Malaysia's first gay romance movie opens with playful scenes of a bare-chested male couple massaging each other on a beach at
night — but their euphoria soon evaporates in a story that seeks to placate both conservative government censors and contemporary audiences hungry for edgy material.
Dalam Botol , or In A Bottle , is a Malay-language film about a man who gets a sex change operation because he thought it would satisfy his male lover, but ends up regretting it.
The film earned applause from movie bloggers invited to its first public screening, three months before its scheduled nationwide release.
Even five years ago, we wouldn't have been able to make it, Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman, the film's producer and writer, said after the screening: I'm glad that at this time, at this moment, we can show it.
Censors now say depictions of homosexuality like those in Dalam Botol are no longer barred — as long as being gay isn't condoned.
If the movie had tried to glamorize the lifestyle of a gay person, it would be against our current standard guidelines, censorship board chief Mohamad Hussain Shafie told The Associated Press this week: But the character repents in the
end. We can say it is in line with our social values.
But the film takes few risks — its heterosexual male leads never kiss. The most explicit acknowledgment that the characters have sex is when one gets out of bed in his underwear while the other sleeps, presumably naked, beneath a blanket.
Nevertheless, there are raw, poignant scenes that capture the realities of being gay in a country where homosexuality is effectively outlawed.
In Dalam Botol, the main character is wracked with remorse after his operation prompts his partner to abandon him.
It's not an anti-gay movie. I believe it's not wrong to be gay, but it's wrong to have a sex change, Raja Azmi said.
Some gay men have mixed feelings about the film. I want to see gay characters in local movies, but it's wrong to make it seem like we're all so tragic and depressed, said a 30-year-old financial analyst who asked to be identified only as
Mark. Of course, I hope that someday, our society will be open enough to have a Malaysian movie about two gay men who meet, fall in love and live happily ever after.
The film — which has been approved for a February 2011 release to audiences older than 18 — was carefully vetted by censors from the start. Raja Azmi submitted her script to the board before filming it. She was told to change the
original title — Anu Dalam Botol, or Penis in a Bottle — and remove an intimate bedroom conversation between the male characters.