Despite all the controversies surrounding Mentega Terbang, I personally feel this refreshing film has finally asked a few bold questions.
Whether it provides the right answers or whether there are indeed any answers is left to the viewer’s intellect, conviction and faith.
Reading about the reactions to the film, I am reminded of the American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s powerful analogy of the elephant and its rider.
Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind, says the mind is often hijacked by the bigger and stronger impulsive and emotional elephant.
The rider, on the other hand, is the rational part of the mind, which is smaller, weaker and much slower to respond.
Haidt suggests it is the rider who should be in charge, but that the elephant will ultimately get its way.
And so, I must confess that I too was at first hijacked by the elephant and found the film initially objectionable at several levels; as a parent, as a non- confrontational Malaysian and even as a Hindu.
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So I can also easily understand why many Muslims would find it equally objectionable and even insulting to Islam.
I personally thought Aisyah, at 15, was perhaps too young for open conversations about boyfriends and “coitus”. I wondered if the film was adopting Western values against my own traditional Eastern upbringing.
Asking your 15-year-old daughter teasingly if her history project partner is her boyfriend is not something I would do either – nor what most responsible mothers I know would do.
I felt that maturity was a concern. Haven’t we, as optimistic, ‘open-minded’ Malaysians, found out recently that even our 18-year-olds were not really prepared for the ballot box, let alone a 15-year-old being prepared for discussions about coitus.
But then there, right there, was where I saw my own personal biases! They had got in the way of my wider, deeper vision and understanding of the film.
I had forgotten that responsible parents know that adolescents need to be exposed to a wide variety of life’s questions and challenges while being guided and supported in the process.
This was exactly what was happening in this film, and I was too myopic to be able to see it.
I could finally see that Aishah’s open-minded parents may have already guided this young girl about sex and sexuality, prior to this scene, in a safe and trusting environment (knowing how they were already with her in enriching her multi-religious awareness).
It would be so easy to miss this message if one watched the film weighed down by a myopic vision, restrained by one’s own religious and cultural biases.
Yet, to be able to see beyond the obvious, one has to be cognisant of one’s own biases.
And so, I could now understand the socio-religious and cultural taboos and conditioning of my fellow Malaysians in rejecting the idea of a Malay Muslim girl reading the Bible, petting a dog or eating pork, or of a Hindu boy eating beef, or about the intricacies of negotiating an interracial friendship with a member of the opposite sex.
The film does not play favouritism and does not pitch one religion as superior to another. To each his own, seems to be the message.
But this too may be perceived as objectionable to some, even when we all know, deep down in our consciousness, that there is a place for all religions and beliefs on Earth.
Some believe death is followed by an afterlife, in either Heaven or Hell. For others, it’s about reincarnation, about being reborn in another lifeform, be it as an ant or an elephant. And let’s not exclude the atheists or the agnostics.
At one point in the film, Aisyah asks her mother, “But which one is true?”, to which her mother replies, “Who knows?”
And that is also the point, isn’t it? No one can really know for sure, and yet we all behave like we do.
And so, this film is not really about Islam or about being a believer or a non-believer. It is much more than that.
In the character of Aisyah, we have a 15-year-old exploring the existence of an afterlife, as she struggles to come to terms with her mother’s impending death from pancreatic cancer.
It is essentially about her personal journey, which she navigates through an exploration of other religions and her own spirituality. Through the process, she learns about adab (courtesy), friendship and the humility of apologising.
She also learns to interact with people of other faiths with an open, inquiring mind and with an understanding of their beliefs, before she confronts her own pain and loss at the death of her mother.
It is almost as if the film is asking us to ride out this storm with her, to confront our own questions and doubts and to even stretch our rigid mindset to challenge our static religious conditionings.
Only when we do that can we finally come to terms with our own relationship with our own personal spiritual journey.
And therein lies the essence of this film. It’s about forcing one to question, confront and shed one’s own cultural and religious biases.
The scene that depicts the nakedness of Aisyah’s father with a tattoo of a butterfly etched on his shoulder was one of the scenes many netizens found offensive.
Those unfamiliar with the craft of impactful creative storytelling may not be able to see that Aisyah’s father’s nakedness and the tattoo of a butterfly on his shoulder bear witness to his own painful journey in search of his own truth, towards Islam.
Jailani, Aisyah’s father, has painfully shorn off all his religious and cultural conditionings (hence the nakedness) to be free to express his own spirituality in a more personal and meaningful way.
In literature, butterflies are often used as symbols of metamorphosis and change. The above scene seemed to imply that true spirituality can never be encumbered by a set of religious and cultural taboos! This, I believe, is the main theme of the film.
“Learn, listen, observe and question and choose what is right for you!” Jailani tells his daughter.
The ultimate message of the film is that one needs to have that freedom to choose.
Yet, the shutting down of the access to this film shows only too well we are still too far away from any clear understanding of true spirituality. Perhaps we are too cluttered by religious taboos!
Nor are we any closer to establishing a safe environment for artists to practise their craft, which can be avenues not only for creativity but as opportunities to educate, to provoke rethinking and to begin healthy conversations.
- Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
- Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
- Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
- Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
- Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
Your synopsis of Mentega Terbang is spot on.
I only knew about this film launched two years ago from the controversy which erupted over it recently.
Whilst Hindus could take offense over the character Suresh not being a particularly pious, knowledgeable or observant Hindu who eats beef, they also could take offense at the Christian neighbour being a convert from Hinduism.
Apart from Aisya’s liberal Muslim parents allowing her to explore other faiths and that she knowingly ate pork, the film also portrays the Muslim neighbour as being deeply suspicious of the intention of persons of other faiths towards Islam which can be offensive to some Muslims.
Whilst I personally have no issue with the film, some others may take offense.
People who have lived in a cage their entire lives find freedom scary.
KUDOS TO THE FILMMAKER. I hope that it would open our eyes and mind that corupt our actions and mind to instill fear to the rakyat thru’ your own beliefs in religion.
We should move forward and not backward to the stone ages.
LOOK AT SAUDI ARABIA who have now accept the reality of the time and have made changes to address the issues of religion.
We hope all the islamic beauracrats and politicians who are using religion as a base for their political survival would change and not destroy the multi- racial and religion of our beloved nation for their own crooked needs and destroy our beloved country