Actress Wilma Muhammad plays Datuk Maharaja Lela’s wife Toh Puan Long Lijah in 1875. Picture by Owee Ah Chun

The story of Datuk Maharaja Lela comes to life in a new historical film

BEST known as the boyfriend of Datin Sofia Jane in the 1995 romantic film Cinta Kita, Raja Aman Shah Raja Baharom Shah or Aman Graseka will take on his most challenging role as Perak warrior Datuk Maharaja Lela Pandak Lam in the movie 1875 next year.

Pandak Lam is often mentioned in history books as the mastermind behind the murder of Perak’s first British Resident James W.W. Birch in Pasir Salak in 1875. He was found guilty by the British and hanged.

“There have been many plays about Datuk Maharaja Lela, deemed an assassin by the British, but celebrated by Malaysians as a hero who resisted colonialism,” says Aman at the Content Malaysia Pitching Centre in Platinum Sentral, Kuala Lumpur.

Perak-born Aman is honoured to play Pandak Lam in director Imran Ismail’s new movie which is currently being filmed at various locations in Perak, such as Pasir Salak, Teluk Intan, Batu Gajah and Kampar. Filming began last month and will take 33 days.

“Datuk Maharaja Lela’s story begins at the scene of Birch’s murder and focuses on the aftermath, right up to his capture and execution,” says Aman

Scripted by Muha Aziz, it depicts Datuk Maharaja Lela’s leadership qualities, when he discusses plans with his relatives and assistants to defend Perak from the British invasion triggered by Birch’s murder.

“His wife, and the wives of his assistants, are also important characters. It’s a human portrait of Perak’s warriors — how they interact with their loved ones and how their wives encourage them to defend their motherland.”

DREAM COME TRUE

Aman is proud to play Pandak Lam not only because the latter was from his home state, but also because his struggle against the British triggered other uprisings around the country which eventually led to independence.

“It’s unfortunate that most of the present generation know little about Datuk Maharaja Lela. 1875 is a timely project, and I hope it’ll educate young Malaysians on this little-known hero,” says Aman.

When not acting, Aman sings Malay and English songs with his rock band, Chosen, and composes musical scores for drama series such as Cinta Gadis Sungai and Marlia.

“I enjoy acting and singing. I’m choosy about my roles because I only want to star in those with good scripts such as 1875!

COURAGEOUS WIVES

Actress Wilma Muhammad, best known as the long-suffering title character of Ghazal Untuk Rabiah (1997) and the spiteful model Natasha in Pasrah (2000), is also delighted to star in 1875.

“I’m thankful to Imran for inviting me to star in this film. I play Datuk Maharaja Lela’s wife Toh Puan Long Lijah who stands by her husband as he unites the noblemen of Perak to resist the British Army.”

The 44-year-old actress of Bajau descent from Lahad Datu in Sabah won Most Promising Actress at the 13th Malaysian Film Festival in 1997 for Ghazal Untuk Rabiah. She returned to acting after the death of her first husband, businessman Mahir Effendi seven years ago (she has since remarried).

Imran persuaded me to make a comeback which I did in TV dramas such as Sebenarnya Saya Isteri Dia, Lara Cinta Ameena and Biar Aku Jadi Penunggu,” says Wilma.

“The film tells Datuk Maharaja Lela’s story from the point of view of the wives of the warriors. It highlights their courage in helping their husbands defend their state.”

A HUMAN STORY

Imran and Muha included the female characters to make Malaysians realise that the struggle for independence also involved women.

The script was written in six months and research took a year. Eighty percent of the script is based on books about Birch’s murder as written by the British.

“It’s my first historical film and I aim to make our heroes as human as possible, so that audiences can relate to them.

“The Perak State Government and the Malaysian Film Development Corporation (Finas) have been very supportive; the State Government even allowed us to film at Datuk Maharaja Lela’s house in Pasir Salak,” says Imran.

More than 300 actors are involved in the RM13 million film. Other cast members include Kamarul Yusof, Ard Omar, Sara Ali, Zarina Zainuddin and Joanna Bessey.

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