P. Ramlee (b. 22 March 1929, Penang- d.29 May 1973) was the quintessential Malay entertainer par excellence- actor, director, composer and singer. Despite being unschooled in music and the performing arts, Ramlee attained the heights of a legend, with an impressive track record of having acted in 65 films and sung 390 songs. Closely linked to the golden era of Malay movies, P. Ramlee is an icon in the Malay entertainment scene in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
P. Ramlee was born Teuku Zakaria bin Teuku Nyak Pute on 22 March 1929 in his grandmother's house at 40A Counter Hall in Penang, Malaysia. His father, Teuku Nyak Puteh, was a sailor from Lhokseumawe in Aceh, Indonesia. His Acehnese ancestry later led Ramlee to enjoy considerable fame in Indonesia. Ramlee also had a stepbrother, borne of his mother, Che Mah Hussein's previous marriage.
Ramlee studied in several schools, namely Kampung Jawa Malay School, Francis Light English School, the Japanese Navy School Kaigun Gakko during World War II, and Penang Free School. He was an active sportsman, excelling particularly in badminton, sepak takraw and football.
Ramlee did not receive formal training in the performing arts. Yet, he had an extremely impressive career, having acted in 65 films and directed 34 feature films.
In 1945, Ramlee entered a singing contest organised by Penang Radio for North Malaya and emerged third. He was the runner-up in the same contest held in 1946, and the winner in 1947. Ramlee's big break came when Tamil film director, B. S. Rajhans, spotted him on 1 June 1948 at a cultural festival where he sang his own composition, Azizah. Rajhans then invited Ramlee to be a back-up singer for the Malay Films Productions (a film studio set up by the Shaw Brothers at Jalan Ampas, Singapore, in 1947). Impressed with Ramlee, Rajhans cast him in a 1949 film, Nasib (Fate).
In 1955, Ramlee directed his first film, Penarek Becha (Trishaw Man). Ramlee acted in all the...
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