Wayang Kulit or the shadow puppet is one of the oldest form of traditional theater in this region. In a wayang kulit, the puppet master known as Tok Dalang will move the puppets behind a big white screen, telling stories commonly from the Mahabarata or Ramayana. The shows will take place in open air with enough room for attentive audience to sit and enjoy the performance. To you folks who are of the MTV Gen, watching a wayang kulit performance beats all the Gorillaz ‘s digital concert, anytime. 🙂
Wayang Fajar on the other hand, modernizes the concept. It is still a wayang but the white screen that is central to the wayang performance is just as active and dynamic as the actors themselves. In Wayang Fajar, the flat white screen consists of small blocks that will be moved from one spot to another, in harmony with the description and images depicted by the narrator. Experiencing the blocks transforming from one idea to another as it tells the story of Malaysia’s cultural and religious experiences that juxtaposes with State control or suppression is like watching Radiohead jamming with Satre. Suprisingly, as a conservative theater goer who is skeptical about post modernistic attempts in the performing arts world, I felt quiet at home with the broken narrative or non-linear plot of Wayang Fajar. My senses was guided throughout the performance by the images and meanings drawn from the movement of the blocks of screen and the interplay with lights that were flashed and colors that were splashed on the screen blocks.
The audience’s presence was not to merely experience the performance but to question Malaysian realities as the theater acts as a catalyst for self introspection. Wayang Fajar, in my view, tries to address the racial and religious complexities inherent in the life of Malaysians. And being Malaysians, we also have to endure State’s constant attempts at regulating our lives. The second scene presents the main actor, Azmyl Yunor trying to narrate to the audience, his story, but was constantly questioned by the characters on his left and right on the “Malay-ness” and “Legality” of the characters or actions in his story that it left him baffled and uncertain. How many times in our life have we gone through the same experience that reinforces our racial identity and our unnecessary obedience to the State. Isn’t that scene reflective of how in our own reality as Malaysians, the structures or symbols around us keep reminding us of who we are that we are conditioned into soulless robots who are confused with our own identities and beliefs.
“Malaysia is in Denial” seemed to be the anthem of the performance, too. The third scene, where a conversation between a taxi driver with a passenger terrified by a dying roach was flashed to the white screen, did not only reminded me of the intensity and mystery surrounding the Teoh Beng Hock’s incident but how the Malaysian government is handling the situation with annoying pretension with the hope, perhaps to normalize the impact of the tragedy on the rakyat. Play with words like filth and sweat fed in my own disgust and anger with what that had happened. It’s a cool double speak approach, I must say.
Even more spot on is the Wayang’s next scene which to me is trying to suggest how government’s propaganda that Malaysia is a lovely harmonious country without any single problem has created a society that will forever be in denial over the actual socio-political realities in this country. So, don’t fall for Zedeck Siew ‘s girly expressions and excitements, pay attention to the contradicting narration as well. As he smiled and went through his Malaysian Dream life, the narration unfolds and visualizes incidents and happenings in the society that does not match the character’s burst of happiness. Oh, what a bunch of “in denial” sods we are!
Congratulations to Fahmi Fadzil for Wayang Fajar, He told me the next stop will be Wayang Siang. After dawn, are we going to see more hopes for a better Malaysia, die, or otherwise?