Danger of blurring lines

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KHATIJAH lives in her make-believe world where she has a group of good friends and a steady boyfriend whom she equates with the Rock of Gibraltar. Her reality is sadly, quite the opposite.

Khatijah — the title of the film and the name of the protagonist — made it to the final list of the BMW Shorties 2014. The 14-minute-and-51-second film tells the story of a simple kampung girl who develops an unconventional way of dealing with her agonising reality. Khatijah is bullied at school and understandably, rapidly becomes fearful of going to school.

When she expresses her intention of not wanting to go to school to her widowed father, he misunderstands her as being lazy and accuses her of being unappreciative of all his efforts of ensuring education for her. Disheartened by his outburst, coupled with the lack of courage to come clean to her father, Khatijah creates an “alternate universe”. It is here that she is accepted, loved and is surrounded by friends. Her actual situation worsens when she, unknowingly even to herself, begins to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. And because the relationship between the father and the daughter is already strained, Khatijah moves further into her created universe. However, the film does end on a positive note.

live it! recently caught up with Siti Nur Afyqah Aryani Khairi, 15, who won the Best Actress award at the BMW Shorties 2014 awards ceremony for her portrayal of Khatijah, and director Chong Yew Fei who shared his inspiration and motivation behind this project.

Chong said the film was inspired by videos of local schoolgirls in baju kurung uniforms and headscarves, bullying a fellow student. These videos shocked him but Chong successfully reflected the scenario to the teen in his film.

“Usually, bullying happens among boys. I’m not saying that it is right, but when you see girls in uniforms beating up another girl for no apparent reason, personally, I think it’s vital that the issue gets addressed,” Chong said.

He found it important to address the issue of bullying, particularly in school, because it is becoming rampant to the point that students think it is acceptable to record bullying incidents and post them online, instead of helping the victims or reporting the incidents.

“To me, stories about human connections, how people communicate with one another — be it between family members or even between strangers — are very interesting. This is my style of storytelling, and I have always wanted to tell a story about a father-daughter relationship. So, after much research about how I wanted to portray the characters and using the videos as an inspiration, I came up with the concept and script for the film,” Chong shared.

The crew took three days in Tanjung Karang for shooting and though the finalised version of the script was not ready on the first day of filming, the crew managed to capture all the pivotal scenes. Chong said the film had two main objectives — to give hope to those going through a similar situation and to encourage children to have a healthy and open relationship with their parents.

Chong pleaded: “Don’t be afraid of what you are going through and don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to someone. For cases like this, your parents are the best people to talk to. Family is important and is the main pillar of strength for anyone.”  

For Siti Nur Afyqah Aryani Khairi, a girl of few words and prefers to be fondly known just as Fyqah, playing the role of Khatijah was a challenge simply because she likened Khatijah to be gila (crazy) while she is just the opposite.

“I am the kind of person that would take whatever that comes my way in my stride. I can accept the harsh realities of life and I know how to deal with people. Khatijah was gila because she created a world for herself and didn’t stand up to the bullies,” Fyqah said with a chuckle.

She confessed finding several scenes difficult because there were so many people and she kept laughing at some of the serious scenes. Chong interjected to say he was worried about getting those scenes done on time but “all’s well, ends well”.

When asked how she felt during the scenes where she was beaten, Fyqah said that she told her co-stars to “buat je apa yang perlu. Jangan risau” (Do what needs to be done. Don’t worry). She said the scenes needed to be real and the only way to do it was to put themselves in their respective characters’ shoes.

She took on the role to challenge herself as an aspiring actress and the panellists of the BMW Shorties 2014 acknowledged her effort and awarded her for it. As this was her first acting attempt, she did not believe her mother (who is also her agent) when she was told about her nomination in the Best Actress award category.

“My mother loves to play pranks on me and I honestly thought it was one of her pranks. It was only when my mother said ‘let’s go shopping for a dress to wear to the awards ceremony’ that I realised she wasn’t joking. It is still unreal to me that I actually won. But, I am grateful for this opportunity and experience,” she added.

Besides acting, Fyqah also sings and dances but through it all, maintains her straight-A grades as she believes above everything else, education is important. She also emphasised the importance of addressing the issue of school bullies because one of her family members was a victim.

“Don’t be silent if you are being bullied. It is not okay and you need to speak out.”

Watch the short film at http://www.bmwshorties.com.my/top-10-finalists-2014/


This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 9, 2015.