Ola Bola review (no spoilers in your comments please): Just watched Ola Bola, laughed and bawled my eyes out from the rubber-tapping scene onwards. Contrived, clichéd, predictable in parts — but what a tour de force of nostalgia.
It reminded me of football — playing it and watching it with the family on the black and white TV and cheering for Selangor and Malaysia, and Leeds United on Sundays. I remember the Tango ball of 1978 and how we diehard World Cup fans of Form 2 in St John’s, saved our allowances and all pitched-in to buy it. We then stayed back after school to rumble on the field, soiling our shirts and muddying our pristine white Bata shoes. I remember on one occasion breaking my collarbone, for which I received an angry reprimand from mum, after a visit to GH. I remember Christopher Lim Lean Chai was our own ‘taukeh’ playmaker/defender. He didn’t join the school team, despite his talent, because his parents refused to let him.
I remember Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, M Arumugam, M Chandran, Shukor Salleh, Isa Bakar, Khalid Ali, James Wong and Mokhtar Dahari as clearly as the 1975 Hockey Team, or the All England or Thomas Cup badminton players of the 70s and 80s. They were our childhood idols and we as a nation gravitated to them as we did to Ali or Elvis or Bruce Lee. They were all our heroes once.
The movie captures the fact that commonfolk among us could rise above their dire circumstances and become extraordinary — for just one day.
Today we look to Nicol, Chong Wei, Pandelela and Azizulhasni to remind us that there are still those bearing the torch for us on the international stage, who make us proud, even as our political leaders shame us everyday with their false patriotism, corrupted commitment and warped sense of integrity.
I cried for all the humanity we lost as a nation in that era. And for our chidren who now live in times of unlimited access, who look to violent, wise-cracking superheroes as their mentors and idols and who believe the game of life can be played over and over again with no repercussions to those you hurt with your attitude, rage, extremism and intentional meanness.
Ola Bola, for all its flaws in the acting department, racial stereotyping and manipulative storytelling, still holds a mirror up to what we left behind. It holds a flickering candle up while others try to darken our history and negate our place in this country. Drenched in patriotic fervour with fellow Malaysians in that cold theatre, it warmed my heart. And I’m sure, if you were a child of the 70s, it will warm yours too.
Things I remember of Kuala Lumpur when I was a kid:
1. I remember being driven around in my father’s Morris Minor 1000 (similar to the pic above). He used to take us to Petaling Street to have the “best beef ball mee in the world”, just further up from Rex theatre, and for haircuts at the Indian barber, near Peel Road. The barber had to put a plank across the the chair for me to sit and the floors were always strewn with clumps of cut hair and the waft of coconut oil, Brylcreem and incense come to mind. The slick “curry-puff” look was my choice of hairstyle of the day.
That look. Why did we all want it back then?
2. I remember the stench of the Pudu and Chow Kit wet markets and how I had to help carry my mum’s haggled purchases while sloshing around in inches of icky water that always filled the markets.
3. I remember in 1969, when a curfew was declared and we raced to the sundry shop down the road from Freeman Road to stock up. The sundry shop was so inundated, the owner forego the usual jottings in the 555 books, and let everyone cart away whatever they wanted and trusted them to declare what they took later.
Everyone had a 555 book to their name and you could pay at the end of the month.
4. I remember the floods of 1971, and not having to go to school for a whole week.
5. I remember in 1975, armed members of the Japanese Red Army stormed the AIA building, near my school, St John’s Institution, seizing over 50 hostages, and again, we got off school for a few days.
Bell-bottomed, platform-shoed, hostage-taker. Even the criminals were fashionable back then – NST filepic
6. I remember going to the A & W, in the AIA building, which had those huge, porcelain-white, curved staircases, and having Root Beer floats and one ringgit Coney Dogs every Tuesday.
Tuesday was Coney Dog day
7. I remember sneaking into Cathay cinema in Bukit Bintang in the dark, after my friend paid the guard 50 sen to sit on the stairs in the aisles to watch a movie.
8. I remember going to some shady shop, near Central Market, to play video games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and my favourite, Asteroids, and hitting the hyperspace button to disappear, if only momentarily, to another dimension.
You could hit the Hyperspace button when the boulders came to close and escape to a fresh screen. We all need a hyperspace button in our lives.
9. I remember saving up to go to McDonald’s – the first ever one to open in Malaysia in Bukit Bintang – and having a quarter pounder with a huge slab of meat and having their milkshake which was so thick we giggled hysterically because we couldn’t suck it through the straw.
10. I remember taking the chair-lift and cable-car up Bukit Nanas — half-priced for students — for a ride up the hill and into the forest. Once, we got off at the midway point and tried to go exploring on our own and were chased by a screaming man with a parang for trespassing.
11. I remember my mum taking us to Globe Silk Store, in Batu Road, later, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, every Christmas season to buy new clothes and how I had to live with her choices and going there every year for Don-branded school uniforms and the nearby Bata shop for shoes that were one size bigger so they would last longer.
12. I remember taking the Len Seng bus and later pink mini-buses at Foch Avenue, grocery shopping at Weld Supermarket and Fitzpatrick’s, taking buses at the smog-choked Klang Bus Station and Puduraya, getting platform tickets to await or send off someone at KTM, eating briyani at Bilal and roti canai in Simla, roving around Chow Kit, wandering around Jalan Masjid India, Central Market, Semua House, Kota Raya (great second-hand books store!), bowling at Ampang Bowl, riding the Matterhorn at Yaohan Mall, watching many, many movies at Odeon, Rex, Pavilion and Cathay theatres.
These memories come to me as reminders of how things were. I hope they’ve triggered some fond ones of your own life in Kuala Lumpur…