(Malaysia, 2009, d. Yasmin Ahmad)
Malaysian writer-director was very serious about telling stories that were cross-cultural and cross-religious in a Malaysian context with films like Mukhsin and Septem. Tragically, she died at age 51 in 2009 after completing this film.
Malaysia is a Muslim country but it has many Hindus and Christians – which sometimes makes for contentious relationships and enmities. The Romeo and Juliet archetype can be very important for this society and Yasmin Ahmad made popular films, geared to a younger audience, drawing on the age-old story. She also incorporated the variety of language (and songs) that are used in Malaysia.
Talentime (or, it could be Tale n Time) appeals to contemporary young people (in this case, especially, romantically minded teenage girls). It is the 21st century everywhere around the world now with popular music and dance, talent shows and cyber technology. The central youngsters here are Hindu, Indian Muslim and Chinese and Malays (and there is a grandmother who comes from Yorkshire).
Taking a cue from Fame and High School Musical, this is the story of a school's seventh talent show so the teacher responsible holds the usual auditions (some terrible performers for whom the response is a vociferous 'Next'!) and wants seven performers and seven students with motor bikes to bring the performers to rehearsals. One girl (Indian Muslim with the British grandmother) is assigned a Hindu boy who is hearing and speaking impaired, the Romeo and Juliet of talentime. Another boy, Muslim, writes songs, is clever, comforts his dying mother and incurs the jealous hostility of a Chinese boy. Plenty of ingredients for drama, melodrama, music and young love.
One hopes that Yasmin Ahmad's films contribute to harmony in Malaysian society. In their popular way, they show outsiders stories which help them understand some of the complexities of the country.