TFA’s ASLI scores big in music, puppet tales and environment

The cast of ASLI- The Resonance in Our Roots
ASLI’s Artistic Director Kalpana Paranjothy, who was artistic director for Asli is a talented musician who also doubled up as music director for the production.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 – The Temple of Fine Arts (TFA)’ collaborative production “ASLI – The Resonance in Our Roots”, a digitalised live performance that combined music, puppetry and folklore to tell the tales inspired by the Malaysian rainforest and its many residents, was a winner on many fronts, notably its creative use of puppetry, outstanding musical score and videography that captured the magical moments well.

Scripted by environmental journalist Nadiah Rosli and put together by its Artistic Director, Kalpana Paranjothy, ASLI featured the performances of renowned Semai musician from Gombak, Tok Sali, as well as a host of ethnic musicians who set the tune for the “stars” from the rainforest.

From Riki the Flying Fox (well played by Mathan Rajasingham) to the story of Gua Janggut (inspired by the caves in Gua Musang), Orchid the muppet puppet with her full lips, and the hissing story of a Snake – each got to tell the tale of their roots and existences in the jungles – from their perspective.

What was originally intended as a stage performance, ASLI premiered at the TFA as a screen production in December. The transition from stage to screen did have its challenges, as everything had to be considered from the camera viewpoint as well, Kalpana said, who credited Reel and Real Production for the good videography.

Journalist/Scriptwriter Nadiah Rosli was inspired by ancient caves and the Orang Asli community in Gua Musang, Kelantan for the Gua Janggut tale. The caves here may go under water by 2027 should a Dam project go through in the state.

As the idea was to raise awareness on the importance of ecosystems, and the environment as well as the rich indigenous culture and folk tales of Malaysia through storytelling with children being the main audience, puppetry was the chosen artform, Kalpana said.

The puppetry was really an experimental work, she said, pointing to the variety of puppetry works cleverly employed by visual artist Deepa Rajendra who included shadow play, strings and hand gestures in the production to tell each tale.

Apart from a little more fine-tuning here and there with the puppetry parts, ASLI was an engaging production that clearly can even be a digital tool for teachers (do we have environment classes in the country?) wishing to introduce to young students the Malaysian rainforest in a unique way.

The musical arrangement by Kalpana, who was also the Music Director, and the musicians were plain awesome as the fusion of their music from their respective instruments harmonized to take the audience through all the tales.

The performance by Tok Sali on screen was rich and so was his live performance with his children at the end of the premiere — Entering the Jungle.

The other vocal performances, accompanied by musicians who were obviously enjoying every minute of it, came from Zuliana binti Zainal Abidin who sang the hauntingly beautiful Ulek Mayang song, which originates from Terengganu.

The Covid-19 was the reason behind the decision to go digital with ASLI, but blessings do come in a disguise and in this case, the digitalised production could certainly open up new doors for TFA. Maybe an international award in telling an environmental story with so much of creativity and fun and maybe an award or two for its amazing musical performances and artistes?

Although aimed at children, ASLI – produced in collaboration with the TFA and supported by the Cultural Economy Development Agency – has enough to engage anyone wishing to enjoy a visual and musical treat that spins around on how important it is to live in harmony with nature and how all this could be lost without real care.

ASLI- The Resonance in Our Roots is expected to be featured online again this February. For those who would like to enjoy the full show, please stay in touch with the Temple of Fine Arts (Tel: 011-39080718) for details.