Injin Puput: Passage to the Heart of Borneo

I was lucky enough to get a free media pass to attend the media preview on the 3rd of May at Sabah’s JKKN Complex, from Nova, who was so supernova enough to give me one. I was ecstatic because I’m keen about the Sabahan culture that never cease to fascinate me.

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Injin Puput tells the story of a grandfather, Aku Arusop and his grandson, Aaron going on a train ride along the west coast of Sabah. While at it, Aki Arusop reminiscences his father, Aki Gounon’s love story with a Chinese girl, Mei Ling. The musical started with a Murut warrior having a premonition of the arrival of British which was also a forecast of the  appearance of Vulcan trains which is extended into the heart of Sabah.

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What I loved about this musical is the forbidden love story between Aku Gounon and Mei Ling which would be a cliche in movie theaters unless you add pale vampires, horny werewolves or aliens. This, I thought, was just classic.

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Falling in love over glutinous rice wrapped with bamboo leaves. Romantic eh?

Watching Injin Puput gave me a revelation, a reminder of how beautiful the cultures we have in Sabah. It was also an educating experience as I’ve got to learn some of the customs/traditions or rituals that I’ve never seen or heard before, especially the Bosilat Mandung – Mandung and the Sazau Modsuhung of the Kadazans of Papar.

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Bosilat Mandung – Mandung.

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Limbai.

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It would be unfair though, if I were to compare this production with the musicals and plays I’ve seen in Istana Budaya.  There were some things I thought in Injin Puput were ‘off’.

For instance, I thought that the screen which portrayed the visuals were over used that to me, seemed to be sort of a short cut to create the scene’s setting. If physical props have been used to create the setting, it would give a sense of awe and would be more realistic compared to just depending the visuals on the screen.

I’m not going to touch on the choreography of the traditional dances because my knowledge is not to that extent. But I did find that the fighting choreography during the scene with Mei Ling’s brother was quite weird and funny. At the back of my mind was ‘Ah, itu seja? Lawan, mati and then lari?’. It was just plain to me and I didn’t give any excitement of ‘wow, these dudes are really fighting’.

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Easy, breezy duel. Notice of bare the stage was without any physical prop create the setting? Instead, the visual on the screen created the setting. The stage felt empty.

At times as well I find the stage was too crowded especially in the scene where Mei Ling sells her glutinous rice. The stage blocking was poor, the extra actors were scattered without any apparent motive, well, other than wanting a piece of the glutinous rice.

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Everybody was waiting for kao chung. It look scattered. The scene would be more interesting there were stalls where some of the actors sell fabrics, fruits or fish, in other words, the local activities of the community. Takkan the activity of the community is just to wait for Mei Ling to jual her kao chung kan?

The story line on the other hand, it was just okay for me. It would have been more dramatic if the tension of the story was build up from the beginning when Mei Ling and Aki Gounon met. Then only the conflict would become stronger, when the conflict is strong, of course the love birds will try to do everything just to resolve the conflict.

I can’t really say if this is the best Sabah Fest production for I cannot make any comparisons as I haven’t attend last year’s Sabah Fest. Last time I went was when Sabah Fest was still held at Sutera Harbour, which is around 2009. But viewing from the whole production, the cultural aspects of Injin Puput is always an amazing educational experience. Production wise, it can be improved, from the story, to stage design and acting. Only then I believe, it would a solid act. Or maybe, this was just the preview night, therefore, the production didn’t went all out?

During this part, the Argus pheasant feather was missing on the actor's headgear and there weren't any tattoos that shows that he is a Murut tribesman.

During the marriage ceremony between Aki Gounon and Mei Ling, the Argus pheasant feather was missing on the Aki Gounon’s headgear and there weren’t any tattoos that shows that he is a Murut tribesman. A friend of mine posted a picture of this scene during the last night of the show and surprisingly, the male’s costume was complete, with tattoos as well. Hhmm.

Despite what the ‘offs’ that I mentioned, I congratulate the team behind Injin Puput for their efforts, hard work and ideas into making this production, a reality. I look forward for improvements on next year’s Sabah Fest. Thanks once again to the supernova, Nova, for the media pass.

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