A forgotten station: a social condition. Once grand, the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station now fades away in the eyes of Singaporean society. But it remains significant to a ‘community’ of diverse individuals, linked by a common fact that their life stories would each be incomplete without the existence of the Station, and also by their shared desire to preserve their own ways of life in this shared space between Singapore and Malaysia. Platform 1932 is a visual journey that unravels the issues of time and progression, pride and acceptance, modernization and legacy through the medley of individual stories. These interwoven memories tell how the station has managed to survive modernization, and more critically, continue to play an understated role in the relationship between two countries.
The SMFS team of journalists managed to attend our monthly dose of local films earlier in March, with First Takes at The Substation. Last month, we had the honour of having two short films directed by our fellow Malay filmmakers screened – Uncleboy by Jannah Monjiat and Platform 1932 by Nawwar Syahirah.
Watching Platform 1932, one can definitely say it brings back memories, be it good or bad ones. The nostalgic feel to the 24-minute documentary is one of the factors that makes it a must-watch for all. “Nostalgia was one of elements I wanted to include in Platform 1932 because I use to take the train from the Tanjong Pagar station to balik kampung (go back to the village).” As an audience, I could definitely sense the love Nawwar had for this station.
Being one of the many Singaporeans who are ignorant of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, I was intrigued by the many sights and sounds of the old dame that were captured by the documentary. The only part of the train station that I used to frequent with my dad was the food stalls. Considering that the food at the old dame is one of the reasons patrons frequent the railway station, a few of the audience at The Substation asked Nawwar why the hawker stalls are not the main focus of her documenary. “I wanted to shift the focus of the station. The food there is already popular, why focus on the food when the essence of the station is its people and the train itself?”
Another reason Platform 1932 stands out from other documentaries is the portrayal of the people who make the station come alive as well as the extensive research done. Among my favourite interviewees are the KTM Fan Club boys, Haziq and Saiful. These young men find it interesting to explore the tracks and the railway as the antique technology gives them a breath of fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Seriously though, I never knew the existence of the KTM Fan Club in Singapore! I thought it was merely a Facebook group that wants to relive nostalgia, but they truly have their own website.
Hearing stories from the railway operators opened my eyes further. The ‘old-schoolness’ of the way things are operated changed my perspective on the evolution of technology. While Singaporeans are unhappy with the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and its lack of space, others are pretty much with the KTM train. Sure, the MRT is fast and practical for a small country like Singapore, but we need to understand why bigger countries like our neighbour uses the train. It may be slow, but the comfort is far from the packed bullet train where even seats are limited.
After watching Platform 1932, I question my ability to make documentaries. It may look easy, but the road gets tough along the way. When asked what was the hardest part of producing Platform 1932, Nawwar said, “Extensive research takes a good amount of time and the audio-visual script will always change along the way.” Looks like I have a long way to go, eh?
Catch the next First Take: April Edition here.
Platform 1932 was Nawwar’s final-year project for NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication.
Photos credit to Nawwar Syahirah.