cheats; Malays are lazy”. And the latter is illustrated through example like the character of a pious Muslim who works in a pub in Muallaf, or the Muslim teacher who touched a dog in Sepet.
Building humour on these racial peculiarities could be Yasmin’s attempt to break the racial, cultural, and religious wall among the different ethnic groups. This reminds me of Slavoj Zizek’s provocative, risky, and easily misunderstood suggestion that the way to get rid of racism is through racism itself. If two persons, each from different culture, can laugh away the stereotypes and caricatures made on each other respectively without feeling discriminated in any way, this signals the high level of trust and respect both have on one another.
But these attempts, as Zizek has warned, are risky. The Malaysian government is aware of this. Hence the government does not seem to appreciate Yasmin’s works as much as others. And this is exemplified in the heavy and often anti-climatic editing done on each of her movie by the national censorship board. Yet the fact is that Yasmin was portraying the sentiments of the grass-root citizens and attempt to open the eyes of different ethnic communities to see something more in each of us.
So, what have Sepet and Gubra to do with Muallaf?
“Look beyond the walls; recognize and love the neighbour.”
I think this is the consistent theme appear in these 3 films, and hence also the point Yasmin wants to make to her audients. We have carelessly forgotten this facet of a multicultural living-hood as the result of generations of indoctrination done not by single entity or power but by the often unforeseen and overlooked socio-political circumstances. Within this condition, these 3 movies resemble the echo of the purpose of the parable of the Good Samaritan. A purpose that Yasmin aspires to help restoring back in us: The Samaritans are not the inferior Others; they are our neighbours. Love them as we love ourselves.
As a male-Malaysian-Chinese-Christian, I’m alert to the soft forms of proselyting element detectable within some of Yasmin’s works, yet I’m bound to ask critically, “Could a female-Malaysian-Malay-Muslim uncover this one message of the Christian’s Jesus to the multicultural public such as that in Malaysia and its region?”