About 20 minutes into Pekak, there is an arresting shot where the audience gets a bird’s-eye view of Uda’s (Zahiril Adzim) shoebox room. He walks in, takes off his shoes and sits on a table facing the window. There is a single bed in the room with red sheets. In that tiny space lies Uda’s dream.
He plays Othman Hamzah’s Rintihan Hati on his record player and it’s loud enough for the neighbour who complains by knocking on his wall. His dream is also easily conveyed to the audience through this melancholic song about longing.
Unfortunately, Uda doesn’t know what the song sounds like, or that his neighbours are upset. He is deaf.
Pekak unfolds as a visually stunning film where its characters and their unsavoury deeds are bathed in bright hues of pink, green and white neon lights. We see Uda, brilliantly portrayed by Zahiril, as a hard-working drug dealer who needs to save up RM60,000 for a cochlear implant.
He finds more reason for save up for the implant when he falls in love with teenage schoolgirl Dara (Sharifah Amani). He watches her listening to the same Othman Hamzah song and that is all he needs as a sign of fate. So much so that he longs to hear her voice. Seriously, girls. Look for a guy who will look at you like how Uda pines for Dara. He even learns how to walk with confidence from a drug dealer played by Joe Flizzow.
There is also so much irony in this film. I love how Joe, a rapper in real life, is cast as a dealer who has to speak slowly for his drug pusher to understand him. Dara’s father, meanwhile, is a security guard who fails to protect his own daughter from actual threats.
Though Uda is deaf, it doesn’t stop him from wearing rock band T-shirts (Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures sounds like a statement about Uda’s longing to hear). We can only imagine what he thinks music sounds like. This beautifully and subtly reminds the audience what Uda is striving for, and it’s something that we often take for granted.
Ultimately, however, Pekak doesn’t solely refer to Uda’s deafness. It’s how the other characters are oblivious to the fact that they are free-falling to self-destruction because of their respective vices. Dara’s friends Kamil, Azman and Melur (played by Iedil Putra, Amerul Affendi and Sharifah Sakinah respectively) have a pill for everything. You need to enjoy loud techno music? Pop a pill. Dara not feeling romantic? Pop another pill. No more pills? No worries as Uda can deliver more in an hour.
We’ll come to learn how Uda, in his quest to hear again, has unknowingly contributed to Dara’s misfortune (Pekak could just as easily have been called Requiem For A Dara).
So Pekak may look pretty but it has tragic, ugly consequences in store for everyone in it.
However, its depiction of vice feels like overkill. I wish there was less substance abuse and more exploration of the other characters’ motivations. I don’t get why Dara falls in love with Uda. What conversations did they have for her to think that he is the only one who truly understands her? Does she express her dreams and receive support only from him?
The scene of the two of them sitting on a roof together could have been used to reinforce the romance angle, but it is just sped through without any dialogue – which is frustrating.
Perhaps it’s just my cynicism. Maybe Uda and Dara don’t need a lot to know what love is, and Pekak is meant to be experienced as an emotional, hallucinogenic trip about the greatest drug of all … love.