COMPILED BY JOEL TAN
Published on 26 May 2015
Songwriter, composer, film actor, director and singer, P Ramlee was a giant in the Malay entertainment industries of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
Born in Penang in 1929, the star got his first big break in music in 1947 when he won a songwriting competition run by Penang Radio. He went on to perform many of his own compositions and was eventually talent-spotted by Tamil film director B.S. Rajhans. P Ramlee was invited to be a backup singer for the Malay Films Production studio based in Singapore and it was here that he began a career as an actor.
Soon after, he made his directing debut with Penarek Becha, in which he also starred. Directing and starring in his own movies became a pattern with him. Among his most successful and enduring productions are his comedies, particularly Bujang Lapok. Over his career, he directed 34 films and appeared in 65; he wrote over 300 songs across various genres from pop to joget. In 1973, after several years in Singapore, he moved to Kuala Lumpur to join Merdeka Film Productions but died that same year of a heart attack.
His influence deeply shaped the Malay film industry of the 1950s and ’60s, an era that bears a trademark P Ramlee vibe: an accomplished merging of international influences with a distinct Malayan film and music-making style. Today, his work is still enjoyed on television, and many lines from his films have become enduring Malay expressions.
Along with the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is considered one of the two great works of Indian literature. A Sanskrit epic poem written by the Hindu sage and poet Valmiki, it is a sprawling work of literature that outlines Hindu religious myth, morality and history. Through the picaresque journey of Rama (a human avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu), it explores broad humanist and moral themes, and outlines several values central to the Hindu tradition.
The text has been a profound influence on the art, architecture and writing of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It has also been adapted internationally into several contemporary forms including film, television, stage drama, music and painting.
Rediffusion was the first cable-transmitted commercial radio station in Singapore, active from 1949 and most noted for its hugely-popular Chinese-language programmes in the ’60s and ’70s. Rediffusion sets were a common sight around Singapore, present in many homes and at coffee shops.
A subsidiary of London’s Broadcast Relay Services, Rediffusion’s introduction into Singapore was part of the group’s expansion into Asia. One of the main reasons for its success (the service hit almost 10,000 subscribers on launching) was its accessibility. Not only was it a cheaper alternative to transistor radios, its entertainment-driven programming provided a more informal alternative to Radio Malaya, the predominant radio station of the time, which was government-run.
Rediffusion is fondly remembered today for its storytelling programmes in various Chinese languages. Several master storytellers even developed huge followings. Local talents who started their careers at Rediffusion include Xiang Yun, Mark van Cuylenburg (The Flying Dutchman) and Kuo Pao Kun, who wrote and performed in radio plays for the station.
In 1979, Rediffusion was forced to stop all Chinese-dialect programming by 1982 due to the government’s Speak Mandarin Campaign. This caused its subscriptions to dwindle and the station suffered a dramatic decline. In 2012, it was bought over by former Rediffusion DJ, Eva Chang Mei Hsiang, and has slowly begun to re-assert itself in the Singapore radio landscape.