Known more for the non-Malay man behind Malay feature films like "Aku Kaya The Movie", Murali Abdullah is an award-winning Indian Muslim director who converted from Hinduism. As the creative force behind "Hantu Air", a horror comedy about a group of people staying in a rural resort that are terrorized by a water ghost, or hantu air, Murali has seen his fair share of criticisms. However, Murali deals with them and the issues that he encounters with the sensibility of a guy who has managed to survive in the local industry long enough to make his second feature film, and took a few lessons away from his experience with his first to boot. Cinema Online recently attended the press conference of "Hantu Air", which was graced by the director and its cast, Hairi Safwan, Nishar Dirr, Saiful Apek and Anna Suziana to discuss their new film, and despite what one may think about "Hantu Air", all of them demonstrated that in addition to being grateful for an opportunity to act, they are also laidback and remarkably humble.
Cinema Online had an interview with the cast of "Hantu Air" at GSC Mid Valley.
Q: Hi, let's start with why you decided to make a film about a water ghost.
Murali: I wanted to make a horror film, but because all the other ghosts have been taken, I decided to use a 'hantu air (water ghost) instead. That being said, this film is also very personal for me considering all the issues I had to deal with, and also because I come from a village that is near a river. When I was a kid, I and the other kids used to talk about the lake being haunted, and my parents would even say that if I don't behave, the 'hantu air' will come take me away.
Q: How did you decide on the casting?
Murali: I held auditions and screened them myself. I knew Hairi from the drama "Ular Emas" previously, and he lived up to my expectations when he auditioned. I wanted a character actor with the face of a hero, and I found that in Hairi. Even during the crying scenes, he managed to cry on cue, rather than making everyone wait while he works himself up to it or relying on eye drops. The same goes for Nishar. As for Kenny Wong, I decided to give him a part since I liked what he did during the audition, and he will also help pull in Chinese viewers for my film.
Q: Hairi, what was it like working with Murali Abdullah and the other cast in "Hantu Air"?
Hairi: When we began filming, it was hard for me at first as I've mostly acted in dramas prior to this, so I had to learn to adapt, like learning more lines from the script, adjusting to the cameras. I'm grateful to Abang Murali for providing me with a lot of guidance. Working for Nishar is a blessing. It was my first time meeting her, and we only met on the first week of shooting. We spent a whole week chatting and building rapport with each other. During that time, she has never once brought her personal issues on set, and she is dedicated to her work.
Meanwhile, I found Amir Raja Lawak to be a really different person onscreen and off-screen. Murali is good at bringing out the skills of others. Off-screen, Amir is usually a serious person as he puts work first but onscreen he manages to make everyone laugh. Saiful is, well, everyone knows that he is a veteran in this field, so I am really blessed to be able to star alongside him. He taught me a lot of real world mannerisms and phrasing to use in films since I am usually a formal person.
Q: Nishar, what was the most memorable scene for you in "Hantu Air"?
Nishar: The most memorable scene for me is when I had to jump into the water for a scene. In that scene, I was supposed to act like I was drowning since the 'hantu air' pulled me into the water, but as I cannot swim, I was really drowning after I jumped into the water! They told me that I was supposed to take a deep breath before I went in, but I was just too scared that I forgot.
Murali: This girl is really brave. She jumped into the water even when she cannot swim. When I realised that she was drowning, I had to jump in to save her. This is one of the few problems we encountered during filming actually.
Q: Can you elaborate on that?
Murali: About 90% of my cast cannot swim actually. I only realised that when we were about to start filming. So the film took longer than expected to be completed as I had a hard time getting them into the water. Also, it was hard for us to find proper places to film as there were very few water sources in Malaysia. Perlis was flooded, and when we decided on Tioman, someone there told us that there was a crocodile in the lake, and that was it. No one wanted to go into the lake after that, so I had to find someplace else. Another issue was that the film's reliance of computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Q: Yes, we noticed that you used CGI a lot here. Why?
Murali: This was because we had difficulties in shooting the film at night. Our equipment wasn't high-tech enough, so we had to shoot all the scenes in the morning. We had to manipulate our shots to look like we shot them at night. Some scenes involving the 'hantu air' were CGI. The scene with the fireflies was also CGI as we could not see fireflies in the morning. Although the film only took 23 days to shoot, most of the CGI work was done way before, about two years back. So when we decided to start shooting officially, we had to reshoot some scenes with the CGI as the cast had already changed their hairdo. But of the 30% CGI that we had, we only ended up using 15%.
Q: Anna, you played the eponymous 'hantu air'. Was working with CGI difficult?
Anna: Not really. It was a bit strange at first to see the end result of what I did after CGI, but as this is my first feature film, I'm just grateful to be given the opportunity.
Q: What was the most memorable scene for you in "Hantu Air"?
Anna: The scene when I had to eat a raw egg. That was just... yuck. Also, any scene when I had to swim because I'm one of those who can't swim, so it's a really big deal every time I had to go into the water [Laugh].
Q: What about you, Saiful?
Saiful: All the comedy scenes because all the jokes I cracked were spontaneous. Abang Murali just gave me free reign so it was really fun.
Q: What are your upcoming plans after "Hantu Air"?
Saiful: I'm just waiting for Abang Murali to come up with his next film and cast me in it! We actually talked about collaborating for more films in the future, but we don't have any ideas what yet.