Saturday, June 12, 2004

Filmmaker caves in

Feeling pressured, the filmmaker who planned to make a movie featuring lookalikes of the Thai prime minister's family with a boy with Down's Syndrome standing in for the prime minister's son, has decided to change his concept, according to this story, which follows up on earlier developments.

Instead, the role, played by Sayan, a popular comedian with Down's syndrome, will become a nephew.

The move came after the film's director was questioned by police, and a TV production company banned its cast of lookalikes from participating in the film unless it were changed.

The name of the family in the film will be Raksin. The name of the Thai prime minister is Thaksin.

The production company, Khon Thai Entertainment Co, which owns the Joke Council program on the Thaksin-owned iTV channel, agreed to allow its seven politician look-alikes to perform in the movie following the changes in the script.

The director said he did not intend to ridicule or satire Thaksin's son, whose nickname is Oak.
"I simply wanted Sayan to have development in his acting," Somjai said. "If I had wanted to ridicule the prime minister's family, I would have had Oakark's role taken by someone who resembled Oak."

For his part, the prime minister said yesterday that no one had ordered the Special Branch police to question Somjai. Thaksin said he himself was not serious about the movie. "Even my son laughed when learning about it," Thaksin said.

"But I am in this position on behalf of the entire country. If I am made fun of, the country may also look funny. Think about it."

Lt-Colonel Jirapong Jitthampong, deputy commander of Special Branch Police's Division 5, said he went to interrogate Somjai about the movie after learning from news reports that the movie could damage the image of the prime minister's family. "I was simply carrying out my responsibility with no one ordering me to do so," he said.

Here's more about the Down's syndrome guy:

Amid the uproar over authorities' reactions to a planned comedy that pokes fun at the prime minister's family, the man at the centre of the controversy, a subject of curiosity, sympathy and in some ways, inadvertent prejudice, couldn't care less.

In fact, 40-year-old Sayan wasn't even aware that a plan to make him star as a character based on Thaksin Shinawatra's son in the movie Yodchai Nai Oakark (Oakark the Great Guy).

Perhaps the good thing about having Down's Syndrome is a lack of bitterness, even if state authorities prevent you from making a living out of an uncovered talent for comedy. And you are not let down when you turn your handicap into an asset that inspires others, only to still be treated with disdain by senior people in the country.

"He wasn't quite aware that he was becoming the movie's main star," said Kanokwan Buranont, an actress who is the wife of the film's director, Somjai Sukjai. "When we told him he would be a film star, he just nodded and murmured 'Yeah, yeah'."

Having an IQ equivalent to that of an eight-year-old child, he has been earning 15,000 baht a month as a cafe comedian, thanks to Somjai's discovery of his unconscious ability to make people laugh.

Before being picked up for adoption by Somjai, Sayan was a source of laughter in his small neighbourhood.

"He just had a hilarious character," recalled Kanokwan. "He made neighbours laugh."

Despite criticism that he was exploiting a mentally handicapped man, Somjai trained Sayan and made him a permanent member of his team. The efforts paid off and Sayan became a household name and a familiar TV personality. He has been given minor roles in TV dramas and movies.

While one director hopes to satirize the prime minister, another hopes to make a TV docudrama glorifying the life story of Thaksin, this story says.

Grammy Group plans is planning the drama series made from his biography, Ta Du Dao, Thao Tid Din (Aiming for the Stars with Feet on Earth). The series will have about 15 to 20 episodes and carry the same title as the book, Saithip Montreekul, managing director of GMM Media Co, told The Nation.

Saithip said the drama would be based on Thaksin's life, so production and scriptwriting would have to be "careful". She said when the script was ready she would give it to Thaksin for his consideration.

Back to the satire. The controversy has created an outcry from comedy directors, saying the interference had "driven the country back to the dark ages". Here's more:

Thep Pho-ngarm, a veteran comedian and director, said those who interfered in the film were themselves "not different from retarded people".

Thep said the change of the script prompted Somjai to re-shoot the film after the shooting was 80 per cent completed.

"Imagine how much damage has been done and who will be responsible. If they are not producers or directors, they won't know about procedures in film-making. But they still interfere in it so they are not different from mentally-retarded people," he said.

"They are like dinosaurs."

Note Chernyim, another comedian and director, said it was too bad the script was changed because it would take the fun out of the movie.

"Der [Somjai's nickname] only wanted to make a comedy, to make people laugh. He did not satirise or make fun of the prime minister. His actor simply looks like the prime minister," Note said.

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