They say good things come to those who wait; this rings true for filmmaker Mamat Khalid.
The award-winning director-writer for films like Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang and Estet said he had to wait for five years to see his latest effort Lebuhraya Ke Neraka on the big screen.
“I guess, it would feel strange for the audience to see a movie with a more serious tone from me,” he said during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
Mamat is better known for comedies like Zombi Kampung Pisang, Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah and the Rock trilogy series.
Lebuhraya Ke Neraka can be described as a spirtitual drama about a group of bikers who find themselves on a literal highway to hell.
Bob (played by Datuk Awie) must help his friends to get off this road before Tyson, the devil played by Khir Rahman, takes away their souls for good.
It’s a dark comedy that touches on topics like faith, spirituality and mortality.
There are no funny characters like Usop Wilcha or confused villagers running away from what they thought is a ghost (Hantu Kak Limah) to distract the audience. Lebuhraya Ke Neraka is essentially a story about a man who must face his past and prove he has become a better man.
“As a filmmaker, I believe in exploring other genres to continue staying relevent. Even though I’m more well-known for doing comedic films, deep in my heart, I’ve also always wanted to do serious films with spiritual themes.”
Lebuhraya Ke Neraka completed filming in 2012. Mamat said the first cut was too long and admitted it would have been difficult for the audience to consume. Then there were frequent discussions with the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF).
“LPF is very cooperative. It wants to see more films like this. Initally the board wanted to give this movie an 18+ rating. I argued that younger teenagers should watch the film because there are lessons for them to learn as they mature.
“If we just let the 18-year-olds watch then don’t you think the lesson feels basi (stale) to them?”
He added: “I really think this movie will show the audience, especially the younger ones, that every action has its consequences.”
Mamat also spent a long time in post-production so his CGI team could develop the movie’s hell setting and creature elements.
“I said let’s just do a bit (of special effects). But the CGI team wanted to go all out because they don’t get to do something like this all the time. They really wanted to do something based on their imagination of what hell would look like. After all, who really knows what hell looks like. I don’t know anyone who has said: ‘Oh neraka? Aku dah pergi semalam (Oh hell? I was there yesterday)’.”
He described the film’s long waiting period as a good thing.
“It became more dynamic. We tried our best to make changes so in the end, the audience get a movie they can enjoy.”
Apart from being entertained, Mamat hopes his latest feature will get the audience thinking as well. While Awie’s Bob is on what seems like a traumatic journey, Mamat left plenty of clues to show that there could be more.
“Is it all real? Or is it just in Bob’s head? I decide to cater to both. Some people are more spiritual. Then there are people who would choose to look at logic or what makes more sense to them. It’s up to the audience to interpret it as they see it.”
The only certainty is that Mamat wants the audience to see him in a different light and allow him to exorcise the demons that are his comedic fares.
While he is proud of his mainstream successes, Mamat believes in being more than that.
“I would say this film is very close to my heart. I hope my grandkids would be able to say proudly that their grandfather made this movie, Highway To Hell. We can finally close the chapter on Hantu Kak Limah.”