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Acting

Most of the actors came from a readily available store of Bangsawan actors, who were already working in Bangsawan troupes performing around Shaw's network of amusement parks. The eventual decline of Bangsawan was due to management problems. According Mr. Mustapha, there were several reasons for the collapse of bangsawan. Firstly, "the organization was not stable and secure", due to poor financial management, many Bangsawan troupes went bankrupt and moreover, troupe managers often ran away with the money, further compounding the problem. Another reason was due to the excessive mobility of the stars. Many of the female starlets married rich men, while the male stars married rich widows, which drained the industry of actors. Thirdly, members of the troupe regularly indulged in vices such as drinking and gambling, which caused the industry to be shunned and members had "low social status". With the base of bangsawan breaking, more actors had begun to desert the industry, eventually taking on roles in the growing film industry 14 .

As a result of the migration of bangsawan actors, there was a majority of Malays who "provided screen talent as actors, singers, dancers..." 15 . Among these were actors such as "Tina, Habsah, Puteh Lawak, Aman Belon and Adi Teruna.." 16 . Tellingly, a quick scan of the vast majority of local films produced at that period reveals that most of the actors on screen were Malay. Chinese actors were hardly seen, with the rare few appearing "only in caricature [as] laughing coolies, shrewd businessmen..." 17 . Indian actors were even rarer, perhaps somewhat ironically since the directors were Indian.

Even within the bulk of Malay actors, already a diverse mix of local dialects could be seen. These were Malays who were born and raised in different regions who ended up travelling either as part of the early bangsawan troupe, or due to talent scouts who would roam the region trying to headhunt potential stars. The film star, Siput Sarawak, born Ramlah binti Abdullah, came from Sarawak, Kasma Booty hailed from Indonesia, S. Roomai Noor from Pahang and Maria Menado was from Menado (North Sulawesi, Indonesia). On a side note, the practice of taking on screen names reflecting their place of origins (Such as Siput Sarawak and Maria Menado) is a trend passed down from the bangsawan days. As a result, the Malay actors who hailed from different regions all spoke with different dialects and accents. Rather than playing down this difference, it was promoted as a unique selling point of Singapore films. Due to the actors' prior training in bangsawan, many incorporated techniques such as improvisation and even infused their own personal traits into their roles 18 . Actors did not conform strictly to the roles set for them, but rather transformed the characters they were playing to suit themselves instead. It was not unusual to see characters whose dialects and accents did not match the part, but rather, it was representative of the actor who was playing the role 19 . This unique feature of local films seemed to have gone unnoticed, or at least it did not seem to bother, any of the producers or film directors as no one had made any comment on the issue.

This emphasis on Malay cinema interestingly provided the early immigrants an integrated working space where they could come together with a common purpose. Even though the majority of Singapore's population was Chinese, the producers and other Chinese crew members did not protest this focus on Malayness, but instead cooperated fully, often providing the technical know how and financial backing. They did not classify themselves by races, nor did they differentiate between 'my culture' and 'your culture', but often they worked in their various niches to create something which embodied their collective effort.


14 Gunawardana, TDR, 15, 1971, p106
15 Millet, p35
16 Millet, p37
17 Millet, p37
18 Millet, p38
19 Millet, p38

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