Islam and stardom in Malay cinema: from Ibu Mertuaku to Salam Cinta

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Perceived as promoting values associated with capitalism, such as individualism and consumerism, stardom often exists in opposition to the principles found at the core of many of the world’s main religions. But stardom also shares similarities with religion, as stars can become new, secular objects of worship, even being referred to as screen gods and goddesses. This paper explores the interactions between stardom and religion by focusing on the relationship of the figure of the star with Islam in the context of Malay cinema. It examines the representation of stardom in a number of “stardom films”—films about fame—each taken from a different historical period. The films analyzed in the article include Ibu Mertuaku (P. Ramlee, 1962), a classic film of the “golden age” of Malay cinema in which the celebrated actor P. Ramlee plays a famous musician, Layar Lara (Shuhaimi Baba, 1997), which contrasts the attitudes and motivations of actors of that period with those of the performers from earlier decades, and Salam Cinta (Azhari Mohd Zain, 2012), which could be called an “anti-stardom film,” as a star rejects his “sinful” life as a celebrity in order to embrace his true Muslim identity. Across the three films we see transformations in the desirability of fame, its possibilities and limitations for self-actualization, and its interactions with Malaya/ Malaysia’s shifting religious context, particularly in relation to the increasing Islamicisation of society that has taken place since the 1980s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-70
Number of pages18
JournalSituations Cultural Studies in the Asian Context
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Celebrity
  • Fame
  • Islam
  • Malay cinema
  • P
  • Ramlee
  • Religion
  • Shuhaimi Baba
  • Stardom

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