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Theatre

Almahdi Al-Haj Ibrahim (Nadiputra)

One of Singapore Malay theatre’s most important pioneers.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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The soul is the pulse of theatre. Without it, theatre is dead. When you create, your theatre must have soul and life. And you must also remember your audience because if they fail to get anything from theatre, then you have failed to engage them.

Almahdi Al-Haj Ibrahim, more popularly known as Nadiputra, is one of Singapore Malay theatre’s most important pioneers. For over five decades, he has made great impact on the Singapore Malay-language literary, theatre and entertainment scene with more than 300 works for radio, stage and television that explore moral, religious and social issues in Singapore. The playwright, actor, director, producer, television scriptwriter, voice-over artist and poet received the Malay Literature Prize in 1993. In 1986, Nadiputra received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to theatre in Singapore.

Despite never having studied theatre or scriptwriting formally, Almahdi Al-Haj Ibrahim a.k.a. Nadiputra had a natural gift for storytelling and a poetic sensibility from young. Born in Singapore in 1946 and the adopted son of a ship captain and a housewife, he enjoyed a carefree childhood growing up in a kampong in Jalan Omar Samad off Jalan Eunos and frequently watching Malay movies. Fascinated by how films were made, Nadiputra found his way to a film shoot at Shaw Studios at Jalan Ampas, and was taken by all he saw. He was a great fan of P. Ramlee movies, and was enchanted by their simple stories told with sincerity, poignancy and humour.

These same qualities would, decades later, be the trademarks of Nadiputra’s own scripts for television and theatre, qualities which the secondary school student’s peers and teachers had a glimpse of when they voted his first play Tercecer (The Dropout) the school’s Best Production in the school drama competition in 1962. His creative talent was further affirmed when his next play Malisa received the Malay Arts & Literary Association Award.

Since then, Nadiputra has remained committed to creative writing. Even while he worked as a customs officer from 1966 to 1982, he worked at his craft, honing his creative writing skills. He adopted the pen name “Nadiputra”, adapted from “Adiputra”, the wise guru of Malay folk hero Hang Tuah. Despite going by other pseudonyms such as “Esje Saha”, “Tun Temasik” and “Muhammad Zahir”, “Nadiputra”, has stayed with him the longest and remains his best-known stage identity.

Then in 1983, Nadiputra made the switch to full-time scriptwriting. He joined the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, and from 1983 till 2000, scripted numerous Malay television dramas including the popular series Sandiwara in the ’80s.

At the same time, he continued his work in theatre. He penned many plays, including the acclaimed Encong in 1985 about a father scorned by his overseas-educated daughter; 1987’s Puncak (The Peak) about a man seeking spiritual success; 1992’s Tali (Ropes) about the link between humanity and spiritualism; as well as the radical Masjid Bersalib (The Mosque with a Cross) and Jembalang Tanah (Spirits of the Earth). These were thought-provoking reflections on current social, moral and religious issues and they had such relevance and resonance with the times and with the Singapore Malay community that a loyal fanbase had taken root by the ’80s. In recognition of this, Puncak garnered awards such as the Anugerah Persuratan by Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 in 1993.

Nadiputra’s involvement in theatre extended beyond scriptwriting. From 1978 to 1988, he led the performing arts group Sriwana as its president. In 1975, he founded Singapore’s first Malay children’s drama group, the now-defunct Theatre Nadi, which in 1985 staged Cermin Ajaib (The Magic Mirror) in conjunction with the Young People's Theatre Festival. In 1996, he founded Theatre 2000, which went on to stage well-received works such as 2005’s Villa Singa, written and directed by Nadiputra, and 2011’s double bill of Culik (Kidnapped) and Satu (One), both written by Nadiputra.

Additionally, he delved into acting in the ’90s. He acted for the first time in 1993 in Singkap (Unveil), which was directed by Lut Ali and staged in conjunction with the Festival of Asian Performing Arts, and for the second time in 1999 in Laluan (Passage), produced by Sriwana and staged at the Singapore Arts Festival. He also lent his voice to Malay-language radio and television, doing voiceovers for television documentaries and commercials as well as being a voice actor for radio plays such as the popular Saham Benih on Warna 94.2FM in 2011.

Other diverse projects so far have included writing the script and composing the syair (quatrain) for the first Singapore-produced bangsawan (Malay dance opera) show Dendam Berahi (A Revenge of Passion) in 1998 featuring talents from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and a 2000 staging of the Malay-language version of Kuo Pao Kun’s The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole, for which he managed to persuade famous Malaysian movie actor Jins Shamsudin to act in. And in 2004, he scripted and directed the musical drama extravaganza Gentarasa 2004 for the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (MESRA).

In 1986, Nadiputra received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to theatre in Singapore.

Today, the dramatist with the long, varied and illustrious career runs his production house Nadivision as its managing director; helms Theatre 2000 in Tampines West Community Club; teaches drama at the Singapore Prison Services’ Performing Arts Centre for inmates; and conducts children’s workshops. He also writes a theatre column in Malay-language daily Berita Harian.

Ever passionate in his belief in theatre’s role in cultivating social responsibility, he recently delivered a lecture in May 2012 entitled Teater. Melayu dan Mesej Sosialnya (Malay Theatre and its Social Messages). In July 2012, he wrote, produced and directed Lorong Buangkok, a musical drama based on the last kampong in Singapore. In 2016, he directed Raden Mas: An Epic of a Princess, a bangsawan production presented by Sri Mamanda Bangswan Pte Ltd at Esplanade Theatre.

Timeline

1946

Born in Singapore

1956 to 1962

Attended Telok Kurau Primary School.

1959 to 1962

Attended Bartley Secondary School.

1962

Wrote, directed and produced his first Malay-language play Tercecer (The Dropout) while in Bartley Secondary School.

Received Malay Arts & Literary Association Award for Malisa.

1966 to 1982

Customs Officer, Singapore Customs.

1966 to 1989

Chairman and instructor, Malay Drama Workshop, National Theatre Club, Singapore.

1975

Founder and president, Theatre Nadi, Singapore’s first Malay children’s drama group.

1978 to 1988

President, Sri Warna.

1983 to 2000

Scriptwriter, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

1986

Received Cultural Medallion Award for contributions to theatre.

Wrote and directed Jefri and Maria, Singapore’s first Malay-language musical.

1990 to 2000

Member, Advisory Panel, The Substation.

1991 to Present

Vice-chairman, Malay Activities Executive Committee, Tampines West Community Club.

1992

Wrote Tali (Ropes).

1993

Received Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 Malay Literature Prize for Puncak.

1995

Wrote and directed Anak Bawean (Bawean Children).

2000

Founder, Theatre 2000.

1996 to Present

Drama instructor, Theatre 2000.

1998

Wrote Bos, a play presented by Teater Kami and commissioned by NTUC for its Labour Day celebrations.

Wrote and composed the syair for bangsawan production Dendam Berahi (A Revenge of Passion).

1999

Wrote, co-produced and directed Watan, a historical television drama series.

2000

Founder, Nadivision.

2000 to present

Managing director, Nadivision.

Theatre columnist, Berita Harian.

2001 to Present

Member, Arts Consultative Panel, Media Development Authority of Singapore.

2001

Member, Films Consultative Panel, Media Development Authority.

2001 to 2002

Consultant and instructor, Radio Televisyen Brunei.

Member, Panel of Judges, Radio Televisyen Brunei Annual Television Awards.

2004

Wrote and directed musical drama Gentarasa 2004, presented by People’s Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (MESRA).

2010 to 2012

Conductor, Children’s Speech and Drama Workshop, Junyuan Primary School.

Jan 2013

Wrote, co-produced and directed musical drama Lorong Buangkok.

Speaker, Singapore Writers Festival 2012.

2013

Actor, Oh! Bangau (The Egret), Era Dance Theatre, Esplanade Theatre.

2013

Conductor, Scriptwriting Workshop, Madrasah Al Irsyad, Bukit Panjang Government High School and Tanjong Katong Secondary School.

Jan 2016

Director, Raden Mas: An Epic of a Princess, a bangsawan, Sri Mamanda Bangswan Pte Ltd, Esplanade Theatre.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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