MANY a bored reader has sighed at the impression that there seems to be nothing of greater significance to report on than Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim‘s sodomy trial. But on some level, the proceedings of the trial — including the lurid details involving the de facto Parti Keadilan Rakyat leader, his former aide and alleged sex acts — make for intriguing reading. Maybe it has to do with human nature: our morbid desire to know more about things that are either none of our business, or unsavoury — or both.
Some would say it’s the people’s right to know, given Anwar’s status as a public personality. Others would say reading about scandals is downright entertaining. Whatever the case, the court case has captured the attention of the Malaysian population at large, as well as that of international observers.
I skew towards the opinion that scandal can be entertaining. When I consider the journey Anwar has taken, from his early days as a student activist and young politician to where he is today, I feel his life story would make terrific theatre. Granted, given that the court case is still unfolding, the timing might not be right. But one day, in the not too distant future, I can see it: Anwar: The Musical — or, my preferred title, Reformasi!.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility. See some of the other local productions that have already been mounted, with a historical figure in the spotlight: Ismail: The Last Days; Tun Abdul Razak: The Musical; even Tunku, although the latter production didn’t actually feature Malaysia’s first prime minister. The road is paved towards Reformasi!.
What to emphasise?
How much saccharine can you take?
But let’s face it, a treatment of Anwar’s story would likely be off-balanced, over-emphasising either the good or the bad plot points in his life. After all, the musical productions mentioned above extolled the achievements of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr Ismail and Razak — perhaps a reflection on the producers’ own opinions of and respect for these politicians.
It really depends on the producers’ agenda and intent behind the staging. Anwar’s achievements could definitely be played up in this hypothetical musical. His founding and leading of activist and political groups in the early 1980s; his rise to deputy premiership; his handling of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, leading to Newsweek calling him “Asian of the Year“; the overturning of his first sodomy conviction and his return to politics; being sworn in as a Member of Parliament again after his Permatang Pauh victory.
But honestly, the idea of all that is off-putting. See aforementioned Tunku; Ismail; Tun Abdul Razak — production-wise, they were accomplishments in their own right, but they were all too saccharine to swallow for a whole two hours. People thrive on scandal. Better to play up the contentious storylines: Sacked as DPM! Arrested, imprisoned, assaulted! Crowds of supporters chanting Reformasi! Reformasi! à la the balcony scene in Evita! Anwar singing Don’t Cry For Me, Malaysia!
The angle of the musical depends on the producers’ agenda
Sodomy charges; trial; emancipation; new sodomy charges; trial redux! The drama! The tension! The entertainment! I can already see it: Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan is asked to testify. Spotlight on him as the rest of the courtroom fades to black. Music starts. He sings the show-stopping ballad I Idolised Him. Tears. Thunderous applause. Standing ovation. What terrific real-life drama — though for the musical, especially in the courtroom scenes, perhaps better scriptwriters would be needed.
Personally, I would combine both the high and low points of Anwar’s story. But that’s because I don’t have a vested interest in his political or personal life. I think his tale would someday be worth telling, but in the way of the best biographies or obituaries. That is, to show his humble beginnings and his successes, as well as his controversies, failures and failings.
So this is how Reformasi! would unfold in my head. After the overture, we’d shift to the dramatic opening scene: the crowds chanting for reformasi; the media having a field day; Anwar handcuffed, arrested, dragged away by cops. Let the cast sing about justice and injustice, guilt and innocence. Have Anwar’s family, aside, looking on and wondering, “How did we come to this?”
Act One will show Anwar’s glory days and
detentionAnd then, flashback to Anwar’s early years. The rest of Act One would alternate between Anwar’s detainment and alleged maltreatment in the late 1990s, versus his glory days as young politician and DPM. The end of the act would have him be released, return to so-called political glory, win his historic by-election and proclaim himself Malaysia’s next prime minister. Let there then be a song about Promises Unfulfilled. And then have him charged afresh with sodomy accusations. Have sarcastic Anwar-haters look on in glee and dish up a tongue-in-cheek number: What a Pain in the Ass. Close Act One with the impending trial looming over Anwar’s head and a number from his supporters: Will It Ever End? Intermission.
Act Two would open with the trial, which would be quite substantial à la the courtroom sequence in Boublil and Schonberg‘s Martin Guerre. The rest of it? Well, it hasn’t been written yet, has it? It might take months, years, before the conclusion. Though one thing is certain: the show wouldn’t be complete without the musical number Can I F*** You?.
Excerpt of documentary on the making of Martin Guerre, including courtroom scenes
Right now, Malaysians could be following Anwar’s trial proceedings out of idle interest, or morbid curiosity, or genuine concern — or simply because there are pages and pages of advertisements and not nearly enough news stories. But it can’t be denied that Anwar is an entertainer, both at and away from the political soap box, and a goshdarn good one. Who would have thought it?
Nick Choo was going to write a Chinese New Year-themed article but worried that it would end up being too angsty. Happy Lunar New Year!
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