Love letter to a screen gem

A new play aims to fill in the blanks of the events in the classic P. Ramlee film Ibu Mertuaku, writes Aref Omar

THE 1962 film Ibu Mertuaku saw the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee making hearts melt and eyes weep as a poor musician in a tragic love affair with the only daughter of a wealthy woman.

Written and directed by P. Ramlee who was a prolific filmmaker, the tear jerker also featured the classic song Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti.

Growing up watching the film on TV reruns, Mohammad Hariry Abdul Jalil was fascinated by the layered storyline and romantic lead characters, Kassim Selamat and Sabariah Mansoor.

“Ibu Mertuaku is a personal favourite, and it has one of the most tragic endings ever as compared to P. Ramlee’s other films that always end on a comedic note,” says Hariry when met at the Cat In The Box Cafe in Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya.

The 30-something actor, playwright and theatre director will be staging a play that he wrote, which is inspired by the classic film at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) from Dec 4-7.

Titled Surat Sabariah, it will showcase the low point of the couple when they are forced to live in a basement underneath a house.

The once rich Sabariah demands her wifely rights, as Kassim struggles with himself, while his passion for music is restrained. All these take a toll on their relationship.



The play, produced by Hariry’s Negri Samudra Theatre with support from the Ministry Of Tourism And Culture (Motac), chronicles the events that are not seen in the original film.

“It kind of fills in the blanks like the missing scenes of the film,” says Hariry, who developed the play’s text under the Development Grant For The Performing Arts: New Malaysian Works initiative by the National Department For Culture And Arts (JKKN).

“In the play, they had just tied the knot and had relocated to Penang from Singapore after Sabariah’s disapproving mother cast them out,” he says.

Hariry explains that at this point in the film, things take a different turn which affects the rest of the storyline.

“As an actor and writer, I’ve always wondered about the real motivations behind the characters here, what made them really do what they did, which in the film is unclear,” says Hariry on why he wrote the play.

A graduate of the National Arts Academy (ASK then, now Aswara), Hariry has been active in the local arts scene since 2000.

He explains that Surat Sabariah initially started off as a 40-minute monologue that featured the characters of Kassim and Sabariah.

Eager to spice things up and add more colour to his concept, Hariry took a couple of years to come up with a full length script.

“Everyone knows the story and characters, so it was a challenge to put in things that people could still relate to,” says Hariry, who has acted in films like Karaoke and Bunohan and in TV productions such as Bernafas Dalam Lumpur and Juvana.

Surat Sabariah will star experienced theatre and indie film actor Azman Hassan as Kassim, Anugerah Skrin 2012 winner for Best Supporting Actress (Drama) Sherie Merlis as Sabariah and Aloeng Silalahi as the couple’s son Tajuddin.

A new character Jegela, a playful jester-like mystical figure, will be portrayed by Razak Osman, a theatre activist during the early 1980s.



Hariry explains that the play will initially be set in 1999, where a down-on-his-luck 40-year-old Tajuddin has to deliver an old letter to Kassim in Penang after his mother passes away (Tajuddin doesn’t know that Kassim is his biological father).

Jegela will then accompany Tajuddin on a journey of redemption and truth into the past where he sees how his parents lived as struggling paupers.

According to Hariry, the play is dedicated to P. Ramlee, Ahmad Nisfu, who co-wrote the original screenplay with P. Ramlee, and Datuk Sarimah Ahmad, who played Sabariah.

And since the story is set in Penang and Singapore, he hopes that the play can be staged in these places as well.

“I’d like to not limit my works to just KL and it is my hope to bring them to more people,” he says.

The enthusiastic auteur, who has written and directed plays like Selamat Hari Natal — Natalie and Le Jeu La Julia, explains that he employs a minimalist style with no extravagant sets specifically to enable his plays to travel easily.

He adds that the play will, nevertheless, feature iconic props with meaningful symbolism, such as Kassim’s saxophone and Sabariah’s makeup kit.

“I think that the theatre-going public wants to experience new works and I hope that people will be able to accept Surat Sabariah,” he says of the 80-min play with no intermission.

Hariry further hopes that those familiar with the original film will enjoy and be entertained by the play enough to spark some discussion.

“For the younger generation, I hope they get something from it — a valuable lesson perhaps for newly-married couples — and that it’ll get them interested enough to check out the original film.”


Surat Sabariah

When Dec 4-7, 8.30pm

Where Black Box, DPAC, H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Damansara Perdana, PJ

Admission RM35 (adult) & RM25 (student)

Call 03-4065 0001 or visit

New Straits Times
Publish date: 
Friday, November 28, 2014