P Ramlee

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P Ramlee in the 1960sP Ramlee in the 1960s. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

P Ramlee
P Ramlee (b. 22 March 1929, Malaysia – d. 29 May 1973, Malaysia) is considered one of the biggest icons of the Malay film industry during the golden era of cinema in Singapore and Malaysia. The multi-talented entertainment extraordinaire first made his mark in Singapore and excelled in his career as an actor, singer, songwriter and director. P Ramlee was also highly popular in the region (Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia), and was recognised for his craft at several Asian Film Festival awards.
P Ramlee in the 1960sP Ramlee in the 1960s. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

Early Years
P Ramlee was born on 22 March 1929 in Penang, Malaysia. His father was a sailor from Aceh, Indonesia, and his Acehnese ancestry would later contribute to his considerable popularity in Indonesia. Despite never receiving formal music training, Ramlee developed a keen interest in songwriting and singing. In 1945, he entered a singing competition organised by Penang Radio for North Malaya and emerged third. He was the runner-up and winner in the consecutive years.

At a cultural festival in 1948 where Ramlee performed Azizah, his original composition, he was talented scouted by B. S. Rajhans, who was considered one of the pioneer directors in Singapore film history. Rajhans invited Ramlee to be a back-up singer for the Malay Film Productions (Shaw Brothers’ Malay production arm). Ramlee was known to be hardworking and even chipped in with various roles in the production, including that of an assistant camera operator.

Careers & Accomplishments
Rajhans recognised Ramlee’s potential and cast him in a 1949 film, Nasib. He also became one of the earliest actors to sing in their own voice in the firm Bakti in 1950. He would become a widely popular actor in Singapore and Malaysia. In 1954, Ramlee decided to move to join Merdeka Film Productions in Kuala Lumpur. In the following year, he directed his first feature film, Penarek Becha. The film was considered to be one of the top Malay films of the golden era of cinema. It showcased his flair in fleshing out a storyline through both acting and directing.

Ramlee also composed, wrote and sang a total of 390 songs. He is well known for his musical versatility and is well versed across genres ranging from jazz to joget. He directed many films, and even went on to direct stage plays and radio dramas. His final film was Laksamana Do Re Mi, which was released in 1972.

The Golden Voice of Tan Sri P. RamleeTitled the Golden Voice of Tan Sri P. Ramlee, this is a laser disc of P Ramlee’s famous songs. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)

As recognition of his multiple talents, Ramlee has won several awards for different roles at the Asian Film Festivals over the years. His accolades included the Best Musical Score for Hang Tuah, Best Male Actor for Anak-ku Sazali, Best Comedy Film for Nujum Pak Belalang, Most Versatile Talent for Ibu Mertau Ku, and Best Comedy Film for Madu Tiga.

Later Years
Ramlee passed away of a heart attack on 29 May 1973 at 44 years old. He left behind a lasting legacy and influence on Malay popular culture. His films continued to be enjoyed on television, while his films and music continued to be adopted and reinterpreted by succeeding generations. He was honoured for his contributions to the entertainment industry in Malaysia. Many streets were renamed in his honour, such as Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan P. Ramlee in 1982. A P. Ramlee Memorial was also set up in Setapak in 1986. In the early 1990s, he was posthumously awarded the honorific title of Tan Sri.