Wednesday, November 26, 2008
That rare, elusive quality they call "charisma".
Like the wind, like sunlight, like moonbeam. You cannot capture it between two fingers, you can barely touch it, but it can touch you. And you can see the effect it has on its surroundings.
The pictures you see above are various people who have achieved some measure of fame and admiration around the world. This is not to say that they are all equally accomplished at what they do. Obviously, the great Charlie Chaplin and my beloved Dr.M tower over the rest, in terms of the impact they've had on the world. And the young, fledgling actress Sharifah Amani, my "anak emas", has only just begun her career.
But what they all have is this enigmatic, inexplicable power of attraction called "charisma". You can love them or hate them, but they cannot be ignored.
A few months after Sharifah Amani (Nani) got royally screwed by the Malay press and Rais Yatim for that now infamous award acceptance speech at the FFM, I was searching for an actress with enough charisma to pull off a tough character called Rohani, in what was then to be my next project called "Muallaf".
One evening, I found myself in the grand ballroom of a hotel, attending the wedding dinner of Sharifah Aleya (Leya), Nani's elder sister. One by one, the younger sisters got on stage to dedicate a few words to Leya, wishing her well, and confessing their love for her. It was all very heartwarming, and the bride was visibly moved to tears.
Yana, the youngest, came on first. When she had finished, everyone went, "Awww..."
Leysha, as always, was wise and witty beyond her years.
Finally, it was Nani's turn. Clutching the tail of her glamorous dress, she casually picked up the microphone and surveyed the audience for a few moments, with a menacing grin on her face. There, in attendance, were film luminaries, ministers, dignitaries, tan sris, puan sris, datuks and datins, everyone holding their breath, no doubt recalling that FFM speech she had made, just a few months before. Then Nani began:
"You guys have a lot of guts, letting me hold a microphone again! I bet you're thinking, what the HELL is she going to say now?" The hall rocked with laughter and thunderous applause. I smiled and recalled a judging experience I had in Greece, at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
The head of the jury was a Czech named Jiri Menzel, a 70-year old master who won his first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the age of 28. My fellow judges included Fred Roos, the producer of "The Godfather", "Apocalypse Now", and "Lost In Translation". We were busy deliberating on the candidates for the Best Actress award for that year.
"That actress internalised her role well," someone said. Someone else said, "But that other actress came across like she really researched the character she was playing." Etcetera, etcetera, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Suddenly, a very bored looking Jiri, who had kept well quiet up to that point, suddenly sat up and took a deep breath. Everyone fell silent.
"When you want to award an actor," his voice boomed across the table, "look for one thing, and one thing only. Charisma!"
Now I was back again at that wedding dinner table in Kuala Lumpur. The audience laughter had just died down. I looked at that little girl on stage, that girl I cast as Orked in "Sepet", when she was barely 17. Having started her speech with a bang, she went on to express her sisterly love to Leya in a way that didn't just touch the elder sister, but the whole hall as well.
That's when I knew I had found my Rohani.
Charisma. It's rare and elusive alright. And my "anak emas" has it by the truck loads. Alhamdulillah.