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Monday, June 04, 2007

Filem DIVA: A Touch of Hindi, Malaysia and Indonesia


Click here for the promo clip!

Diva is a first-of-its-kind collaboration involving different film making cultures from three countries with an illustrious history. The cast are from Malaysia and Indonesia while its director and technical crew are from India.

Independent film production house Tarantella Pictures Sdn Bhd together with Nusantara Films Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Astro Shaw Sdn Bhd which was set up to produce films that are targeting audiences around the region, produced Diva. The idea is simple and forwarding looking. This region has many peculiar yet interesting tales to tell from a local perspective that movies could be made from.

``This is an opportunity for me to bring in technical expertise from India and cast from Indonesia where I’ve worked before; and together with Malaysia, we will make films that will entertain viewers in the region,’’ says Sharad Sharan, founder and director of Tarantella Pictures. ``Audiences in the region will also be exposed to Malaysian actors and the many beautiful locations in the country,’’ he added.

Tarantella Pictures, the film production house he set up with his wife and scriptwriter Renu in 2004 is now remaking film history in an attempt to reestablish Malaysia to its glorious days when classic Malay movies, especially those featuring the legendary P. Ramlee, were made.


After having won numerous awards for his TV drama serials in Indonesian such as Janjiku, Bidadari, Istri Pilihan that are now being featured through Aruna Channel on Astro, Sharan felt he has reached the height of his career there and wanted to move on to bigger things. The offer to make films in Malaysia just came at the right time and proved difficult to resist.

Describing Diva, its director Sharan says: ``People will enjoy the movie as it will entertain every age group. It is fast-paced, has lots of drama and represents so much energy of the youth we see across the region today.’’

In November 2005, Nusantara Films first project Diva commenced production with a budget of RM3 million but suddenly had to be halted in mid-December due to several unforeseen circumstances. Having spent the last 10 years making TV dramas or more commonly known as sinetron in Jakarta, Sharan was new to the Malaysian film-making scene.

For Diva, during the four months when shooting was halted, Sharan had to look at the best way of completing the production. He reorganized the team after taking into account the various issues that affected filming. They started looking for a competent crew and quickly reassembled a team and in July 2006, shooting resumed without any of the earlier issues faced.

He brought in a choreographer and professional dancers from India while the movie’s soundtrack was composed by an acclaimed young music composer Mithoon Sharma who recently had a big hit with Tere Bin in India.

Getting the actors from both Malaysia and Indonesia to remain with the project even after a four-month halt proved extremely difficult but not impossible. ``I gave them the confidence to go on after showing the actors how they looked from clippings of the daily rushes and music videos which made them surprised when they saw the results,’’ says Sharan.

Problem Solved
``The actors continued to work with us after a four month gap even though the production was faced with many issues. But we looked for the best way to complete the production,’’ says Sharan. ``Those were issues beyond my control as anyone who was initially unfamiliar with the local industry, what more for someone coming from a different country would encounter at the beginning,’’ he said. ``Diva was certainly a difficult movie to make and after seeing the results, it was worth every single moment after what we had gone through and I believe that everyone involved in the film will agree with that,’’ he added.

Talk-show host and former Malaysian Idol (1st season) Top 30 finalist Awal Ashari who is also Cleo Bachelor of the Year 2004 , a former newsreader with 8TV’s Twenty Hundred News and a former Leo Burnett advertising executive says, ``After all the challenges that Sharad went through, he managed to pull it off and emerged stronger.’’ ``If I am a producer, I will put my money on Sharad to make my next film.’’ ``He is adding colour to the local film industry and raising the bar which I hope other directors will be inspired to follow.’’

Veteran actress Fauziah Nawi who credits Ahmad Yatim, Joe Hafsham and the late Mustapha Noor as her mentors when she started out in the 70s, has this to say: ``The production crew of Diva knows what they are doing. I think the local film industry could improve their methods of film-making by watching Diva.’’

Improve Standard
Fauziah (picture, left) finds that Sharan uses a different approach of making films. Being a producer herself, she hopes the standard of production locally would improve with more techniques being introduced by other directors who are more experienced. ``If you are an actor in India or Indonesia and your acting is not up to standard, you can be easily replaced because of the sheer amount of talent and size of the industry there but not here in Malaysia,’’ she adds.

For Adam, he was fearful of falling in the scene where he carries Jessisca Iskandar in his arms on a suspended bridge and spins her around repeatedly in Sunway Lagoon. ``The scene was re-shot more than 10 times,’’ he recalls. ``I have not been involved in any production whose cast and crew have been so committed in their work.’’

``Sharad delivers everything he imagines that comes across in his mind into film,’’ says Awal. ``If the scene he imagines requires a sports car but what is provided is a Proton, he will not shoot the scene.’’

Singer, actor and talk-show host AC Mizal who plays the comic relief Rudy has this to say: ``Sharad made me believe I could do something different from other movies that had been produced here before.’’ After many acting roles, AC Mizal will be making his film production debut in April.

For 2005 Gadis Metro Top 3 Finalist Balkisyh who lost 5kg while rehearsing her dance steps in Diva and who prefers to observe others’ acting techniques instead of asking says Sharad has a strategy to get the most out of each actor. ``He will encourage and guide me when I prepare to deliver my lines for the next scenes.’’ ``With Diva, Sharad will open the eyes of other directors and producers to look at what we can achieve.’’

The screenplay of Diva was worked on over six months after 22 drafts. It received further assistance from Astro Shaw’s committee of students, film enthusiasts and critics to provide input and the general consensus agreed upon was to keep the script simple so that audiences in Malaysia, Indonesia and the region can understand and follow the story line. Vikram Sood who wrote the final screenplay with Sharad Sharan, is also the writer for Tarantella Pictures upcoming comedy flick 100 Lies to Hide a Wife and has spent the last five years writing scripts for sinetron in Indonesia.

Not only has Sood made the script interesting but also entertaining, emotional and dramatic. The story of Diva shows how Kartika, Ning Baizura’s character, assembles four kids from different places and backgrounds into a group called Jiwa. Indonesian heartthrob Jeremy Thomas plays the role of Arman, the adopted son of Kartika’s father who has loved her since his childhood.

The Soundtrack
JIWA during the launching of DIVA the Soundtrack at Planet Hollywood KL

The movie has seven soundtracks composed by music prodigy Mithoon Sharma who had to listen to more than 40 CDs of Malaysian and Indonesian artists such as Kris Dayanti, Vina Paduwinata, Siti Nurhaliza and Ning Baizura while award-winning lyricist Loloq helped to pen the lyrics and tunes. Among the songs from the soundtrack that are poised to become a hit are Bintang Impianku, Nafas dan Hidup, Kasih and Lagu Cinta.

The movie theme song Bintang Impianku is sung by Ning Baizura. Relating her experience and involvement in Diva, Ning says she had to work very closely with Mithoon and his father Naresh Sharma to come up with Bintang which is about reaching for higher grounds. ``My vocals are on a different level so I had to improvise and create a magical fantasy tune which I hope came through in Bintang,’’ she said adding that it is a big ballad which is her forte.

On her playing the lead role of Kartika, Ning says, ``I was very excited as Kartika has a big resemblance to me personally.’’ ``I found it very challenging and emotional initially but once we all sat down together to meet with director Sharad and the rest of the cast, everything came together like a big puzzle.’’ ``I was a little worried about the expectations from everyone but that it normal,’’ she added.

Ning also found that Kartika is a very independent woman with a big heart. ``I just imagined what sort of person she would be if she were alive and I also drew inspiration from watching movies like Gone With The Wind, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Bodyguard and Meryl Streep’s movies.’’

``I also wanted Kartika to be the other side of Ning that my fans hardly see; the serious, loving, warm and friendly person that I am including her determination, which I also possess,’’ says Ning.

For Indonesia TV drama heartthrob Jeremy Thomas who is making his film debut in Diva, this movie brings a lot of meaningful messages inside, which are about faithfulness, sacrifices, hope
and love; where all of these things are the part of our everyday life. ``We can learn many things from the movie and it just too precious to be missed,’’ he said. .

``I got involved in Diva is because I was asked by a friend and also my director, Sharan,’’ said Thomas. ``He informed me of a movie and that I am the only suitable actor for the role of Arman. When I read the synopsis, I found that I could relate to Arman’s character. For me, Arman is a very interesting character who matches my drama acting skills and background.’’

``My first impression was that it is an interesting role indeed because after 10 years of my career as a TV drama actor, to be on the big screen is one of the things that I have been waiting for. Moreover, to be part of a movie with an international market is only something that I could imagine before,’’ Thomas said.

For Thomas, working under director Sharad Sharan in Diva proved obviously different with other Indonesian sinetron directors. ``Sharan has a big effort, strong will, different vision and strategy compared to them. He is a drama director with cold hands and has great taste in drama. In the process of making Diva, Sharan almost never compromised with unnecessary situations that shouldn’t happen,’’ he added.

``I feel that a collaborative effort among three countries will bring a big influence to the film industry in Indonesia, especially in marketing strategy where it would make film-makers think of how to market their movie globally and produce more income.’’

Thomas who is married with two children says that his family has been very supportive of him throughout the duration of the shoot and that they are waiting for the results. ``They have been so used to see me being treated as a celebrity,’’ Thomas said. ``Who knows now that their daddy could go internationally,’’ he quipped. ``During the shoot of Diva, I did not have any problems in managing my time as I could go home during shooting breaks because of the support and teamwork from Astro Shaw.’’

Choreographer Caesar Gonsalves of Caesar-Bosco from India who worked on movies like Kuch Naa Kaho, Munnabhai MBBS and choreograph among others, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, brought along 12 dancers with him. It took Gonsalves nearly eight days to teach the actors the various dance moves.
The songs and dances scenes which were an integral part of the story in Diva were particularly challenging to coordinate. Firstly, the master shot had to be done before taking close-ups and cuts from various angles which had to be redone over and over again. The task proved very demanding for some of the actors who never had to shoot a dance scene in a film before. The song performance for the end climax scene had to be shot for nearly 800 times.

``In India, they film the song and dance scenes first but the Malaysian and Indonesian actors were not used to this,’’ explains Sharan. ``For actors here, only after they get to act out their characters, would it then be easier for them to shoot the song and dance sequences as it would then make sense to them of their roles and not the other way around.’’

Fortunately, Adam and Awal were dedicated in learning the dance sequences. During their break, they would sit down and watch the other dancers rehearse. ``They really worked hard in their performances and dance scenes, even ensuring hairstyle continuity from the beginning to the end and are always punctual,’’ says Sharan who believes that their work-attitude will see them both go very far in their careers.

In fact, Sharan believes that Ning stole the show with her first-class performance in Diva once she had understood her character very well. Sharad believes that her portrayal of Kartika is her best performance among the movies that she been involved in so far.

To create the required look and feel for the cast and set, production designer Renu Sharan designed individual looks for the actors. For Jessisca and Balkisyh characters whereby a transformation had to be made for them to look like village girls to city folks, Renu had them wear clothes and wigs suited to their individual characters. Even the colours of the clothing that each one of them wore with respect to their characters in the film were paid attention to.

For Ning, she had costumes designed individually to give her the glamorous look. Renu wanted her to start thinking and behaving like a diva so that the look designed for her fitted into the character while AC Mizal’s flamboyant character required very bright and colourful attire.

Renu also had to ensure that locations were made to suit the scenes that were being shot including the house where every prop had to be in the right place to suit a diva’s personality.

History in Making

A history in making, Diva will be released simultaneously in five countries namely, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and India in mid-March 2007; making it a big leap for a Malaysian production.

On his two-year contract to produce six films with Astro Shaw, Sharan says that he intends to bring the Malaysian film industry to greater heights. ``We want to grow the local industry and provide opportunities for anyone to work with us,’’ said Sharad. ``Film transcends all languages…if you look at the film Gandhi, it was directed and starred both non-Indians namely Richard Attenborough and Ben Kingsley.’’ ``Likewise, Malaysians should be able to accept not only directors but cast and crew from abroad who are interested to make films in Malaysia.’’

``We are in the entertainment industry. We sell dreams, not reality,’’ says Sharan. He feels that the Malaysian film industry needs to be profitable for it to grow and that also means increasing the talent pool of actors, production crew, theatres, distributors and marketers. In India, you can get a full loan from the bank to make movies while established producers like Subhash Ghai and Amitabh Bachchan have their film production companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

With the support of Astro Shaw in creating awareness of the Malaysian film industry and investing in its vision to entertain viewers across the region, the Sharans believe that all kinds of movies on various genres can co-exist because there is a place for each and every one of them.

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