FILM director Shahili Abdan, better known as Nam Ron, is on a winning streak. His gritty action film One Two Jaga, on the subjects of illegal immigrants and corruption, has been sweeping awards in film festivals.
Its most recent wins were at the 2019 Asean International Film Festival Awards (AIFFA) which took place in Kuching, last month.
One Two Jaga bagged two major awards – best director for Nam Ron, and best supporting actor for Amerul Affendi.
The month before, at the 30th Malaysian Film Festival (FFM), the film took home another six awards – best film, best director, best actor, best screenplay, best original story, and best poster.
Not a man to rest on his laurels, the director has already moved on to his next film – one that tackles another thorny issue, that of racism.
The film, Masterpiecisan, has already finished shooting and will hit cinemas by the end of the year.
The film follows the journey of a Malaysian-Chinese theatre director (played by award-winning actor-cum-composer Nick Davis) who loves staging Malay works, but has to go through various struggles to get his productions staged.
Aside from dealing with difficult actors and trying to find funding for his plays, the man soon finds himself caught between two opposing groups – one that feels a Chinese should not be dabbling in Malay theatre, and another that feels there is nothing wrong with the situation.
“I am looking at racial tension within the same race,” Nam Ron explains in a recent interview. “If you look at social media, you can see the Malay race is divided into two sections.”
Much like what happens in his film, Nam Ron sees the first section wanting to preserve its Malay roots and heritage, while the other group is more tolerant and accepting of other races into their culture.
Asked if he is opening himself up to accusations of ‘fanning the flames’ of racism in his film, Nam Ron denies vehemently.
He sayd: “It is important for artistes to highlight the different voices in our society in their work. Currently, our society is [already] talking about racism. [But] I do not have any answers or solutions on how to solve racism.
“Even in One Two Jaga, I did not give any answer how to solve the issue of illegal immigration and corruption.
“As a filmmaker, I just bring up the questions, and hope my movies will spark some healthy discussion.”
He is also toying with the idea of turning his famous stage play Matderihkolaperlih into a movie.
The story centres on a fisherman who later becomes a gangster and joins the political scene.
The play won the Boh Cameronian Arts Award in 2003 for best Bahasa Malaysia script, and soon afterwards, Nam Ron was offered the chance to turn the story into a film.
“Adapting a stage production for the screen is really challenging,” he says. “I have written more than 30 drafts of the script, but I could not find the [right structure].”
At the time, he decided to put the project on the hold. But recently, he has begun rewriting the script.
“Soon, the script will be in the hands of my producer,” he says.
He is also combining two of his critically-acclaimed stage works, Aku Nak Jadi Bintang and Laut Lebih Indah Dari Bulan, into a 10-episode courtroom drama series.
The story centres on a man who is accused of murdering his mistress, while his wife must stand by his side.
Going back to his early years, Nam Ron says that his passion for movies first began when he was eight years old, after his mother took him to see a black-and-white movie featuring the legendary horror character Dracula.
“I became a movie addict immediately,” he says.
“I was transfixed by what I saw on the big screen. I wanted to be a part of the film.
“I was a loner and movies were my company. I remember my older bother complaining that I was spending all my money watching movies ... I remember telling my brother that it is better for me to spend my money watching movies, instead of using the money for [buying cigarettes].”
His passion for film led him to the world of performing arts. He started his career as a theatre actor and director, before moving to the silver screen.
As for his future plans, the director says: “I will be 50 this year. When you enter your 50s, you think less about yourself, and more about your family.”
Nam Ron is married with three children aged between 13 and three years old.
“My dream project is to make a very successful commercial film.
“I will give the money I make to my family.
“I want them to have a comfortable life when I am no longer around.”