Tan Sri Datuk Amar Puteh Ramlee
(1929 – 1973)
There are three roads in Malaysia named Jalan P. Ramlee: one in the center of Kuala Lumpur, one in Kuching, Sarawak and one in Penang.
P. Ramlee was born on March 22 1929 as Teuku Zakaria bin Teuku Nyak Puteh in a house his father and uncle built at Caunter Hall Road, Penang. His father was a sailor from Lho’ Seumawe, Acheh, Indonesia, who came to Penang in 1925 and his mother was Che Mah binti Husein of Kubang Buaya, Butterworth. Caunter Hall Road was re-named Jalan P. Ramlee to honor one of Penang’s most iconic sons.
P. Ramlee was an accomplished and prolific film actor, director, singer, scriptwriter, composer and producer. Making use of that range of talents, in many of his works, he fills multiple roles. P. Ramlee was actor, director, writer, composer, and sang in (and these are just a sampling) these movies:
Bujang Lapok – 1957
Nujum Pak Belalang – 1959
Ali Baba Bujang Lapok “Celaka punya penyamum, … rosakkan ana punya program!” – 1961
Labu and Labi – 1962
As for schooling, P. Ramlee attended the Sekolah Melayu Kampung Jawa, the Francis Light English School and the Penang Free School. Reportedly he was a reluctant student but he excelled in music and football. His education at the Penang Free School was interrupted when World War II was introduced to Malaya.
He was then enrolled in the Japanese Navy School during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945) of Malaya and it was there he learnt the foundations of music and to sing Japanese songs. When World War II ended, he likely sang “Sayonara” with gusto numerous times (that’s my guess) but he did take up formal music lessons to enable him to read music.
During the Japanese Occupation, P. Ramlee played in his village band named Teruna Sekampung. Subsequently, he joined other bands among which were Mutiara and Rindu Malam.
In 1945, P. Ramlee participated in a singing contest organized by the Penang radio company. He beat many other contestants from North Malaya and won the third place. The following year, he placed second and was the champion the subsequent year. The year after no one dared to contest against the man (just kidding).
In 1948, P. Ramlee performed one of his original compositions, Azizah, at a cultural festival and was spotted by a talented talent scout, B.S. Rajhans, one of the pioneer directors of the Singapore film industry. P. Ramlee was invited by Rajhans to be a back-up singer for the Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Productions in Jalan Ampas in Singapore.
P. Ramlee quickly gained remarkable success not only as a singer (recording stint with Hemsley & Co. and sang with the HMV – His Master’s Voice – orchestra), but also as an actor, director, composer, screenplay writer and producer at the Shaw Brothers’. The studio’s incredibly experienced film crew, choreographers and directors from Hong Kong, India and Indonesia were the thermals for P. Ramlee’s wings.
P. Ramlee worked with renowned directors, Phani Majumdar and Rajan L. Krishnan. The movie “Anakku Sazali” which earned P. Ramlee the Best Actor award in 1956 was directed by Majumdar.
P. Ramlee the star had his big break to direct his own film in 1955. The first film he directed was “Penarik Beca”, in which he also had the key acting role. It was almost inevitable that “Penarik Beca” was voted the Best Malay Picture, won Best Director, Best Song and Best Actor in 1956 from the entertainment magazine, Majalah Filem dan Sukan.
Tragically, P. Ramlee’s was a shooting star; in 1963/64, at the height of his popularity and success, and already a household name in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia, the supporting talents of the Jalan Ampas studio was no longer available due to disputes over pay between the trade union and Shaw Brothers.
In 1964, when he was 35 years old, P. Ramlee relocated to the Shaw Brothers’ Merdeka Film Productions in Kuala Lumpur.
Market tastes of the late 60’s and early 70’s were changing and P. Ramlee’s body of work from the Merdeka Film Productions and subsequently his own P. Ramlee Productions were not recognized by the music industry and financial backers.
In his last years, the icon lost his money and his health. A story goes that “the great man died penniless, having given away the last of his money to a visitor to his house whom he felt needed the money more than him”.
P. Ramlee died without money at the age of 44 years, on May 29 1973, of a heart attack, but he did not leave the world poor – he left it enriched with his talents. I just had a good laugh watching P. Ramlee sing and Ali Baba dance on “Ali Baba Bujang Lapok” on YouTube.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar P. Ramlee lived a life of success, fulfilled his potential, gladdened many a heart during his lifetime and continues to gladden many a heart today.
P. Ramlee composed, wrote and sang a total of 390 songs; acted in 66 and directed 35 films.
P. Ramlee’s movies, theatre directions and television series:
1948 – Chinta
1949 – Nasib
1949 – Nilam
1950 – Bakti
1950 – Takdir Ilahi
1951 – Penghidupan
1951 – Sejoli
1951 – Juwita
1952 – Antara Senyum dan Tangis
1952 – Patah Hati
1953 – Siapa Salah
1953 – Hujan Panas
1954 – Panggilan Pulau
1955 – Sergeant Hassan
1956 – Semerah Padi
1956 – Penarik Beca
1956 – Panca Delima
1956 – Curse of the Oily Man
1956 – Anakku Sazali
1957 – The Legend of Hang Tuah
1957 – Bujang Lapok
1959 – Nujum Pak Belalang
1959 – Pendekar Bujang Lapok
1959 – Musang Berjanggut
1959 – Sultan Mahmood Mangkat di Julang (directed theatre production)
1960 – Antara Dua Darjat
1960 – Ali Baba Bujang Lapok
1961 – Seniman Bujang Lapok
1962 – Kachip Mas (directed theatre production)
1962 – Labu dan Labi
1962 – Ibu Mertuaku
1962 – Damaq (directed theatre production)
1963 – Hua Tuan Jin Cu
1963 – Nasib Si Labu Labi
1964 – Tiga Abdul
1964 – Madu Tiga
1965 – Dajal Suci
1965 – Masam-masam Manis
1966 – Do Re Mi
1967 – Keluarga 69
1968 – Ahmad Albab
1968 – Gerimis
1969 – 6 Jahanam
1969 – Bukan Salah Ibu Mengandung
1970 – Dr Rushdi
1970 – Di belakang Tabir
1970 – Gelora
1971 – Putus Sudah Kasih Sayang
1971 – Jangan Tinggal Daku
1971 – Intan (television series)
1972 – Laksamana Do Re Mi
1972 – Rantau Selamat (television series)
P. Ramlee’s awards:
- Best Male Actor for Anakku Sazali (1956) at the Forth Asian Film Festival, Tokyo
- Best Musical Score for Hang Tuah (1957) at the Third Southeast Asian Film Festival, Hong Kong
- Best Comedy Film for Pendekar Bujang Lapok (1959) at the Sixth Asian Film Festival, Kuala Lumpur
- Best Comedy Film for Nujum Pak Belalang (1960) at the Seventh Asian Film Festival, Tokyo
- Most Versatile Talent for Ibu Mertuaku (1963) at the Tenth Asian Film Festival, Tokyo
- Best Comedy Film for Madu Tiga (1964) at the Eleventh Asian Film Festival, Taipei
Places named in honor of P. Ramlee:
- Rumah Kelahiran P Ramlee – No 40A Caunter Hall (renamed Jalan P Ramlee on August 30, 1983) – P Ramlee was born in this house. The house was built by his father and uncle in 1926.
- Jalan P. Ramlee, Penang (formerly known as Caunter Hall; renamed on 30 August 1983).
- Jalan P. Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur (formerly known as Jalan Parry; renamed in 1982)
- Bangunan P. Ramlee and Bilik Mesyuarat Tan Sri P. Ramlee at Sekolah Kebangsaan Hulu Klang, Selangor (used as background in Masam Masam Manis)
- Jalan P. Ramlee, Kuching, Sarawak (formerly known as Jalan Jawa)
- Taman P. Ramlee (formerly Taman Furlong) a township at Setapak, Kuala Lumpur
- Taman P Ramlee at George Town, Penang
- Pawagam Mini P. Ramlee at Studio Merdeka, FINAS, Ulu Klang, Selangor
- Makmal P.Ramlee at Filem Negara Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor
- P. Ramlee Auditorium (formerly known as RTM Auditorium), Angkasapuri
- SK Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Georgetown, Penang (formerly known as SK Kampung Jawa, his alma mater; renamed on 13 November 2011)
- Ramlee Mall at Suria KLCC shopping center, Kuala Lumpur
Awards conferred on P. Ramlee:
- Darjah Yang Mulia Pangkuan Negara (Ahli Mangku Negara) – Awarded on September 1962.
- Darjah Yang Mulia Setia Mahkota Malaysia (Panglima Setia Mahkota Malaysia) – Awarded posthumously on 6 Jun 1990. It carries the title Tan Sri.
- Darjah Yang Amat Mulia Bintang Kenyalang Sarawak (Datuk Amar Bintang Kenyalang (Posthumous)) – Awarded posthumously on 2009. It carries that title Datuk Amar.
- P. Ramlee was posthumously granted the title Seniman Agung.