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Monday, April 20, 2009

Benyamin S: The King of Comedy from Betawi

If you are as ancient as I am, you'd probably grew up in the late 70s watching those Indonesian movies recycled on Malaysian TV. I remember staying up late watching them with my mom cos they only start at about 10pm or so. I don't know if RTM really wanted to show them cos at that time slot, nobody's awake in those days when people slept much earlier.

Most of the time, these Indonesian melodramas were tragic love stories which would make Arnold Schwarzeneggar cry, or at other times, they were social dramas about children losing their parents & having to live on the streets, etc. They weren't happy films & I didn't know why I was attracted to them. Maybe there wasn't anything else worth watching on Malaysian TV in those days.

And almost all of the time I had to fight to stay awake to watch them deep into the night. I don't know how my mom did it, but I was usually gone by half-time.

But besides these hopeless tragedies, there were also comedies, strange ones bordering on silly slapstick, but really funny. In particular, I looked forward to the films of Benyamin S. who became a cowboy, Tarzan & Samson in his comedies.

I didn't know who he really was, but I just thought that his films were cool, much like Mat Sentul's, or even P.Ramlee's. Much as I was a fan of Benyamin S. films, they slowly faded away from my memory as I grew up.

Then, of all places, I rediscovered him in Melbourne. There was this paper presentation about him at the conference in Monash & it brought back all the silly things that I learnt from his films which unfortunately didn't really help me in my life pursuits. But all the same, I still enjoy his slapstick antics & I hope that you would too.

What I didn't know about him, I knew now. He started out as a very famous folk singer who later went into films. During his lifetime, he produced 75 albums & 53 films & he died in 1995 at the age of 56 while playing football. His songs & films have a lot of cultural references which appealed to the grassroots.

This is his Superman song in Tom Jones style.

Koboi Ngungsi is my favourite Benyamin S film. I never got to watch the whole movie unfortunately.

Anybody knows whether they sell this movie DVD in Malaysia?

P/S: I think that as successful as he was, my parents were probably thankful that I didn't turn out to be like him.

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