Location Scouting in “Dewi Murni” (1950)

Film Title: Dewi Murni
[literal translation: Goddess of Purity]
Year: 1950
Directed by B. S. Rajhans
Produced by Malay Film Productions
Country of Production: Singapore

My Attempt at a Synopsis, [because I have not watched the film in full, and there isn’t a proper synopsis in English anywhere in the books or on the Internet; so I merely based my synopsis on whatever I can interpret from the various excerpts of the film on Youtube and from Amir Muhammad’s lengthy description of the film in his book “120 Malay Movies”(published in 2010). ]:
A beautiful village girl marries a king in the rural countryside where wild animals frolick and where palms and frangipanis are aplenty.  The married village girl waits for the return of his father while the king returns to his palace, where the Bendahara (Prime Minister) is scheming to marry his own daughter to the king.

The Film Locations:
I only had access to the musical numbers from “Dewi Murni” which are posted on Youtube, for example, the dance sequence to a song sung by Rubiah – “Bunga Dan Kumbang” (which roughly translates into “Flower and Beetle”). Most of these predecessors to contemporary music videos seemed to be shot on location in parks or gardens in Singapore, where animals such as monkeys and peacocks roamed freely.

1. Parks or Gardens


So, as you can see from the film-stills, the actresses are dancing among manicured trees and palms, lounging on the branches of the frangipani trees and sitting by a man-made lotus pond. It could have been shot in any of the public gardens/parks or one of the private gardens belonging to some rubber magnate, whom the Shaw brothers – owners of Malay Film Productions – may be acquaintances of.

My very wild guess for one of the shooting locations would be the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Why? Because in several sing-and-dance sequences from “Dewi Murni”, we can see shots of animals – monkeys, peacocks and other birds – intercut between the merry dancing and singing.

[film stills from “Dewi Murni”, clockwise from upper left: a monkey; the same monkey hanging on a branch; an emu and four-legged animal… a deer?; a peacock

Animals used to roam freely in the Singapore Botanical Gardens in Orchard-Tanglin during the 1930-60s. Monkeys were aplenty back then. I’m not sure about peacocks, emus and other animals though, as I could not find written or photographic evidence of peacocks and emus in the Botanical Gardens in the 1950s.

The monkeys, or more specifically macaques, became a nuisance over time and finally in 1971, there was massive culling by the authorities to remove the monkeys from the Botanical Gardens. Macaques are still a problem these days  in the vicinities of nature reserves (eg. Central Nature Reserve); they attack us primate relatives if we carry food that are not hidden in our bags or pockets, and they would even enter landed properties/houses to ransack the kitchens for food.

In 1971, attempts by animal activists to stop the culling were futile. The incumbent government in 1971 would have been very insistent on conducting the culling exercises to control the population of what-are-deemed-to-be-annoying animals. The same incumbent government now, in year 2012, is still as insistent as ever with regards to such matters, though some may beg to differ. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore still practices the culling of stray cats and dogs, and monkeys, especially in reaction to complaints; National Environment Agency the culling of crows and pigeons; and most recently, the culling of wild boars by National Parks Board.

If only the animals under the threat of culling had the natural instincts to dance and gyrate to music, they could be engaged as actors and actresses and go merry dancing and singing with the film superstars of yesteryears – eg. Kasma Booty and Osman Gumanti in “Dewi Murni” and avoid being killed for overcrowding the parks. No worries about exploitation of animals for human entertainment, the active workers’ unions of 1950-60s in Singapore would fight for their rights.

The “demi murni” or “goddess of purity” of 1950 would also watch over and protect these poor animals, wouldn’t she?