Greg: All it took was five minutes?
Me: It’s called love at first sight. It does happen, you know.
Four weeks ago, I was ready to write the whole thing off. I had become so tired of hearing about it that I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I was sick of having to keep rewriting the Chairman’s foreword because it never seemed to be good enough for the one person who had the final say on it. And even after I had gotten the tickets for it — courtesy of my aunt who manages the sets and props — I was ready to give mine away, because all the work I had done for it and all the fuss and drama surrounding it had threatened to ruin it for me completely.
Thank God I didn’t.
When the first two seasons of Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical were staged, I was still in the U.S., and I didn’t know about the production until my mother came home from watching it one night and couldn’t stop raving about it. Given the standard of Malaysian theater I had come to know and resign myself to, I was rather skeptical: How good can a local production be? I wondered.
Damn bloody good, in fact. I don’t know which element of it I loved best: the music was good, the choreography was amazing, the sets and visual effects were incredible, and oh, Stephen Rahman-Hughes… The characters were all very well-cast, right down to the high-strung Gusti Adipati, played by AC Mizal, whose walk and Treebeard way of speaking (on the inhale) quite effectively got on my nerves. Adlin Aman Ramlie as Sultan Mahmud of Malacca provided a much-needed comic relief sequence, and all I could say about the six-year-old who played the Crown Prince was, “He’s sooooo cute!”
The thing about stories like this one is that one never knows which part of it really happened, and playing up on the mythological factor is an advantage that the producers have; it’s a full pantomime, so they can do whatever they want with it. And one of the elements they played up the most was the supposed love that the Admiral Hang Tuah and Gusti Puteri Retno shared, the kind of love that they claimed was all they lived for, which leaves people wondering if such a thing even exists. Some express disbelief that the Princess traveled across what may have seemed at the time to be the globe to be with the man she fell so desperately in love with, but to me, it was a painfully familiar scenario, and it reminded me of the very true story of a woman who fell in love with someone all the way on the other side of the world, and flew there in the hopes of somehow making it work with him. So what, then, makes Gusti Puteri’s trek that much of a myth?
But as cynical and jaded as we are, everyone wants to believe in stories like this. It takes away, if only for a moment, the harsh realities of life, and bringing back, if only temporarily, that hope of love and happiness we learnt to feel when we were young and unknowing of the world.
Whether myth, legend or fairy tale, the story of the Princess of Mount Ledang has been brought to life, and it was definitely worth watching — so worth it, in fact, that barely three days after an encore performance was announced, the tickets for it have already been sold out. The production team (whom I get to meet and interview next week!) really worked hard for this, and nothing made it clearer than the huge smile on my Auntie Mei’s face when I told her we loved it.