Overall, initially I would have given it a 9/10 but on second thought I’m giving it a 8/10 rating because it could’ve been better executed if the chess playing scene and sitting down in front Machiavelli portrait scene weren’t included. I honestly find it cheesy and overplaying with symbolism.
Daulat (first Malaysian political thriller) analysis and review *spoiler alert*
There were so many instances in this movie where they were quite parallel to Malaysia’s current political landscape. Using race and religion to appeal to the majority in the rural areas, corruption by one of the previous prime ministers, in-fighting within the ruling coalition, the existence of an Islamist party and the opposition’s plan to merge with them for their political gain, and the LGBT issue with the Women’s March back in 2019. Many of the sentiments expressed in the movie have some resemblance to past and current sentiments (Islamist party – Hisbul Muslimin Party being accused of being a Taliban, the discriminatory sentiments against non-Malays and non-Muslims) coming from both real-life Malaysian government and opposition party, but perhaps it was to give Malaysian viewers a relatable context while watching this movie. The disclaimer during the opening of this movie that said that this movie was purely fictional and any similarities were pure coincidental. Well, I couldn’t help but to point out the mention of the word ‘boskurr’ in the movie. This is an expression used by the ousted former prime minister Dato Sri Najib Razak to regain his popularity after the lost of Barisan Nasional. So, how could that be unintentional and a coincidence? I don’t buy that this movie is 100% fictional.
The main premise of the movie is ‘you cannot win in politics by being nice’ which is also the tag line of the poster of the movie. This echoes the Machiavellian approach to politics. Machiavelli was famous for his view in politics where being good or kind will not necessarily result in good governance or a good leader. It was expressed in his novel ‘The Prince’. and it has since been studied as a political theory. In the movie, nobody is seen as the good one. All of the characters have their own selfish agenda. One of the characters that have such an agenda is also the strategist in this movie, ‘Suri’ who was played by Vanidah Imran. She is the deputy president of the recently lost opposition party ‘MUNA’. As a politician, she gets her inspiration from Machiavelli’s suggestions on how to be an effective leader. Machiavelli did not discard the virtue of being good but he also said being evil is sometimes necessary when it comes to politics. The movie shows where she sits in front of a portrait of Machiavelli. It looks as if she was worshiping him. In my opinion, this scene is unnecessary because the movie itself is already an embodiment of Machiavellian politics. Her use of ‘Median Voters Theorem’ as a strategy to secure voters for the next election shows her strategist trait. That theory is used to assume that voters can place all alternatives along a one-dimensional political spectrum. Toward the end, she was able to trick the president of MUNA, Hassan who was played by Tony Eusoff to step down by black-mailing him. In order for the murder that he committed to not be exposed by the media, Suri bribed him to step down and she eventually became Malaysia’s first female prime minister. Throughout the movie, even as deputy president, she was never in the lime light. She never appeared on TV nor has she ever appeared in press conferences. She was at the background, but plotting everything so that she will become Malaysia’s first female prime minister. Her use of kebaya and old school curls throughout the movie probably depicts her urban Malay conservative background but so as to not make the character to look like a typical urban conservative Malay woman, her ambition, strategy, and vision balanced her overall trait as a female politician running a party that upholds conservative values but with a potential to be progressive. To analogize this with a car, Machiavellianism is the body of the car, while ‘Median Voter Theorem’ is one of the engines.
Apart from Machiavellian politics, personality politics is also a common approach in politics in order to attract voters. In the movie, the use of Melissa (played by Sangeeta Krishnasamy) as the leader of a new liberal party under MUNA – Ikatan Sosialis Malaysia, an Indian woman, to attract the median liberal (which is an idea that Suri derived from her analysis based on ‘Median Voter Theorem’) is one of the methods to convince those who are against the Malay and Muslim special treatment narrative. This creates a balanced representation of the interests of Malaysians. Personality politics seem to have played a role in the previous real-life political turmoil. Some people were rooting for Tun M, while there were also other groups of people who were rooting for Anwar to become Prime Minister. People may be rooting between the two of them but our democratic system is not able to cater to personality politics as it is parliamentary democracy, not presidential democracy system. This real-life instance showed how personality politics constitutes the political culture of Malaysia.
As an audience, I couldn’t help but view the movie to be something that epitomizes a direct reality and a distant ideal. The 80% parallel it has with Malaysia’s current political landscape is a direct reality while the distant ideal is where a female prime minister finally reigns. I think this is a stepping stone for Malaysian films. I have waited for so long for a movie that touches on serious issues, especially politics. Now that we have an online streaming service like iflix, movies that touch on such issues can now be viewed by the public without going through the censorship process by a state-owned censorship board.