Review: Hail Driver! // Prebet Sapu (2020)

Newlywed couple Muzzamer Rahman & Bebbra Mailin’s debut film together Hail, Driver! (Prebet Sapu) tells the tale of Aman (played by Amerul Affendi), a man who after the demise of his father decides to become an illegal e-hailing service driver in the city of Kuala Lumpur. Through this occupation, Aman meets various characters that make up the city’s society and eventually forms a friendship with one of his passengers, a young student moonlighting as an escort, named Bella (played by Mei Fen Lim). The entire film is presented in black & white, possibly to give the audience the same perspective as the main character who is colour blind. 

Though simplistic in style, the film presents different ideologies in layers which require some unpacking after a viewing. However, even with so many messages embedded into one feature, the film still manages to be subtle & concise with its messaging, most prominently with it’s idea of classism. Even with a heavy use of dialogue, the lines are contemplative and casual rather than preachy, giving the film an even more real world feel. Many a conversation is had between Aman and Bella, who despite having several differences between them such as race, background (Aman is from Pahang whereas Bella is from Penang) and gender, manage to find themselves in the common boat of being two ‘outsiders’ trying to make a living in the big city. 

Aman and Bella first discuss this in a scene where they’re both at a bridge, debating where they stand in the hierarchy of the city. Do they belong because they are Malaysian? Or are they foreigners and tourists because they are not originally from Kuala Lumpur? Juxtaposed with Aman’s e-hailing experiences with immigrant workers and the conversations he has with them, the film subtly showcases a classist Kuala Lumpur society, where equal opportunities are non-existent and pure hustling isn’t enough to help one get by. This is further drummed in with the running commentary in the background of the film of an upcoming election and how the ruling party is predicted to snag a win yet again, overlaid with scenes of Aman trying to find ways to get e-hailing rides. Poignantly, he remarks to Bella when they discuss the election that it doesn’t really matter who wins, because everything is going to stay the same, which is a nod to the class gap that exists between the haves and have nots in Kuala Lumpur. 

As an illegal e-hailing driver, Aman is also met with different reactions from different customers. Bella herself in the beginning points out that his car cannot actually be used for ride sharing, but then doesn’t proceed to mention it again. Later on in the film, Aman goes to pick up two women who are presumably urban KLites, who go off on him about their rights to have the car they ordered pick them up and then proceed to report him without listening to his explanation. When Aman gets banned from the e-hailing app, he goes to the airport and successfully hustles two immigrants who are fresh off their flight which asserts his position in the class hierarchy - a local Malay man being of a higher position than new immigrants. These nuggets of ideology are displayed so subtly throughout the film that they don’t stick out as lessons to be contemplated, but come off as observations that invoke feelings and reactions instead. 

Though unintentional, Hail, Driver! has premiered at a very fitting time. While some are struggling to make ends meet in this pandemic, others are still flourishing and reaping in riches, unaware of the realities of lost jobs and abject poverty. The context of which Hail, Driver! has been released into amplifies the themes in the film, giving it considerable weight for a simple feature that it is. All in all, the film is a testament to human survival in difficult times, as well as to finding genuine connections & commonalities in the unlikeliest places. 

Review by Sheril A Bustaman

Hail, Driver! has screened at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival (JAFF) as well as the Far East Film Festival 23 in Italy. It has been approved by the Malaysian Censorship Board and is awaiting a Malaysian premiere date. Watch the trailer here.

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