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Datuk Sudirman Arshad

Datuk Sudirman Arshad

After its documentary on P. Ramlee, History Channel is highlighting another king of entertainment, Sudirman Arshad, writes DENNIS CHUA
HE took the local music scene by storm when he won Bintang RTM in 1976, and revolutionised entertainment.

He became Asia’s Best Entertainer in 1989 and, decked in flowing Jalur Gemilang, the country’s singing ambassador, but he left us at the peak of fame.

Now, History Channel takes viewers into the life of Datuk Sudirman Arshad, the country’s phenomenal king of entertainment whose 15-year singing career put us on the musical map.
Featuring interviews with family members, collaborators and friends, the documentary, titled Sudirman Arshad, premieres on History (Astro Channel 555) at 10pm on Feb 20, with repeats on Feb 22 (11pm) and 23 (9pm), and March 1 (7pm), 11 (11pm) and 13 (7pm).

With subtitles in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese, it is a collaboration between History and the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (Finas).

It’s produced by Gerard Benedict, best known as a pioneering newscaster of TV3 in the 1980s.

History operator AETN All Asia Networks’ general manager Louis Boswell says: “The one-hour biography documents Sudirman’s life from childhood and through his illustrious singing career which was tragically cut short by his untimely death in 1992 at the age of 37.

“Viewers will learn that he was a man of many talents — lawyer, television host, writer, cartoonist, actor and entrepreneur.”

As the first Asian artiste to record an English single at the illustrious Abbey Road Studios in London, the United Kingdom, Sudirman went on to win Best Performer at the first Asian Music Awards there in 1989.

Finas director-general Mohd Mahyidin Mustakim says: “However, behind all the glitz and glamour lay the emotional and psychological struggle of Sudirman’s personal life.

“He never really recovered from two severe blows - losing his mother when he was five, and the failure of his marriage to a childhood sweetheart - and he constantly needed reassurance.”

Among the personalities interviewed in the documentary are Sudirman’s sister Datin Rudiah Arshad, his nephew Razman Azrai Zainuddin or Atai, journalist Saodah Ismail, RTM producer Jack Nadarajah, his ex-manager Daniel Dharanee Kannan, former EMI managing director S.P. Beh, British producer and artiste manager Simon Napier-Bell, and his former back-up dancer Joanne Ng.

Benedict says: “The documentary looks at the story behind the icon with an unstoppable drive for perfection. Despite personal struggles, he managed to become a superstar in a short time.

“Many will identify with his life, thereby making his achievements all the more admirable.”

The documentary is Benedict’s labour of love to an idol he never had a chance to meet.

“I’d always loved his music and wanted to do a documentary about his life. I had planned it a decade ago.”

Benedict says the lesson we can learn from Sudirman is to strive for excellence, always dare to dream and to live life to the fullest.

Kannan, who managed Sudirman during his performance in London, says: “I first met Sudirman in 1985 when I was a sound engineer. He was extremely friendly, humble, positive and compassionate, despite demanding perfection from everyone he worked with.

“His kindness touched many lives and not long after his death, a Dutch woman who had heard him sing in London, visited his family here.”

Kannan says Sudirman planned every performance meticulously and learnt from the world’s best entertainers including Freddie Mercury, Joel Grey, Sammy Davis Jr and Sir Charles Chaplin, viewing them in films and videos.

Saodah, who interviewed Sudirman throughout his career and spent a day covering preparations for his Chow Kit Road concert in 1986, says the superstar always had a passion for life and believed in going all out to achieve his dreams.

“He told me that if we want to do something, to do it well, and always think positive,” she says.

Beh adds: “EMI tried to sign him as an artiste shortly after Bintang RTM, and he joined a few years later. He was very focused, and always wanted to better his last performance.”

Nadarajah says: “My first meeting with Sudirman was 1984 when I was searching for a new host for Puspawarna. His manager introduced me to him and he was hiding behind the door.”

While it was hard for Nadarajah to please Sudirman, they became close friends who kept in touch until 1989.

Napier-Bell, who organised the Asian Music Awards in 1989, describes Sudirman as an institution of Malaysian music.

“He changed the local entertainment industry with his quirky fashion sense and charismatic performances. Despite tough competition Sudirman stole the show with his creativity, originality and brilliance.”

Ng, who worked with Sudirman from 1985 to 1990 and is now an event organiser, says the superstar was funny, simple and very driven.

“I auditioned as a dancer when one of them left, and went to work almost immediately. It never seemed a job because he was a great teacher and friend, who made everybody at ease with him,” she says, adding that his work ethics were emulated by his staff.

Rudiah says her brother was very close to his siblings and had always been the family’s entertainer.

“All Malaysians were family to him. He wanted his music to transcend barriers and bring people together and this was best exemplified by his song One Thousand Million Smiles,” she says.

Atai will always cherish his collaborations with Sudirman, who considered him a godson.

“I fondly remember appearing in his shows. In one of them, the game show Sendaloka Bersama Singer, I mimicked a fried egg,” he says.

Atai and Rudiah are heartened that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has described Sudirman as the embodiment of the 1Malaysia spirit long before the term was coined.

The documentary was launched at The Gardens, Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur, on Feb 10. Present at the launch were Benedict, Kannan, Rudiah, Atai, Boswell, Napier-Bell, Saodah, Ng, Beh and Nadarajah.

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