A STARLET who was famous for her acting and pretty face died recently. Despite her glamorous past, she lived a tough life after leaving filmdom. She told me there was a person who would always be there to extend assistance in difficult times. She hardly met him after their encounters during the golden era of Malay cinema in Singapore. But through an intermediary, he never failed to assist her financially. She was forever grateful.
Former ‘Berita Harian’ entertainment editor Akmal Abdullah with his book ‘Mustapha Ma’arof: Seniman Merentas Zaman’ at a book expo in Kuala Lumpur recently. Pic by Muhammad Asyraf Sawal
The person was Datuk Mustapha Maarof, who died last Monday, 14 days short of his 80th birthday.
The lady whom I met frequently before her demise respected Mustapha, “a gentleman and a friend”. Indeed he was, who had a heart of gold, providing assistance to others in need.
I have known Mustapha for many decades. A tireless worker and an indefatigable champion of the Malay film world, Mustapha was a workhorse even to the last days of his life.
He was entrusted by the Malaysian Film Board (Finas) to manage the wajib tayang (compulsory screening) initiative. We met occasionally over film matters but more often we spoke about films then and now.
The glamorous world of Malay Film Production, Cathay-Keris Film in the 1950s and 1960s in Singapore and later Merdeka Filem Studio at Hulu Kelang, unfortunately, did not guarantee a good future for many of its practitioners. Mustapha was painfully aware of that.
He was luckier than most, bracing for the worst when the studios closed in Singapore and the future of Merdeka Studio was uncertain in 1970s.
While many of his fellow artistes were struggling to make ends meet, Mustapha had companies to run and businesses to manage.
The story of Mustapha is as equally dramatic as some of the films he acted in, perhaps even more so.
His father was one of the first Malay bankers who started Malay National Bank. But he was kidnapped and murdered in 1947. Mustapha was then studying at Malay College Kuala Kangsar where the best and brightest Malay boys were schooled. The death of his father changed everything.
But the legacy of Ma’arof lives on. A major road in Bangsar is named after him.
For the young and good looking Mustapha, the only option after leaving school was to join the film world. He took a gamble going to Singapore and was employed by Cathay Keris, owned by Ho Ah Loke.
He was given a small part in Untuk Sesuap Nasi directed by L. Krishnan in 1953. The rest is history. Mustapha was a big star after appearing in many hit films, alongside the finest actors and actresses who graced the Malay film world at the time: P. Ramlee, Nordin Ahmad, Maria Menado, Roomai Noor, Saadiah and Ahmad Mahmud.
By the time Pontianak, Bawang Putih Bawang Merah, Yatim Mustafa, Seri Mersing and Sultan Mahmud Mangkat Dijulang were screened, he was already a big star.
It is a coincidence perhaps that the book on Mustapha came out days before his death. The book, Mustapha Ma’arof: Seniman Merentas Zamanwritten by Akmal Abdullah, a former entertainment editor with Berita Harian is published by Finas.
It is an informative book on the man and his trials and tribulations. It is part biography of the man and part history of the film world that he was involved with. There are many facts little known to us in the book, narrated with poise and sensitivity by the writer.
Not many knew that Roseyatimah was the fourth woman that he married after Zainab Sulong, Zuleikha Aman and Suraya Harun. Akmal came out with another surprise in the book, that Mustapha was in love with Saloma in the 1950s, before she married P. Ramlee.
The story involving Mustapha and Roseyatimah is the stuff of legends. Roseyatimah, who made her mark in P. Ramlee’s Pendekar Bujang Lapok(1959), was the daughter of another famous actress, Neng Yatimah, better known as Seniwati Air Mata (crying actress) for her ability to shed tears in many of her roles.
Roseyatimah died on the Dec 14, 1987, of breast cancer. Mustapha never remarried.
Mustapha admitted to Akmal that Roseyatimah changed him for the better. The 20 years they were together were his best years, full of love and happiness. Ironically Mustapha died on Dec 15, 27 years later and was buried next to Roseyatimah.
I lost a friend, the film world lost one of its most illustrious stars and the nation mourns the demise of an actor and a gentleman.