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Seruan Merdeka – Singapore’s first postwar Malay film 1947

The first locally produced postwar Malay film, Seruan Merdeka (Cry of Freedom),[1] is also believed to be the first political feature film. A promotional in The Singapore Free Press considers it Singapore’s “re-occupation first Malay film”,[2] while The Straits Times advertises it as “the first story of the Malayan underground movement”.[3]

The film draws on the tribulations following the Japanese Occupation and the subsequent stirrings of nationalism that arose. It marked the first time that both Chinese and Malay were portrayed on equal footing in a local production, with dialogue in both languages to depict how racial unity ensured the success of guerilla warfare in that era.[4] The film follows the Malay protagonist, Rashid, in his work as a radio spy signaller for the allied forces in Japanese-occupied Singapore until his arrest by the Kempetai (Japanese military police) and subsequent escape and encounter with the man who betrayed him.[5]

Seruan Merdeka was directed by Badar Singh Rajhans and produced by S. M. A. H. Chishty, a businessman  who had established  Malayan Arts  Production at Istana Kampong Glam.[6] Rajhans had gone back to Calcutta after making Leila Majnun in Singapore in 1934, returning to the island  only after the Japanese Occupation ended.[7] He was assisted by four other film hands for three months so that the film could be completed by May 1947. One of them was Mohamed Pillus, a member of guerilla group Force 136, who had fought the Japanese.[8] The film was headlined by favourite local bangsawan (traditional Malay opera) artistes such as Rukiah Hanafi, who played Zahara, the heroine of the film; Salleh Ghani as Leftenan Rashid, her lover; as well as Bachtiar Effendi; Johar Effendi; and Siti Tanjung Perak.[9] Salleh Ghani and Siti Tanjung would continue to carve a career in the film industry, gaining some measure of fame.[10] The film was shot at the Siglap Malay School[11] and the studio at Istana Kampong Glam.[12]

The film premiered at the Queens Theatre on the midnight of 16 August 1947.[13] As Shaw Brothers and Cathay had monopoly over many cinemas in Malaya at the time, they set limitations on the screening of films made by other production houses. Seruan Merdeka, therefore, presumably did not get as wide a coverage as it should have; as a result, it was viewed as a failure.[14]

However, Chishty ensured that the film was screened concurrently at three other cities – Johor Bahru, Penang and Kuching – coinciding with the Hari Raya Puasa celebrations. The film was distributed in Southeast Asia[15] as well as dubbed into Hindi and screened in India by film distributors Messrs Lovji and Ashroff.[16] Rajhans was subsequently hired by Shaw, where he  produced 10 films between 1947 and 1950 under the company’s Malay Film Productions.[17]

1. Malay film of the Occupation. (1947, March 10). The Straits Times, p. 3; S’pore ‘shoots’ kempei film. (1947, March 7). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. [In some news articles, the film is spelled Seruhan Merdeka and translated as The Voice of Freedom.]
2. Page 8 Advertisements Column 1 (Queens Theatre). (1947, August 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Page 3 Advertisements Column 3 (Queens Theatre). (1947, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema (p. 28). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL; Fu, P. (Ed.). (2008). China forever: The Shaw Brothers and diasporic cinema. (p. 156). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Call no.: RSEA 791.43095125 CHI; Van der Heide, W. (2002). Malaysian cinema, Asian film: Border crossings and national cultures (p. 132). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Call no.: RSEA 791.43 VAN; Singapore setting for guerrilla film. (1947, January 20). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. The Straits Times, 10 Mar 1947, p. 3; The Singapore Free Press, 7 Mar 1947, p. 5.
6. The Straits Times, 10 Mar 1947, p. 3; The Singapore Free Press, 7 Mar 1947, p. 5; Millet, 2006, p. 117.
7. Fu, 2008, p. 156.
8. Mohd. Zamberi A. Malek & Aimi Jarr. (2005). Malaysian films: The beginning (p. 117). Ampang, Selangor Darul Ehsan: National Film Development Corporation Malaysia. Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 MOD; Ex-guerilla helps to make a film. (1947, May 5). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspapersSG.
9. Yusnor Ef. (2001, May 5). ‘Tenggelam’ bangsawan, timbul filem Melayu. Berita Harian, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Millet, 2006, p. 28.
11. The Singapore Free Press, 7 Mar 1947, p. 5.
12. The Straits Times, 10 Mar 1947, p. 3.
13. The Singapore Free Press, 16 Aug 1947, p. 8
14. Malek & Jarr, 2005, p. 132; Seruan Merdeka (Call of Freedom). Singapore Lost Film Wiki. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from Wikia website http://saveourfilm.wikia.com/wiki/Seruan_Merdeka_(Call_of_Freedom)
15. The Straits Times, 10 Mar 1947, p. 3; Malay guerrillas seen on screen. (1947, August 19). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Malek & Jarr, 2005, p. 117; The Singapore Free Press, 19 Aug 1947, p. 5.
17. Fu, 2008, p. 156.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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