Malaysia's first gay movie to test public acceptance
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - Malaysia's first gay-themed film, which will open in cinemas in February, is set to raise eyebrows in this conservative, mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country, where homosexuality remains a taboo subject.
The Malay language "...Dalam Botol" ("... In a Bottle") tells the story of the relationship between Ruby, a transsexual Muslim man, and her wayward male lover Ghaus.
The movie offers no racy love scenes to survive scrutiny by the country's strict film censors, but will set a precedent in a nation where sex between males is a legal offence under the country's criminal laws, and where homosexuality is rarely discussed in public.
"This is the first movie in Malaysia about gays, and it's going to get attention because it's something different," said Wan Raja, who plays Ghaus, after a preview screening of the movie in the capital city.
Malaysia only allows films to feature homosexuality if the characters repent or are killed off, and those characters are usually minor. This is the first movie with an entire gay theme.
Producer Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman said the movie was based on the life of a friend and that her intention was to offer a glimpse into the life of a transsexual.
She submitted her script not only to the country's national Censorship Board for approval, but also to Malaysia's official Islamic authority for advice.
"I told them the title of the film was 'Penis in A Bottle' and that it was a gay movie about a transsexual, and they said why are you doing this?" said Raja Azmi.
The Islamic authority ultimately approved the script as it included Ruby's eventual regret over her sex-change operation. But the original title, which refers to how Ruby keeps her removed male genitalia in a bottle, was rejected.
The censorship board, which forbids local movies from showing unmarried Muslim couples kissing and hugging, allowed the film to screen with some cuts to shorten a bedroom scene between Ruby and Ghaus.
"It is a gay movie and love story, but for the intimate bedroom scenes we don't have to compete with Hollywood. We can show things our own way," said Wan Raja.
Public reception to the movie is not yet known as the film has yet to be widely reviewed, but the subject of homosexuality has often drawn anger among conservative groups in Malaysia.
Last month the country's Islamist opposition party protested against U.S. singer Adam Lambert's concert in the country last month, accusing the singer of promoting "gay culture".
"I don't know if this is good or bad but we do seem restricted to boundaries, so we just need to wait and see how people react," said student Ikha Yusoff, who attended the film's limited preview screening.
Wan Raja said he hoped people would have open minds.
"It's a beautiful movie. I hope people will give it a chance and watch it first, rather than just brush it off," he added.
(Additional reporting by Angie Teo; Editing by Elaine Lies)