Grandchild of Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad offers intimate look at iron-fisted prime minister in new documentary
* M for Malaysia is a candid documentary on Mahathir’s campaign and re-election as Malaysian prime minister last year.
* It was directed by Mahathir’s granddaughter, Ineza Roussille, who talks about growing up with her famous granddad.
“I was not happy when I found out that my grandfather was running for prime minister yet again, 15 years after retiring from the same post. I’d never really been on the same page with him politically and I felt it was the wrong direction for the country,” she said in a statement accompanying the recent release of the documentary, M for Malaysia.
Dian Lee (left), Mahathir and Ineza Roussille during filming of M for Malaysia.
Most of the filming was done over the 11-day campaigning period allowed by incumbent Najib Razak before voting on May 9, 2018. Logistics were handled by Roussille’s co-director, Dian Lee, a super-achiever, also in her 30s.
Lee is more used to being in the limelight than behind the camera. As the glamorous daughter of wealthy developer Lee Kim Yew, a close friend of Mahathir, she regularly graces Malaysia’s social pages.
Roussille (left) and Dian Lee at the University of Hong Kong.
Malaysia’s current coalition is filled with people who Mahathir treated badly in the past, including Lim Guan Eng, now finance minister, who adds his voice to the documentary. The former chief minister of Penang and secretary general of the Chinese-majority Democratic Action Party was the first to be arrested during Operation Lalang in 1986, and the last to be released.
During the Operation Lalang crackdown, purportedly to prevent race riots, about 100 Mahathir critics were locked up, including Lim’s father when he petitioned for his son’s release.
In the film, Lim and other members of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition essentially come to the conclusion that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.
The common enemy is Najib, whose alleged involvement in the 1MDB scandal (involving the alleged misuse of government funds) proved to be the last straw for an electorate that defied gerrymandering, postal ballot delays, voting on a weekday, and systemic biases such as heavy censorship to send the Barisan Nasional (The National Front) coalition packing.
Still, the protagonists’ statements expose the fragility of the partnerships. Lim says he had to overcome tremendous opposition from within his own party when the coalition elected Mahathir as their candidate. And Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, deputy prime minister and Anwar’s wife, offers a devastating reminder just how deep the wounds of 1998 were.
“My husband was taken in a van after a raid on our house. The next morning I was told by a friend […] that Anwar passed away. That made me quite hysterical,” she says to the camera of the false news.
“The rumour was spread by people who went to the room where Anwar was detained to change the light bulb. They saw this body was covered with cloth as if it was a corpse. That was a day, a moment in time, [that was] the worst moment of my life.”
That involved doing detailed research on Operation Lalang and speaking to Mahathir critics who remain sceptical about whether the tiger can really change his stripes.
M for Malaysia will have its world premiere at CaamFest, the American showcase of Asian films, on May 15. It will also be shown at Doc Edge, the New Zealand festival for documentaries.
RATING: #RobertReview (Malaysian Politics): 8.5 | 10
Published: 25th April 2019.
M for Malaysia: Can Mahathir the Tiger really change his stripes. A film documentary by the Eldest Grandchild of Mahathir.