Datuk Naim Mohamad with Tan Sri Arshad Ayub
(Datuk Naim was Chairman of KSITM when Tan Sri Arshad was DG of Itm)
Tony Eusoff ably portrayed education icon Tan Sri Arshad Ayub, writes Dennis Chua
IT was not only timely that Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) made a musical about its founding principal Tan Sri Arshad Ayub but its choice of dashing Tony Eusoff to play Arshad was spot on.
Tony sings and acts brilliantly. He also looks every inch like Arshad when the latter was the no-nonsense first principal of the then Mara College.
Tony is known for doing thorough homework before taking on any role and Arshad’s biographical musical Destini Anak Bangsa (DAB) — a joint effort between UiTM’s Film, Theatre And Animation, Music, and Communication And Media Studies faculties — was no exception.
The story begins in Arshad’s hometown of Parit Keromo, Muar, during the Japanese Occupation. The audience is briefly introduced to the man and his mission, via a poem beautifully recited by UiTM vice-chancellor Datuk Seri Dr Sahol Hamid Abu Bakar.
The young Arshad, played with conviction by performing arts student Nuril Hakkim, is grieving the death of his father. He is then 16 and the eldest of five siblings.
Due to poverty, Arshad has to divide his time between doing odd-jobs in the village and school, where he always emerges tops in mathematics, and develops a good command of written and spoken English.
He also motivates his siblings to study hard and excel in life, chiding a negative-thinking younger brother in the process.
Young Arshad’s three closest pals are Nasarudin (Muhammad Hambali), Salleh (Muhammad Azreen) and Nadarajah (Muhammad Hanis) who believes that Arshad will, someday, become a great man.
Salleh gradually becomes jealous of Arshad, but later in life, pays him a visit and reveals that he survived the Death Railway in Myanmar.
Young Arshad’s harsh struggles are best exemplified when he falls ill and almost drops out of school. His mother Kalsom (played by veteran actress Azizah Mahzan) is always supportive of his burning desire to excel in education and help better the lives of his people.
Sadly, she too dies at a most untimely moment, when Arshad is a teacher in Johor Baru, awaiting his first paycheck.
Arshad’s courtship of his wife Puan Sri Zaleha Arshad makes one of the more light-hearted and hilarious moments of the otherwise powerful and serious story. He meets her while buying stamps from her workplace in George Town, Penang, One naughty customer tries to stop him from meeting Zaleha by uttering the now infamous line “Listen! Listen! Listen!”.
Director Mazlan Tahir does a star turn here as civil servant Abu who professes to be an “expert” in helping Arshad win over Miss Right. Intan Ladyana is commendable as Zaleha, in her first theatre role. While she is not known for singing, she does a decent job performing a romantic duet with Tony’s Arshad.
Filmmaker Azhari Zain does really well as a rabble-rousing student named Ibrahim Ali, who often gets a sound scolding from principal Arshad at ITM ( before it was changed to UiTM in 1999). His character speaks impeccable Kelantanese, and looks every bit the student activist of the 1970s in bell-bottomed pants and scruffy, long hair.
As an angry principal, Tony’s Arshad is in his element — staring angrily at lazy students, threatening to slap those who smoke on campus and even forcing those with long hair to go for haircuts.
He is truly Arshad at his best when he tells one slacker: “Don’t let me catch you with banana leaf nasi lemak on campus!”
It is not that Arshad had anything against nasi lemak, but he wanted his students to eat healthier food. He introduced sandwiches to the school menu.
“When we change the stomach, we change the mind,” he told the same student.
DAB meticulously follows news articles, interviews, biographies and students’ and teachers’ memories of Arshad. In much of the two-hour musical’s second half, audiences get to see his vision as ITM’s first director from 1965-75.
One scene depicts Arshad reminding Bumiputeras not to forget their roots and to take full advantage of the institute’s goal of giving late bloomers a second chance in life.
To match the magnitude of his educational task, Arshad assembles a multiracial team of educationists and tells them that everyone is educable.
Arshad also hires expatriate lecturers and makes the institute the first Malaysian institution to embrace British external programmes.
Decades before other institutions, Arshad pioneers “twinning programmes” with the Ohio University and Kentucky University in the United States. He also sets up branch campuses in the remotest parts of the country.
Most importantly, Arshad emphasises the importance of English, and firmly believes in meritocracy and the 1Malaysia concept, ferrying Christian students from East Malaysia to churches in Klang.
Four songs stand out as inspiring and moving — Kerja Cari Makan, Jangan Pergi, Ayah Dan Ibu and Janji Anak Melayu (the finale).
Esma Daniel, best known for playing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in two biopic musicals, does a cameo as Sahol at the end of the story and recites the same poem that Sahol did in the beginning. He really looks the part, too.
It is a befitting tribute to a master educationist and nation-builder, and taking a cue from the real Arshad, UiTM has found in Tony the right man in the right place.
Kudos to Hamzah Tahir (artistic director), Syahrul Fitri Musa (scriptwriter), choreographer Khairul Azhar Mohtar, music director Siti Hajar Mohamad Seperah, and composer Mohd Hafiz Askiak for a job well done.
The musical was staged at Dewan Agung Tuanku Canselor from Jan 25 to 28. Its third night, attended by the Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, former Deputy Minister Datuk Paduka Ibrahim Ali (who inspired Azhari’s character), Sahol and Arshad, entered the Malaysia Book of Records with a record attendance of 2,730 people in a musical (on a single day).
Read more: Tribute to education visionary - Live - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/life-times/live/tribute-to-education-visionary-1.215289#ixzz2KN3F51GU