Actress Raja Ilya will never forget the moment she got inside an enclosure with four tigers for a scene in local rom-com, Soulmate Hingga Jannah.
Ilya and her co-star Taufik Batisah had to play tourists visiting Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a place where visitors can interact with tigers in an enclosure accompanied by trainers.
“I was so scared,” the 31-year-old actress said during a press event promoting the movie. Filming of Soulmate Hingga Jannah, directed by Prof Datuk Dr A. Razak Mohaideen (Chowrasta, Ngorat), took place in Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur early last year.
“Initially on the script, there were no tigers. It just said we were going to be looking at elephants and buffalo. But when we got to Chiang Mai, our director found out about Tiger Kingdom and he decided to shoot there.”
The scene required the leads to look like they were having a good time but Raja Ilya wasn’t confident she could pull it off.
“The first take was bad. I was hiding behind Taufik the whole time. Although I was smiling, there were tears in my eyes. It was my first time seeing a tiger in real-life. The director said, ‘Why are you crying? You should look happy’. So we took a 20-minute break where I composed myself and decided to be brave.”
Raja Ilya managed to nail the shot the second time around.
Soulmate Hingga Jannah revolves around Azmeer (Taufik), a difficult, cantankerous CEO. Single father Azmeer is still reeling from the loss of his wife when he gets to know a new employee, Rokiah. The tomboyish village girl gets on Azmeer’s nerves at first until a makeover changes everything.
Azmeer’s pillar of strength comes in the form of his co-workers Ira (Erra Fazira) and Jacky (Douglas Lim) who have known him since their days in university. Jacky has always been his trusted confidant while Ira has been secretly pining for Azmeer for a long time.
When the three friends and their new hire go on a business trip to Chiang Mai together, will Azmeer open up his heart and find a soulmate in Rokiah or Ira?
“The film talks about different kinds of love – the love between husband and wife, unrequited love, the love of a parent, and so on,” Razak described the film.
Besides seeing (and working with) a tiger for the first time, the film marks another first for Raja Ilya. She has never starred in a comedic role until now.
“A lot of the jokes that made it to the film were actually said very spontaneously. I just tried my luck and added my own words and see if it worked,” she shared.
Another challenge for Raja Ilya was filming romantic scenes with Taufik, as she usually plays a villain in most shows and her character doesn’t get paired up with anyone romantically.
One would think that having your co-star’s spouse on set while filming a romantic scene would make things more awkward but Raja Ilya said Taufik’s wife Sheena was incredibly supportive.
“She was really helpful in terms of getting us to develop our chemistry as the film’s hero and heroine. She would tell me like, ‘Right now, he’s not my husband anymore, he’s yours’. She wants to see the film work.”
Asked what other roles Raja Ilya would like to play in the future, she said, “Even if there are characters I’d like to play, I might not get the roles because there are many actors in Malaysia who are more popular that would be given those opportunities. So, the best way to do it is to produce a film myself and act in it.”
With that in mind, the actress is producing an Indonesian-Malaysian film in which she will also star in. Raja Ilya, who came up with the storyline, teases the project is a mix of action, comedy, romance and thriller and pre-production will begin in March.
On top of that, she will be spreading her wings to the United States to be a part of a Marvel/Disney production. “The offer came from someone I know from Indonesia who has already acted in a few Marvel and Disney movies,” she said.
However, the actress added she couldn’t share much information on the project just yet: “I’ve just been informed to fly to Hollywood by the end of the year for role selection and for which Marvel title (I would be involved in).”