The Giant That Was: The Life and Times of P.Ramlee
To be honest, I didn’t know much about P.Ramlee until I decided to find out why I have stamps of him in my stamp album. From what I heard and read, P. Ramlee was a majorly talented filmmaker, actor, musician, singer, screen writer, and song composer, topped off with a great love for Malay culture and the local art scene.
P. Ramlee was born in 1929, in Penang, Malaysia. He was described as a mischievous youngster by his close friends, studying in different primary and secondary schools, and even attending a Japanese Naval Academy during the Japanese Occupation. His introduction to show business began with a simple talent competition, which he won with a self-composed song called ‘Azizah’. A man of influence happened to be there and immediately connected the unsuspecting boy with his contacts at the famous Shaw Brothers Studio in Singapore. Of course, things had to start from somewhere, and P. Ramlee began his career as a ‘clapper boy’ / stage hand before he was chosen by a director to star in a side role as the movie villain. Typical rags to riches story. People loved him as soon as he was onscreen and he began starring in more and more roles, many of them leads/ love interests. He eventually moved to directing movies and also singing in them, composing many hits that would be on the charts for years.
“[P. Ramlee] acted 66 films, directed 35 wrote 33 of them as well as composing 350 songs in his lifetime” ~from a documentary that aired in October 2010 on the History Channel
His multi-talented self garnered international attention, from the Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians and the Japanese (he picked up the language whilst studying at the academy). Furthermore, he was a visionary, who wanted to promote and grow the local art industry by incorporating Malay culture into many of his films. Many films were shot in local kampungs, or villages, with actors dressed in traditional Malay garb and local instruments used for the music scores. He dreamt of eventually making colored films, a concept that was ahead of his time. If he had succeeded, the rich and vibrant Malay culture could have been known all over the world!
But as life would have it, it was never meant to be. Shaw Brothers Studios had to change their staffing policies because of constant clashes with the Trade Unions. This restricted Ramlee’s freedom when it came to directing movies and made it difficult to reach the standard he previously achieved. Disillusioned, P. Ramlee decided to move back to Malaysia to look for work and joined a company called ‘Merdeka Studios’.
It seemed that this was mistake as Merdeka Studios, when compared with the Shaw Brothers Studios, had outdated equipment and inexperienced staff. Many of Ramlee’s movies after his return to Malaysia flopped and soon the past magic at the box office was forgotten. Over the course of his career, P. Ramlee had made a lot of jealous rivals and it was at this time when they pounced. Journalists, newspapers and the media began to post negative articles about him. They labelled him as a ‘has been’ and that he was just trying to earn back his wealth and influence.
The pressure affected Mr P. pretty badly and eventually he died from a heart attack at age 50, leaving behind his wife, Saloma (another famous singer), and six children (1 biological, 5 adopted). Legend has it that just before he passed, he gave the last of his money to a visitor that came to his house, whom he thought needed it more than he did…
…It just seems too sudden an end…. Like a full stop in the middle of a sentence. So much potential and talent, surely the story doesn’t end like this! There is this one part that I don’t get…when he died, thousands showed up for his funeral. His movies and songs grew more in demand. Streets in Malaysia were named after him. A musuem was set up in his old home. He was given the title of ‘Tan Sri’ after his death (something akin to knighthood, to denote that he was recognised by the sultans)
Where was all of this when he was living that life of tragedy? Where he needed the public’s support to survive?
Yes, yes, I know…you’ve heard it all before. But it constantly amazes me how we can slander or gossip about celebrities so shamelessly when we don’t even know them personally, simply assuming that everything we read in the tabloids is true. With every gossip tidbit, we could potentially be ruining these people’s careers. It’s hard when you have to rely on something as fickle as public opinion, when the tide could change at just a turn of a printed page. Yeah, okay, sometimes they deserve it, but it sucks when you want to change and your past keeps coming back to haunt you…I guess when the media wave picks a direction, it just keeps on rolling and ain’t nothing you can do about it… Yeah, just feel that we should keep in mind that our celebrities are only human who make mistakes, rather than trying to consistently judge them for their decisions…. and this concludes the logical argument behind the statement ‘I don’t ever want to be famous’ <rant over>
Let’s spend some time in awe at the talent that was P. Ramlee! There are many great resources on YouTube, but this is one of my favorite songs by him…
By the way, the female singer’s name is Saloma and she would eventually become his wife in real life:) cute!
References: Useful Links:-
P. Ramlee Documentary on the History Channel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJXFZlb0ZSU
Wikipedia: P. Ramlee – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._Ramlee
MalaysiaKini: Article on P. Ramlee – http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/147582