First published on 29 Jul 2013. Updated on 23 Aug 2013.
An inspirational multi-talented Malaysian mogul of showbiz, Erma Fatima has shuttled between playing actor, writer, producer and director throughout her career – and has won awards for almost all her roles. ‘Rather than having preference for just one medium, my focus has always been on social drama and how to communicate it best,’ she explains. ‘It’s the issues that I need to understand first, before deciding whether or not to do anything, a television series, theatre production or film. I have a responsibility towards what I put out there for the public.’
This month, Fatima presents her latest offering, Akulah (I Am...) – a daring play about lust, death and the occult, which stars top Malaysian celebrities and was created especially for the Esplanade’s Pesta Raya – Malay Festival of the Arts.
Fatima will be taking the roles of both writer and director. The piece is relatively different from most plays in her extensive portfolio, which mostly deal with Malay-Muslim identity – such as The Last Malay Woman or the more recent hit production of Natrah – but Akulah certainly isn’t shying away from sensitive issues. It’s about a philanderer and his obsessive lover, both of whom separately visit a medicine woman for supernatural help with the hopes of fulfilling desperate desires, which lead to fatal outcomes.
‘Race and religion are beautiful things, but what’s in focus here is neither: it’s human nature itself,’ confides Fatima. ‘Everyone’s tempted by lust at some point. Aku means “I”, and Akulah can be you, me... or anyone who finds it hard to be satisfied in life. People keep striving to find something to hold onto that makes them feel incredible, without a care how they obtain it.’ She acknowledges that it’s not the most sanitised image to present at a foreign festival of Malay culture, but challenges, ‘From Hollywood to Bollywood, which country hasn’t presented the theme of lust in its shows? Perhaps the only unusual thing is that we dare to present this on a Singaporean stage. This is the first time I’m staging a play in Singapore so I’m not sure what the audience likes, but I offer Akulah as a gift of goodwill from me and my production team in Malaysia to our neighbour, Singapore.’
Akulah is at Esplanade Theatre Studio from 29-31 Aug.