Living the golden era of Wayang Pacak

The old and the new: Previously known as 'Wayang Pacak', and now called 'Layar Bestari', mass public screenings are being used as a communications tool by the Malaysian Department of Information. Picture: Bernama

Saturday, June 13, 2009

THE adult generation in the 1960s and 1970s will recall the Wayang Pacak, literally movies being screened in open areas using a projector and a screen affixed on two poles.

But there is more to it, just before and in between the screenings, public information messages were relayed.

The Wayang Pacak was among the fundamental medium then for the Information Department to relay information regarding the government's development polices to the people, healthcare, epidemics and even mundane matters like how to use the latrine and the benefits of a balanced diet.

It was very effective in small towns and rural areas lacking in communications where many people were illiterate.

The Wayang Pacak was an outreach method used by the Information Ministry then (now Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture) to keep the people informed at a time where communication channels were limited and where the young nation was facing serious challenges.

As Malaysia was developing fast, by late 1970s Wayang Pacak and many of other simple outreach methods like distributing flyers disappeared. Today, with access to information just a click away, the Information Department, too, has changed its strategies to remain relevant.

But in December the Wayang Pacak made a comeback, only this time with a new name: Layar Bestari.

One may ask why regress in this cyberage, but the people in the Information Ministry are well aware of the missing human touch in the cyberworld that had to be compensated to win over the peoples hearts.

Zurina Hassan, former deputy director of the information publication department, said, "Regardless of the globalisation era, the Information Department is relevant, and in fact it is needed more than ever because in this current world without borders and the prevailing IT culture, we have lost friends and colleagues and this void is what we want to fill by enhancing face to face communication."

Maybe this is way the audience numbered in thousands during Layar Bestari's premiere in Kapit.

Following Wayang Pacak's revival, those in their golden years started sharing past experiences on how they used to carry mats and food to the field where the screening took place.

Many even remembered the generators used and how the Wayang Pacak introduced them to the outside world and entertainment.

Malaysians of the older generation will also recall how the Information Department vans with speakers on their roofs and the information officers went around villages and small towns imparting messages. Bahtiar Adi, 56, recalled that back in his village in Sarawak the information officers did not dwell into politics or world issues, but were engrossed with daily routines, like the proper way to brush teeth and maintain cleanliness at home.

That is in Sarawak, in Kuala Kedah, the information officers went to the ground to persuade the people to use lavatories, instead of answering natures call anywhere they liked.

Aminah Taib, 80, recalled how she was thought by an information officer to mark the election ballot sheet properly.

"We were told not to cross the candidate that we did not like, but cross the candidate of our choice. That is why I never spoilt any votes.

"We were also taught how to identify mosquitoes that spread diseases through the posters in the community halls," she said reminiscing the visits by several information officers to her village of Rembau, in Negeri Sembilan.

The same grapevine communication approach played a crucial role in the war against communism from 1950s to 1970s.

National Security Council nerve war expert (1970-1993) Datuk Dr Wan Ismail Wan Mahmood said, "The nerve war is like hitting two birds with one stone that is winning the minds and hearts of the people and crippling all the enemy's efforts."

According to Dr Wan Ismail, among the approach taken was dropping flyers over the enemy lines.

These flyers carried news on the condition of the family members left behind by the communist or pictures of their family members who have departed to run down their spirits.

"We also conducted campaigns so that the people would despise the communist ideology and at the same time we tried to convince the communist members to surrender," he said.

The radio also proved effective due to its vast outreach in the rural areas. Subliminal messages were encrypted into the radio drama as was done in Kebun Pak Awang, a popular programme in those days.

When the Felda land scheme was being developed, the radio drama Fajar Di Bumi Permata was highly rated. And to cater for the town dwellers, a drama that dwells on bread and butter issues No 5, Persiaran Satu had a big following.

Before the advent of television, the mobile stage Pentarama not only helped to entertain people with songs, dances, sketches and music but also develop talents.

Among the big names to emerge from Pentarama is Jamal Abdillah, Salleh Yaakob, Mas Idayu and musicians like Jaffar Idris (Jari) Sham (Zurah) and Rosli Selasih.

Ceria Berinformasi was Pentarama's slogan in 1971 reflecting the changes in the concept and delivery of information for the society following the May 13 incident.

While the TV and radio line up their own programmes, the Pentarama has its own itinerary. Last year alone about 100 shows were held along with community activities like gotong royong, sports and leisure.

Due to the close links between the community and RTM through the radio and TV programmes, Kumpulan Pendengar and Penonton (K2P) was established that was later changed to K3P in 1989 after Utusan Malaysia joined.

The K3P was renamed Komuniti Bestari in 2004 to educate and empower people.

The villagers have been approached, viewers and listeners made into a family, but what about the younger generation?

To engage the younger generation, the Kelab Setia (Loyal Club) was established.

And with the present IT savvy generation, many of the Kelab Setia created their websites that serve as the interactive communication forum.

The website belonging to the Government Methodist Secondary school in Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, Sibu, has had almost 40,000 visitors since 2007.

The first information centre opened in Java St in Kuala Lumpur on October 20, 1945. It was the focal point for many to visit and read books, listen to the radio and view photo exhibitions. Some students came just to collect pamphlets and reference materials.

But now it is the cyber age, the Public Information Centre (PMR) has replaced the information center where one need not physically be present to access information because it can be accessed online from anywhere. Bernama