Malaysia screen legend gets Google tribute

Google has paid tribute to late Malaysian film legend P. Ramlee in its latest animated doodle, on what would have been his 88th birthday.

Born Teuku Zakaria on 22 March, 1929 in the coastal state of Penang, he is regarded as a prominent icon of Malay entertainment.

P. Ramlee enjoyed fame across South East Asia, even reaching as far as Hong Kong and Japan.

He died from a heart attack, at the age of 44, in a shock to the nation.

“His artistic achievements left a permanent mark on the cultural history of Malaysia,” read a statement on Google’s website.

He made his name as a jack of all trades

An actor, director, producer, singer-songwriter and composer, P. Ramlee wore multiple hats during his career. He contributed to more than 60 films and composed 250 songs.

One of his most famous films was Nujum Pak Belalang. Loosely based on a Malay folk tale, it tells the story of a man and his son who work together to help their village by posing as royal astrologers.

Google said that the doodle, available only on its Malaysia page, highlighted “the Malaysian legend’s diverse artistry and shows him as people best remember him” referring to his thin moustache, chequered suit and with his head cocked slightly to the side.

He “was able to reach out to different classes of society, bringing people together with his brand of humour,” Andrew Lim, music director of a classical radio station in Singapore told the BBC.

“His comedies use a brand of Malay which brings me back to my childhood. P. Ramlee was so brilliant as a comedic actor because he had perfect timing and was able to deliver his lines in the most natural way,” said Mr Lim.

He cut a tragic figure later in life

Growing up in Penang, P. Ramlee was said to have been a reluctant student who loved music and football.

However, his studies were interrupted by the Japanese occupation of Malaysia between 1942 to 1945 where he enrolled in a navy school and was taught to sing Japanese songs. After the war ended, he continued his musical studies.

A documentary released in 2010 showed how the entertainer had later been forgotten by the Malaysian entertainment industry and the public who felt his songs and films were no longer relevant or marketable.

“The reason why he became irrelevant was because during that time, there was an influx of other things like Hong Kong and Chinese movies so there was competition,” said veteran Malay TV personality Najip Ali.

“He became lost as there were other directors who wanted to establish themselves. But the thing about him was that he was an amazing storyteller and could encapsulate that era.”

The documentary also revealed that despite his success, P. Ramlee died penniless.

“While he loved making others laugh, he was someone who had led a very sad life,” Mr Lim said.

His work and name are still remembered

Today, his contribution are widely honoured. Museums, halls, buildings and even a street in the capital Kuala Lumpur have been named after him.

Recently a musical about the work of P. Ramlee was performed, featuring new singers and composers.

“But after listening to it, you would know that the original songs were far more superior,” Mr Ali said.

Sean Ghazi, a Malaysian actor who portrayed P. Ramlee in the musical called him a “Malaysian musical hero.”

“He was our renaissance artist, a mixture of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.”

Reporting by the BBC’s Heather Chen.

Source: BBC