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Mata Hati

December 25, 2011
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This review comes a bit late and I understand Jeremy had already done his part, as well as his year-end accolades, so I shall keep this as short as I can, judging from my fading memory anyway.

I believe “Mata Hati” means “eyes of the heart” and should not be confused with the ongoing exhibition at National Library, which coincidentally, is called “Mata & Hati“, an exhibition about literary pioneer, Abdul Ghani Hamid’s life and works.

Set in the style of an interview on the onset followed by flashbacks, maybe in an attempt to do an “Interview with the Vampire” since Lestat was mentioned (although, wasn’t it Louis that was interviewed in Anne Rice’s book?), we are presented with first, a sardonic character, Amir Mahmood (Johari Aziz), the protagonist, and then the background of this character and his “personal demons” or memories of his fall from grace, when he had many things going for him as a rising political star.

It was an interesting text, exploring many references – race, politics and sexuality and stereotypes (assumptions). But, that was the thing, too many themes were going on at the same time so there wasn’t a main message or theme that was able to come through. This might be one reason why it didn’t engage me as much as I hoped it would. I believe a better direction would have helped in this. Nonetheless, as Alfian Sa’at commented in the post-show dialogue (who was in the audience that night), I believed he hit the nail on the head when he said that the parts about the race and the sexual scandal were more like red herrings, which I agreed, as I had felt that though they were thrown in a fair bit, they were vaguely, not strong enough. It was more about the political dynamics and manipulation by the government for its political agenda. You could say compliance is key, no matter how meritocratic it says it is. However, I guess each of us would take away a different direction depending on which area would be most relevant and stood out personally.

I felt Eleanor Tan was one of the better performers that night with her Rebecca, the PM’s aide assigned to Amir. Her bureaucratic, hard as steel countenance was skillfully changed to a softer one, which totally turned the mood of that scene, and aptly allowed (as planned) Amir’s character to finally lay down his defensiveness. But unfortunately, I felt the overall cast just didn’t have that chemistry or dynamics together that would bring the play to another level of engagement. Maybe a touch of realism and raw emotions would help?

Another notable point were the taboo comments about Malays thrown out, which raised some “protests” and buzz among the audience, but as Amir said, it’s not racist if a Malay says it. Hmm… Well, it’s interesting to note that Teater Ekamatra had taken on such “daring” exploits as these, like with “Charged” and “Nadirah” that dealt with race and religion.

A rich text nonetheless, I believe the script offers a lot more than what was portrayed.

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