'So, We Meet Again': An Interview with Umie Aida on Dukun

Looking regal in a hijab over a grey robe, actress Datin Seri Umie Aida knows how to make her presence felt. And not just with what she wears but how she carries herself. It's something about the piercing look she gives with her eyes. Mystery seems to be her trademark and there is no doubt a mysterious air about her as much as about Diana Dahlan, the murderous bomoh character she plays in Dukun.

Dukun, if you don't already know is a 11 year-old film that was banned in Malaysia the moment it was about to be released. Many sources cited its macabre portrayal of murder and some said the relatives of Mona Fandey, whom the movie is inspired by, found the movie too insensitive. The real reasons of the ban were never known but the fact is, with the ban lifted and cinemas giving the film a new lease of life, ticket sales have been soaring. Within four days of its release in Malaysia and Brunei, the film raked in RM$6.2 million in box office sales.

Diana Dahlan is undergoing trials for allegedly murdering a prominent businessman and she meets lawyer Karim whose daughter has gone missing and is looking for help. Through an exchange of favours, they cross paths and connect. The movie traces her illustrious journey to the gallows, depicting various facets of Diana, from the seductive to the vulnerable to the outright monstrous. And actress Umie has filled these shoes well. A snake had a lot to do with her convincing take on this Mona Fandey-inspired character. SINdie had the privilege of chatting with Umie when she was here in Singapore over the weekend. Here is the interview.

Datin Seri Umie Aida at the interview with Jeremy Sing from SINdie

When you prepared for the role, did you get in touch with the actual people involved in the case?

For the character I didn’t reference any people. Instead I referenced a snake. I spent time, two months in fact, with a snake, to study its gestures, its movements. Day and night, I brought it with me. Even to the rehearsals! So it became my friend and whatever I did, I did it with the  characteristics of a snake.

Is that the direction from Dain?

No, I developed the character myself.

Why did you model it after a snake?

Because the snake’s character is one of mystery. Of course, snakes also creep people out and scare a lot of people. Snakes have unique characteristics and they suit the personality of Diana Dahlan. I cannot think of any other suitable animals for the character. Diana Dahlan is like a snake.

Where did you get the snake from? Does it belong to your friend?

I bought the snake from a pet shop. I’m actually scared of snakes. I’m creeped out by them but for the sake of the character in Dukun, I just bought it and tried my level best to be at peace with the snake, play with the snake and be its friend for two months.

Did it bite?

No, it didn’t bite. I’m the one that bites it. (laughs)

How did you know if it will be safe?

It’s an animal. It’s a snake. Even if people say it’s safe, you never know. Anything can happen right? I just trust the snake and the snake trusts me, so we became good friends. It was my BFF for two months. It was nice to me, and I was nice to it, so nothing happened.

Did the director try to give you references for Diana's character?

Not really. The snake was my reference. I just needed the snake. I don’t need a third party. The snake was everything for Diana Dahlan.

I read about that spooky incident you encountered in the cell in which you were gasping for breath. Any other interesting incidents?

The execution room. There was a shot needed there and when the director came, he saw and felt ‘something'. It was the actual room where executions took place. So he cancelled the shot. And when I went in, I felt something my instincts say ‘no, we can’t shoot this hanging scene here.’ There was something that was not good in there.

How about the scene in which you were doing black magic in front of a body?

At that particular moment, that’s not me (Umie) la. That’s why I can do that. Looking back, I’m like, how did I do this and that? It’s not me. ThatS crazy.

There was also a scene of you contorting your body?

For that scene alone, we shot about 8 hours.


Because at the time there was no CGI, so my sister and I laid down together to get that moment. In order to extend my legs, we need a second body. So my sister was lying below and I was sitting on top of her.

When you first knew the movie was going to be banned right after you completed it, how did you feel?

I had no feelings. I became quite numb. And even when I heard it was coming out again. I did not feel any huge emotions. Maybe it's because I already faced disappointment at the start. Now that it’s out, I’m just going with the flow, not expecting anything. Honestly, my feeling is gone.

Over the last 10 years, did anyone try to revive the film?

No one.

Why is that so?

Maybe we were just too tired and wanted to move on. So no more Dukun.

But the box office sales are great. Congratulations!
When you watched the film again. How do you feel watching yourself perform?

That woman is crazy. (laughs) Seriously, that woman is crazy. That's not me anymore.

Do you feel scared watching the movie?

Ya. That character, that crazy woman.

How would you say your life or career as an actress has changed between now and then when you were doing Dukun?

Prior to Dukun, I did get good and heavy roles and people did show some appreciation in my acting. However, after Dukun, I felt people appreciated my acting at a whole new level. It was good. I hear some people saw it as a master class in acting.

What were some of the feedback you got from the Malaysian audience since it opened?

I think this movie has succeeded in bringing all sorts of groups and races together to watch the film. This has rarely happened to me in my entire career, to see audiences of different races being able to appreciate and enjoy the film equally. I also see more appreciation for local talent from the audience.

 Photo of Dukun's gala premiere in Kuala Lumpur 
Photo credits: Miera Zulyana, for Malay Mail Online 

Dukun is out in cinemas in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Catch it now!

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