Set in the historic 1969 Singapore race riots, this is a story about forgiveness. And in this story, the hardest person to forgive is possibly yourself.
Nur Elaika is the director behind this film, ‘Separation (Perpisahan)’. The story begins with high-drama, in the revelation by a Malay Singaporean woman, Siti (Julia Tari), who suddenly reveals to her son that he has another brother whom he’s never met.
Director Nur Elaika
We speak to her below as part of Juree Singapore 2019, as her team’s film is selected to be in competition!
A shocking and forbidden love set in 1969 Singapore race riots
That’s not the most shocking of revelations to son Rahman (Awad Salim).
His mother was in love with another man, and had a child, and was that he was a Chinese man. It was a forbidden love, a forbidden affair, set 50 years ago during the historic Singapore race riots in 1969.
On the set of Separation (Perpisahan), set in historical true events of the 1969 race riots in Singapore
Rahman recoils and judges his mother harshly, and expresses it in a mixture of disgust, shame and revolt.
Director Nur Elaika shares that this was inspired by the true story told to them by Syafie, the camera assistant in the production, about his grandparents.
“I wanted to do a film related to the theme of separation. The first is the separation between Siti and her former lover, Lee. They, unfortunately, fell in love during the 1969 racial riots in Singapore which have been described as the worst and most prolonged in Singapore’s postwar history.
“Set within these historical events, I wanted to portray that despite all the hatred that was happening, these two were still able to find love and happiness within each other.
“Secondly, Siti’s separation with her long lost son, Joshua, who was taken away from her when he was a baby in the 60s. Siti still longs for him and wonders about his state even after 50 years has passed. Last but not least, Siti’s distant relationship with her second son, Rahman.”
Stylistically, the team was inspired by the Malaysian production Pulang, but their actual production budgets are just a fraction of that.
The team, led by set decorator Ameera Sanusi, rigged and dressed up everything they could with an admirable DIY ethic.
#Shittyrigs? Well it worked!
They dressed a school up for a hospital room and took inspiration from #shittyrigs for their car scenes and green screens.
“We tried not to go beyond SGD10,000 in this production. It was a limitation that forced us to be creative. We pretty much DIYed and learnt whatever we could.”
Scripting was also a challenge, as Elaika was more proficient in English than in Malay. Everyone was a bit lost into pre-production without a solid script, but Elaika had the backing of her team with every script revision.
Emotionally, however, Elaika wanted to be true to her own experiences as a Malay Muslim woman in developing Siti’s character.
“The emotions I portrayed in Siti was what I once felt at some point in my life. That’s why I hold a very close connection to her. This also helped the story to be more authentic as Siti’s obstacles felt relatable and organic.
“I wanted a bittersweet ending. In the end, Siti was not able to find closure with her long lost son. Instead, she finds the courage to find closure with herself.
“Sometimes, acceptance and forgiveness can only be found within; at times, the hardest part of life is to forgive ourselves, to move on from our dark past.
“Ultimately, to be at peace is to forgive. ”