Redha—A Film about Autism, Anguish and Acceptance

What do white sandy beaches, blue seas and a rustic beach resort have anything to do with Autism? Everything, according to this film by first-time Malaysian film director...

...Tunku Mona Riza. Against this backdrop of Perfection, an autistic 6 year-old boy Danial and his family stand as a blot in their struggle to find acceptance in a society that knows little about Autism.

Mona and her team played the right cards to this film, from spreading awareness on Autism to researching and casting of the actors and actresses; amongst whom Nam Ron and June Lojong who, as real-life husband-and-wife, executed their roles brilliantly as Danial’s parents, Razlan and Alina. The film tells of the spectrum of life with an autistic child; of denial, anguish and finally acceptance. Its title ‘Redha’ implies a submission to divine will which serves to reveal the beauty in this seemingly imperfect life.

Harith Haziq, just 8 years old at the time of audition, played the young Danial, while 16 year-old Izzy Reef played the elder role. Their performance was sublime and rightly so, because of the excellent research techniques they employed to prepare themselves for the roles, which were based on two autistic individuals: Yong Wei Siang and Jazlie Hilman Jamaludeen. It took more than a passive study of them from recorded footage. For 3 months the actors shadowed them in their daily lives and observed their behavioural antics first-hand.

Many of the autistic traits were subtly revealed through the common occupational activities of teeth-brushing and unusual sensory reflexes such as swiping off a kiss on the cheek. Autistic tendencies such as the lining up of objects and ear-hitting were expressed in the background, just beyond focus, inconspicuous but very telling.

Razlan’s denial too was revealed in a gradual progression of events. Despite having observed Danial’s unusual antics, Razlan goes about his life steeped in forced optimism, and Nam Ron’s unembellished portrayal of the character left the audience wondering if he was already in denial long before Danial’s diagnosis.

The diagnosis scene itself was powerfully executed. A single take of over three minutes articulated the hollowness and confusion felt by Danial’s mother, Alina, in the moments after she learns of the diagnosis. It is a stirring scene of silent anguish to which most of us could relate to. It plucks hard on heartstrings and draws tears to parents of special needs children, because it kindles bittersweet memories.

Downsides? The film could have been more succinct with the special education parts and blend them more seamlessly with the plot. They tend to lend a documentary feel to the film, which felt somewhat excessive and disjointed. 

The scenes portraying discrimination, though with all good intentions, were a little over the top and inadequately polished, especially with the less-convincing performance of the extras. 

An unexpected upside? The character of Auntie Kat as Alina’s close friend from Singapore was a pleasant surprise in the plot. She lent much flavour and warmth to the story and her sprightly disposition and her infectious sanguinity made her an ideal soul mate or a caring relative to whom many of us could relate. On one occasion, Alina, distraught over her woes, pops a rhetorical but disturbingly-relevant question, ‘Who will take care of him (Danial) when I’m gone?’ Without hesitation Auntie Kat answers, ‘Me!’ Her resolute, concise response sums it all.

Auntie Kat has some great lines and describes Danial’s autism as a ‘beautiful pain’ that positively transforms. Being a friend who travels from Singapore to help Alina, she also epitomises the fact that beneath the façade of bilateral bickering there is still warmth and love between the peoples.

Other parts of the film were well-scripted too. As Razlan continues to wallow in denial of his son’s condition, Alina reminds him of how Danial, as an infant, would lie on his chest and fall asleep listening to his heartbeat. She pleads for his acceptance of Danial with a single poignant line, ‘Please take him back.’  

Razlan at last subdues his bitterness and finds in Danial an invaluable relationship between a father and his son. He submits to reality, learns to make the best of it and beautifully concludes that an imperfect child has taught him to perfect himself.

As the film opens against a backdrop of pristine white beaches and a clear blue sea, it closes with the same backdrop. Only this time it represents a new perfection—one that has been forged from a father’s struggle and unyielding love for his autistic son. 

C E Tham

Through blogging and social media, CE Tham and his wife hope to share about their parenting journey with their older boy Joel and his younger brother Amos, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.

CE Tham and his family can be reached at thumbs.sandals@gmail.com or at their blog.

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Credit: A video by Channel 5

Credit: A video by Trixie Chua & Celine Kim for Special Seeds Singapore.

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