DATUK Aziz Sattar had a lot of stories to tell. After all, he was one of the last surviving stars of the golden years of Malay cinema. "Bang Aziz", as he was fondly called, would regale his listeners with stories of stars, directors, producers and films that he was involved with.
My favourite: back then, Malay film stars had to moonlight to get extra income. Aziz and two friends, including a famous actress, were invited to a show in Johor. On the way back to Singapore, they had a flat tyre. To their horror, there was no jack in the car and, worse, there was hardly anyone passing the road at midnight. The actress told them to sort out the tyre while she lifted the car with her thigh. No one spoke about the incident. But they knew she wasn't the type to mess with.
But Aziz had many more stories to tell about the late P. Ramlee. In fact, he was always an unapologetic defender of the legend. He had nothing but praises for him. After all, it was P. Ramlee who made him famous as part of the trio that gave us the memorable and hugely entertaining Bujang Lapok, Pendekar Bujang Lapok, Ali Baba Bujang Lapok and Seniman Bujang Lapok.
It was in 1957 when Aziz was cast in the first Bujang Lapok. He was already in his 30s. But his youthful, innocent and boisterous look made him the darling of cinema-goers. Bujang Lapok was a massive hit by any standard. Together with S. Shamsuddin and P. Ramlee, they redefined comedy in films. Bujang Lapok was P. Ramlee's fourth film as director, and his first comedy. He started with Penarik Beca in 1955, then went on to direct Semerah Padi and Panca Delima. The first two were blockbusters.
It wasn't easy to direct a comedy. After all, P. Ramlee wasn't known as a comedy actor. In the 24 films he had acted before he helmed Penarik Beca, he was always playing dashing heroes or tragic protagonists. The secret of Bujang Lapok was in the chemistry between its main cast. The trio was perfect. Improvisation, we were told, was the guiding principle. They didn't just act by following the script. The actors improvised a lot. And, it worked.
Bujang Lapok was a cleverer version of the Three Stooges. P. Ramlee successfully replicated the concept in two Labu Labi films and later at Merdeka Studio in Ulu Kelang, made three Do Re Mi movies. The last in the series, Laksamana Do Re Mi, in 1972, was also his last film. He died a year later at the age of 44.
Bujang Lapuk started it all. And, the series was unparalleled in originality, ingenuity and freshness. Some of the words and phrases used in those films stuck to this day, in fact it became part of the lexicon of cinema. P. Ramlee made fun of everyone and got away with murder for his sindiran (teasing), wit and humour. P. Ramlee moved on to make many more great films. But Aziz and Shamsuddin could never replicate their success in the Bujang Lapok films.
P. Ramlee, of course, was in a different class altogether; he was an all-rounder, no one in the film industry came close to him in terms of originality, creativity and talent.
There were some who believed that many of the scenes and portrayals in the Bujang Lapok series were so original that they were ahead of their time. Remember the scene in Pendekar Bujang Lapok when the dead walked up to the trio? P. Ramlee diehards believed that John Landis plundered the scene for Michael Jackson's music video, Thriller, 24 years later! Watch it, and you might end up believing.
P. Ramlee died in May 41 years ago, Shamsuddin in June last year and Aziz four days ago. Aziz was the last of the trio in the Bujang Lapok series. There are few survivors of the MFP and Cathay-Keris era in Singapore. With Aziz's demise, an era closes. With him ends the great bintang filem (film stars') era.
Aziz may have played second fiddle to others on screen but he was always his own man in real life. He was affable, ebullient and humble. He was a great star with no attitude. Like the character he played in Bujang Lapok, he was charming, friendly and entertaining.
For that, he will be fondly remembered.
Aziz Sattar may have played second fiddle to others on screen but he was always his own man in real life.
Johan Jaaffar | firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Johan_Jaaffar New Straits Times Home News Columnist 10 May 2014