Actor Zahiril Adzim faced one of the biggest challenges of his career when he was given the script for Pekak. In the film hedirected by Mohd Khairul Azri, Zahiril plays Uda, a deaf drug dealer, whose only reason for the job is to save up enough cash for a cochlear implant.
“As an actor, I rely on dialogue to express my character’s motivation, thoughts and so on. Suddenly I didn’t have any dialogue because my character does not speak. I panicked. I was unsure about how to act as Uda,” he said during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
The 32-year-old actor – who famously trained intensively for two months just to play a tomoi fighter in Bunohan – also shared that it was difficult to pretend to be deaf. He found himself easily distracted by the slightest sound. Luckily for him, Khairul came to the rescue.
“He gave me this device to put in my ears so I can block out the noise. All I could hear was a slight buzzing sound. Initially, it was scary because I felt completely isolated. I had to learn to get used to the silence. I would have the device on while I was driving and at home to prepare for my role.”
Zahiril also picked up sign language from his father who is a special needs teacher. He even learned how to read lips from a friend.
“I interviewed a deaf person to understand what it’s like to be in his shoes. He showed me how to read lips. He also shared his problem in communicating with others. I felt sad while learning about his story.”
His friend’s story as well as the connection to his father’s career made Zahiril more determined than ever to commit to his character. On set, he isolated himself from co-stars Iedil Putra, Amerul Affendi, Sharifah Sakinah and even Sharifah Amani who plays his love interest Dara. On the first day on set, Zahiril had his noise cancellation device on that he wasn’t aware when Amani greeted him.
“I think she felt offended. She asked the director what’s wrong with me and he explained that I’m in character. Then during meal breaks, she tried to communicate using hand gestures. I laughed at her.”
Despite the initial misunderstanding, Zahiril was happy to be able to act with Amani, saying that he’s been a fan of hers since Sepet.
Zahiril embodied Uda’s longing for Dara so well that the actor refused to be present on set when Amani had to shoot a heart-wrenching scene. “I couldn’t bear it. I finished my scenes and asked the director to let me go home. I was afraid to watch what happens to Dara. I’m really sensitive and get easily attached to the characters I play. When I read about Uda’s emotional turmoil, I cried for him as well.”
Besides being bold in its choice of the main character, Pekak also does not attempt to hide viewers from graphic depiction of some of the characters’ hedonistic behaviours. The movie features some racy dialogue too. It’s no surprise that Pekak is rated for viewers 18 years old and older only, which hardly applies to local films.
Zahiril applauds Khairul on exploring these themes, especially since this is Khairul’s directorial debut.
“It’s important to show the ugly side of life in movies,” Zahiril elaborated. “Hopefully, through these scenes, viewers would know how to protect themselves from harm in real life – like if a friend offers them drugs, they’d think twice after seeing Pekak. I saw the need for such a topic and I’m really thankful that Khairul chose to be realistic.”
Zahiril’s commitment to his role and Khairul’s bold approach paid off. On Aug 28, Pekak won two awards at the International Motivational Film Festival (IMFF) Bridge Of Arts at Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Khairul received an award for Best Script while Zahiril picked up the nod for Best Actor.