On the first day Munafik opened in cinemas nationwide on Feb 25, the film earned about RM200,000. It’s a decent figure for any local fare, but compared to Syamsul Yusof’s 2011 film KL Gangster – which earned RM1.5mil on its first day – the figure did worry the director a little.
Scratch that; he was very worried.
“I had a fever that day! As did my father (producer Datuk Yusof Haslam),” shared Syamsul, who not only directed the film but also wrote the screenplay and stars in it.
Five days into the screening, the film’s box-office earnings jumped to RM2.9mil. As of March 7, the film had earned RM8.5mil – something that Syamsul said he didn’t anticipate.
“Usually, there’d be a drop after the first weekend, but there were still plenty of people watching Munafik (this week).”
According to him, the horror film is also well received in Singapore and Brunei where it is being screened.
“I saw photos of women in burkha and men wearing kopiah going to the cinemas in Brunei. That was just amazing to me. I am so proud the movie is garnering a new kind of crowd to watch it.”
Munafik revolves around Ustaz Adam (Syamsul), a Muslim medical practitioner, who is agonising over the death of his wife. Unable to cope with the tragedy, Adam has stopped helping people in need of his special skills. But when a woman who is in serious trouble seeks his help, Adam has no choice but to help the damsel in distress.
The film has Syamsul reciting Quranic verses in order to fight the unnatural forces causing the disturbances. According to him, there isn’t any film like this in Malaysia.
“Munafik has created a new genre: Islamic horror movie,” he said.
As with any fictional story that carries a strong message about religion, Syamsul did his research for five months including attending sermons at the mosque, talking to religious men and reading up on the subject matter.
He also had the opportunity to watch how an Islamic medical practitioner helps a patient. “It happened to one of my nephews and we had to take him to see an Ustaz.
“Munafik is not a true story, but kind of based on what happened to my nephew. What I want to put across with the film is that, whatever happens, it’s a test from God and we have to persevere.”
The film is getting a lot of positive feedback from audiences who have left messages on social media about Munafik’s entertainment value as well as the lessons from the film. “I got a lot of personal messages on Twitter and Instagram thanking me for making Munafik. A lot of them have said, they’ve been waiting for a film like this.”
The 31-year-old Syamsul had also attended public screenings – albeit incognito – to see the audiences’ reaction.
“There were a lot of screaming, even from men,” shared Syamsul with pride. “They were also shocked at the ending; I saw some people crying.”
However, the success of Munafik might not necessarily mean Syamsul will stick to this genre.
“I have always made films of different genres,” stated Syamsul. “I want to be a versatile director who can tackle different genres, be it a love story, comedy, action or horror.”
He added: “The success of Munafik has given me the maturity and the confidence to inject some Islamic elements into my films. Whether it’s minor or major, that is dependent on what the storyline dictates and who the character is.
“Obviously, in Munafik the main character is an Ustaz, so the Islamic element is understandably high.”
He is currently writing the script for his next film, Tailong – which revolves around Rosyam Nor’s villainous character, last seen in KL Gangster 2 – which he plans to start shooting on May 1.
As to why the audiences are loving Munafik, Syamsul theorised: “Any film with longevity – films like Titanic, The Sixth Sense – has one thing in common: a story that touches the audiences. No matter how much money you pour into marketing the film, it’s not going to get the traction if the story is not relatable.
“Malaysians are very selective about what they watch. It all boils down to story-telling.”