Media The Sun Daily 24 Mar 2016

Giving voice to autism


Director Tunku Mona Riza is drawn to capture the emotional toll of dealing with this disorder in her family drama, ‘Redha’.


A scene from ‘Redha’ featuring (from left) Namron, Remy Ishak and Harith Haziq.


A scene from ‘Redha’ featuring Harith Haziq and June Lojong.


A scene from ‘Redha’ featuring June Lojong and Namron.


A scene from ‘Redha’ featuring Nadiya Nisaa.

THE challenge of raising a child with autism is the main focus of the film, Redha, which opens in cinemas on April 14.

The film focuses on six-year-old Danial, who is diagnosed with autism, and the difficulties his family faces trying to reach him and raise him in a world that does not understand him.

Produced by Current Pictures Sdn Bhd at a budget of RM3.5 million, Redha is director Tunku Mona Riza’s first feature film. The 49-year-old mother of two teenagers had previously directed commercials and ­­telemovies.

Mona first encountered an ­autistic child 20 years ago, when she went to a close friend’s house-warming party and was ­introduced to his five-year-old daughter.

The little girl was aloof and completely ignored her. It was then that her friend told her that his daughter had autism and that she should not take offence to the child’s “unfriendliness”.

Mona says: “I did not know what autism was all about then, so I did not ask my friend to explain.”
In 2012, she was searching for ­material for her next telemovie and decided to focus on the subject of autism.

She contacted her friend and they had a heart-to-heart talk about his daughter and her condition. Her friend also introduced her to other parents raising children with autism.

The more she talked to them, the more she was convinced the subject would be best depicted as a feature film rather than a telemovie.

“With a feature film, you can reach a bigger audience than a telemovie,” she says.

“I want Redha to be a movie that represents the voice of families with autistic children, and what they have gone through to bring them up.

“Almost all the scenes in Redha are based on true experiences.”

However, she adds that her movie will not play like a ­documentary on autism.

“I just want to pique the audiences’ interest to find out more about autism on their own accord.”
Redha features two child actors in the role of Danial. Harith Haziq plays the six-year-old Danial for most of the film, while Izzy Reef plays a 13-year-old Danial later in the film.

“I was very impressed with their auditions,” she says. “They were not shy.”

Most of the conflict in the film comes from ­Danial’s father Razlan (played by actor Namron), who is devastated to learn that his son has autism, causing him to become distant from the child.

The 47-year-old Namron, whose real name is ­Shahili Abdan, says: “As an actor, I always want to use my talent to change society for the better. I am glad to say Redha is ­giving me the chance to do that.

“The movie not only entertains you but also creates awareness about autism. It tells you that no child should be discriminated against. All children deserve to be loved and cared for.”

Being a father of two young daughters helped him play Razlan more convincingly.

“I could relate to the emotions that Razlan is going through [as a father],” he adds.

The role also presented other ­challenges. Some of the major scenes in Redha take place on a beach in Terengganu’s Redang Island.

Because some scenes called for his character to swim, Namron had to take ­swimming lessons before ­shooting began.

The actor is also joined by his wife, June Lojong, in the film as his onscreen wife Alina.
Namron had to act out some ­tender scenes with June.

He recalls: “Initially, I felt awkward doing all the romantic scenes with my wife in front of the camera and the crew.”

With time, he learned to put aside his embarrassment, and enacted the romantic scenes with June professionally as an actor rather than as her husband.

Another key player in Redha is Nadiya Nisaa, 31, who plays Danial’s aunt Sasha. She is one of the few people who loves and cares for Danial without any prejudice.

Nadiya is impressed with the amount of research Mona has done on autism before ­the start of the shoot.
“She is passionate about this subject and if you watch the film, you can see her sincerity shine through,” says Nadiya, herself a mother of a five-year-old son, and who is also expecting her second child.

“Before shooting the film, I had zero knowledge of autism. Now, it is a totally different story. I am sure the audience will go through the same emotions that I am ­going through.”

Mona also made ­arrangement for Nadiya to meet with several parents with autistic children, which helped her get into the character of Sasha.

“I really admire these parents,” she says. “It takes so much grace and patience to love their kids.”