Sunday, July 12, 2009

'House': A story of people less fortunate than ourselves

Saturday, 11th July 2009, 5:30am.
Dragged myself out of the bed, rushing down to TTDI to meet up at Linus's place for breakfast at Devi's corner. Sounds familiar? ;) Well it does, except that this time it was not another Trail Trackers trip that I am headed. This time, I am headed to do a little bit of 'volunteer' work.
It all started Thursday night when I was glued to my now gloriously wide 23" LCD monitor battling French and Indians in the North American wilderness of the 1720s when Linus messaged me on MSN asking me whether I was interested to 'act' as an extra in one of his short films. Having been stuck working late nights and bearing a heap of RESPONSIBILITIES from my most recent project, Linus's offer came as a welcome balm, offering me something totally different from what I am usually used to do at work. To put it into context, it felt like "Just what the doctor ordered!" and not a moment too soon, because I was already starting to get bonkers!Not to mention that his offer also sort of provides me a glimpse into what exactly does it take to pay the bills for these film people I have been hanging around the past year with as well. :p
L'Director astride on his mighty 'ostrich'? ;)

Arriving at Linus's place shortly before 7:00am, I realized that the earlier breakfast plan at Devi's didn't materialize. Instead, we immediately headed to Sekolah Kebangsaan TTDI which I found out was one of the settings used for the short film. It didn't take long before the other 'extras' begin streaming in. They were students of the school and Linus seems to have previously arranged to have at least 20 kids appear to fill up the classroom which he was going to shoot the scene in. Among them are the co-stars, one Chinese boy and another Malay boy, acting as bullies who is going to rip, smash and destroy the model house of the star, an Indian boy Linus told us he got from Sunway.
Varma, the star of the show!
Looking at some of these kids, I wonder what parents nowadays use to feed them. The Chinese boy, Ivan, was especially big standing almost as tall as Dennis at only 11 years of age! Appropriate I guess for Linus to cast him as a bully to the Indian boy, Varma, who came after everyone else had arrived. He was pint sized with these big eyes and joyful smile which again was very suitable for his character of this innocent boy coming from a poverty stricken family. The other 'bully', the Malay boy, Ryan, had that 'rich' kid look about him. Hmmm... come to think of it, the whole thing reminds me of Giant, Sunyu and Nobita from Doraemon! :)

The other stars! Varma is with Linus, Ivan is the boy with that white box in front of him and Ryan is on the bottom right. 'Cikgu' is at the back with the 85 T-shirt.
After having obtained the keys to one of the classrooms, it was time to set up the equipment for the shoot of which I was not involved! Instead, I was 'drafted' to occupy the kids in another classroom, ending up with me teaching them a little bit of science to confound their little minds! :p :) Truthfully though, the kids were very sporting, with one of them, Low, being the most participatory. ;) Kinda reminds me when I was their age, a long, long, long time ago, when dinosaurs roam the planet and people still write on things called 'letters' to their pals overseas! Then again, I was pretty naughty too. :)
When everything was ready, it was time for everyone to move to the set and take up positions. For this bit, I am going to leave the story itself for you guys to watch once the film is editted and posted by Linus and gang later. Suffice to say, shooting this segment in the classroom was hard work, especially working with children who often don't really think in the same wavelength as we adults do. :) But most of them are eager to please and overall very well behaved.
Shooting the classroom scenes took most of the morning away before the team moved down to the school grounds and the canteen. For a while, it appeared as if the afternoon sun was going to be swallowed up by threatening storm clouds but thank goodness it was only a feign by mother nature because the much feared showers didn't materialize. By now, parents were also gathering to pick up their precious little ones and one by one the kids begin to dissappear. Fortunately, there was still enough left for us to shoot this scene at the school corridor where Varma was confronted by the two bullies, Ivan and Ryan, ending with his small model of his home ripped, smashed and stomped! We had to do this a number of times to get the whole thing right for the director and it was Dennis's diligence and industriousness that ensured the two identical models of Varma's house was quickly rebuilt to a somewhat presentable shape for a retake after being stomped flat! :)

The shooting at the school completed, we headed over to TTDI's Pizza Hut for lunch before moving on to our next venue, Varma's REAL house in Kampung Kayu Ara. Before this however, we had to get his 'mother', whom I found out was a prominent theater actress named Sukarnia. Meeting up with her outside Centerpoint Damansara, we proceeded to rendevous with Linus at Varma's house which I have to say bore an uncanny resemblance to the model Dennis made, right down to the swing in front of the house!

Two other veteran actors from NTV7's kopitam fame were already there along with a menacing looking excavator positioned threateningly in front of Varma's house. This I realized caused quite a stir among the local residents who not surprisingly, were not drawn by the actors but by the excavator, a number of them really thinking that we were a demolition crew out to wreck people's homes!

Sukarnia pleading to have 'her' home spared...

Some brief explanations by the director and a little bit time spent to finalize preparations, we were again ready to shoot, this time with me in front of the camera for a change! :) Being cast as 'contractor #2 out to wreck poor Indian boy's house', my function was to dress like a contractor (complete with hard hat, worn out clothes and safety shoes), walk into the scene with my two stars and act irritated/angry when Varma's 'mother' rushes out from her house as the excavator was about to destroy her home, pleading to us to have it spared.

Sukarnia was a wonderful actor, her emotions and actions so realistic, it really felt like she indeed was begging for HER home to be spared and when she aimed her pleadings at me, I responded by saying my (improvised) lines, "Saya tak tau. Saya tak tau. Saya hanya ikut perintah. Kalau ada apa-apa, cari boss saya," at which point, I gestured to my stars, after which I pretended as if I don't want to look at her. ;) Well, that didn't sound so hard was it? In fact it was a completely knee jerk reaction since I have actually used these lines more often than not in my daily doings! :) hahaha... it's called 'tai-chi' if you know what I mean.

The local thuggery showed up moments after we finished the excavator scene. At first it started as a shouting match between Varma's parents who owned the house and a number of bruisers before the bruisers moved on to our small crew, demanding 'pao' money for using 'their' village for the shoot. Linus attempted to get them off our backs with RM50 which they initially did not want to accept on the spot. Rather, they wanted us to come to their 'headquarters', a few houses away to give them the money, a dangerous proposition since we wouldn't know what's going to happen away from the public eye!

They did allow us to continue to shoot other scenes inside and around the house, while they zipped up and down the road in front of Varma's house on their motorcycles, presumably to keep an eye on us. In between, conversations with Varma's real parents indicate that these thugs are small time gangsters, extorting money from the local populace and foreign workers living in the area to finance their gambling and drinking binges, which sadly is a common problem afflicting the poor of this community.

It was a wrap just before 8:30pm at night and as we packed up, Linus stopped one of those roving gangsters who kept on reminding us to 'pay up' once we were finished each time they passed us. Offering the RM50, he sort of told them that he doesn't want any trouble while at the same time indicating very clearly that he wasn't going to their 'headquarters' either. The guy finally accepted the money while sheepishly claiming that he would drop the money into the nearby temple's coffers if we didn't believe it was going to the villagers. A battered Proton Saga filled with more of his members came by a while later to which he demonstrated his 'integrity' by depositing the money to them.

We moved on to Damansara Uptown's famous Lanun Steak Restaurant for dinner, Varma and his family in tow. :) I ordered a juicy rib eye steak decked with lanun sauce, a well enough ending to a day filled with eye opening adventure and some suspense.


  1. Very glad that you had fun and thank you for your help the way, you're an amazingly detailed observer and writer...

  2. Believe me, I was holding back myself... otherwise we might end up with a NOVEL! :) haha... anyway thanks for the opportunity for my 15 seconds of fame! :)

  3. one wasn't varma's family...that kid is pretty well to do, living in sunway and has transformer the video game installed in his handphone. =P