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Did local cinemas sabotage a movie about poor Malaysian Indians?

So on the same day that Star Wars: The Force Awakens invaded Malaysian cinemas on 17 December 2015, one other movie also premiered – Jagat. It’s not your typical indian movie… no coconut trees and dancing here.

Take a minute to watch the trailer:

Directed by local director Shanjhey Kumar Perumal, Jagat (Tamil slang for Jahat) is a movie which every Malaysian can relate to. It’s about Appoi, a young Indian kid, who grew up in a rural Indian community in northern Malaysia. Raised by a strict father, Appoi is trying to find direction in his life, as his childhood is also influenced by two of his uncles: a former drug addict and a gangster.

Partly based on the life of the director himself, the movie portrays the harsh living conditions of the Indian community in the 90s, after they were displaced from the rubber estates where they have lived and worked for generations.

Trapped between poverty and loss of identity, you can see how hard the Indians are trying day by day to build a better life, but are often caught in a vicious cycle of gangs and drugs.

The film received great reviews which you can read here and here. Even Chak, our chief editor was touched by the movie:

“It was very pleasantly surprising that only 30% of the audience at Nu Sentral was Indian. The rest of the cinema looked like a Yasmin Ahmad commercial.

I don’t usually do reviews, but Jagat was surprising in the best ways right from the first scene. It’s an important story to understand people some of us consider to be unwilling to change; simply because of how hard it is to break out of the poverty cycle. And it does so in ways that will make you smile, and heartlessly break that smile minutes later.

I’m so glad my first film of 2016 was this Tamil movie.” – Chak


Yay, we have ourselves a great movie, so jadilah?

Even though it’s a movie about Malaysian Indians, it was given the thumbs up by everyone of all races. It’s not a real exaggeration for it to be considered one of the best Malaysian films of 2015. Who say Malaysian movies no quality wan? So all good news, and time to celebrate, right?

This movie really deserves a standing ovation. Image from

This movie really deserves a standing ovation. Image from

Well, not so fast. The bad news was not many people got to see it!

About a week after its release, the filmmakers held a press conference. Apparently, cinemas were cutting down the number of shows because it wasn’t performing well, despite raving reviews and making RM72,000 in the first four days. They were also upset because this was in violation of the grace period that is given to all Malaysian films under the ‘Wajib Tayang’ scheme.


Soooo… It’s compulsory for cinemas to show every local movie?

Wajib Tayang was a scheme devised by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) in 2005. Before then, cinemas had the choice whether to screen a local or foreign movie, and sadly they would usually choose to show foreign movies because more untunglah.

So to protect our movie industry and to kasi chan for our movies to compete with the taikos from Hollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood, HongllyKood dan sebagainya, local movies that were approved for Wajib Tayang meant that it was compulsory for cinemas to show local movies in their largest halls for 14 days upon release.

If not Malaysian movies would be like this... Image from

If no Wajib Tayang, Malaysian movies would be like this… Image from

After that, the cinema can decide if they want to continue screening the movie or not. Usually if the movie tak laku, then the cinema would throw away the movie. But if it did ok and could fill a smaller hall, they would show it in a smaller hall.

But the reason why the makers behind Jagat weren’t happy is because they noticed that cinemas already started cutting down shows one week after its release, instead of the two weeks stipulated by Wajib Tayang. Because in actuality…


There are ways to remove new local movies in less than 2 weeks

Actually, Wajib Tayang is not a hard and fast rule. There are special conditions when cinemas can choose to get rid of a local movie before its two weeks are up, especially if the movie is exceptionally teruk (yeah, we have movies like that too).

Here are the conditions according to the FINAS website:

  1. Viewers in the initial hall is less than 30% of its total seating capacity during the first 4 days, or
  2. Viewers are less than 15% from the number of seats in the cinema hall after the first 3 days.

Oklah, that actually sounds fair. If the movie was soooooooo bad, I think we can all agree that it deserves to be taken out of its misery, and the cinemas should be allowed to use their big hall to show something more entertaining (and profitable).

But in Jagat‘s case, the filmmakers are accusing cinemas of manipulating the showtimes in order to ‘intentionally’ make sure that their halls reach less than 15 and 30 percent capacity.

And how do they do that? By slotting the shows during ‘graveyard hours‘ – Times when very few people would come to see a movie, like say, during weekday office hours.


Not this kind of graveyeard la. Photo from user chunk666pdx

Here’s how it works… New movies are usually released on Thursdays, and by putting showtimes during the ‘graveyard hours’, it increases the chances that attendance would be low because no one’s going to be free to watch it. So that’s already two days masuk longkang. This leaves only Saturday and/or Sunday for the movie to make up for the lost admissions, or else the cinema would have fulfilled the conditions it needs to stop showing the movie.

How strong the initial crowd will be during the first 3 and 4 days will depend on the marketing of the local film… And this is where Malaysian movies gets bullied by the abang-abangs from Hollywood and other countries. In a world where 1 USD is worth more than RM4, for every dollar spent in marketing, they are getting four times the value. How to fight like that?!

This is a significant disadvantage for small movies like Jagat, which was barely able to scrounge up enough money to even MAKE the movie, so even if their marketing budget was as big as their production budget, they were still going up against the BIGGEST movie of the year.

You know, this one. Photo by Brian Moh for The Star

You know, this one. Photo by Brian Moh/The Star

So in TL;DR:

Graveyard Hours + Empty halls + Removing local movies from biggest halls + ? = PROFITSSSsssss!!!!!!


Walao! Are Malaysian cinemas against Indian movies or something?

Actually, this sort of practice isn’t specifically targeted at Jagat. During a press conference, the filmmakers noted that this has been a common practice since ‘Wajib Tayang’ was implemented – whether it’s Malay, Chinese or Tamil. Even a movie by a director/actor as big as Afdlin Shauki also they don’t give face. And the numbers don’t lie too. Out of the 74 LOCAL movies released in 2015, more than 20% of them didn’t stay in cinemas for 14 days.

While we are not saying that that’s what local cinemas have been doing to all local movies, it’s not a stretch to say that Malaysian cinemas generally prefer showing foreign movies over local ones (with a few exceptions like 2015’s all-time highest grosser, Polis Evo).


obama make it rain gif

Because Moolah!

It might sound very harsh for cinemas to do this, but it’s also hard to blame them. Cinemas are a business, afterall, and it’s their business to maximize the profit made in each hall for each show (and sell you popcorn!). When forced to show low-performing local movies on their largest halls for two weeks, the losses can be quite substantial.

Let’s do a rough calculation:

  • Hall seats 200 people
  • It will play 5 shows a day
  • Average ticket price is RM15.
  • If no one watches the movie, then it’s RM15,000 (200 x 5 x RM15) of potential revenue lost in a DAY
  • Over 2 weeks, this equates to RM210,000 (200 x 5 x 14 x RM15) lost 

Of course, it’s not so simple because this is not taking into account the taxes and profit-sharing ratios that cinemas have to give to distributors for each ticket sold, but you get the general idea la.

So imagine if you own a cinema, would you rather use the hall to collect dust or make that RM15,000 (not including snack sales!!!) by showing a sure-fire hit like Michael Bay Blows Things Up Again 25: The Sequel? (Note: Not an actual movie)

Not by Michael Bay. But still. Explosions. Image from

Not by Michael Bay. But still. Explosions. Image from

Even the filmmakers of Jagat stated they understand that cinemas want to maximise their profits and are not entirely blaming them, but they are not going to stand by and let their movie be the victim of such tactics – especially when it is so well received and is an important film to their community.

All they wanted was to be given a fair chance.

Because, while it’s fair for cinemas to remove local movies that don’t sell well because they’re awful, the across-the-board treatment also negatively affects award-winning movies that represent Malaysia on the international level like Lelaki Harapan Dunia (14 days) or Terbaik Dari Langit (21 days), and now….. Jagat

In the long run, we can see this discouraging talented Malaysian filmmakers and investors from making local movies simply because they know their work will be treated as second-rate no matter how good it actually is. At worst, we might see more “crowd pleasers” like Robo-Pontianak Gangster 3.0  😐

So if you’re still asking why Malaysian movies are so crappy, perhaps this is your answer.


So Malaysian movies no hope liao? #MatilahFilemNegara

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story. FINAS is making a change to its Wajib Tayang policies (but that’s another article for another day), and the good news is that Jagat has been able to stay in our cinemas for its 5th week. As of 8th January it has made RM221,652.84.

But FINAS making the change ain’t enough.

The real power to make sure that a good Malaysian movie stays in our cinemas has – and always been – us.

You and me.

The Malaysian audience.

mk-movie-mania copy

Most of us may not be aware that a Malaysian movie only has 2 weeks to prove its worth in our cinemas before being taken out (or why your artsy friends keep bugging you to watch local movies), and the sad reality is that it could be too late to support it when that happens.

Once they are gone from cinemas, it is more than likely they would never be seen by the general public again (in legal ways that are supporting them anyways lah). This could happen to any Malaysian movie. Really good ones or terribly bad ones. But whether or not they should stay on should depend on us, not the cinemas.

So the takeaway here is this: The next time you hear there is a good Malaysian movie (and there’s a really good one coming soon), go and see it IMMEDIATELY or, even better, go see it on the day it’s released because that’s when your support matters the most! So go watch more local movies and #majulahfilemnegara!

Image from

Image from

If you’d like to watch Jagat before cinemas stop showing it, this may be your last chance to see it. (Click here to check showtimes.!) There are also free screenings sponsored by political parties, at the time of this writing.

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