Umapagan Ampikaipakan strolls along eight of the city’s most prominent streets in his new TV show ‘Every Street Tells a Story’. We talk to the first-time TV host about his favourite KL street and memories of the city.
It can be difficult sometimes to gather information about our city’s history. How was the research process like for you and the team?
A lot of it was based on what we found in the book ‘Kuala Lumpur Street Names’ [by Mariana Isa and Maganjeet Kaur]. You can get a good sense of the origins of each street name from there, but of course, that’s not enough. You have to go out to those places, talk to the various shops that have been there for decades, and find out what stories they have, what oral histories they know about the area.
If you have to pick a favourite from all the streets featured in the show, which would it be and why?
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, because there’s a lot of personal history for me there. My dad had his very first clinic on that road. I used to visit him at the clinic and then my mum and I would go watch movies at the nearby Capital Theatre and Odeon.
The city has always been associated with food. Do you think the show can prove that we can move past the perception that KL is all about food?
Yes. Don’t get me wrong, the food thing is very important and in fact we should probably do more. We talk a lot about the food but we don’t brand it as well as Singapore does. I think the show does well to show that KL is also a city about its people; it tells the stories of these characters that you’re probably not going to encounter unless you put an effort into it, and it showcases the stories they have to tell. I mean, places, objects, buildings, they’re just things; they change. Even a street name, its history is only as powerful as the stories the people have to tell.
'KL isn’t a real place. KL is an artificial construct'
The show deals with a lot of historical facts that a lot of people may have forgotten or don’t even care about. Besides ‘Every Street Tells a Story’, how else can we educate the public about our city’s history?
People need to make an effort. You can put a lot of stuff out there on TV, radio, the internet. But unless people are making an effort, looking for it and are interested, it’s not going to get to them. When we write books and literature, the city needs to be prominently featured and made an integral part of the story; the city needs to be a character.
It’s a weird thing because I was in Chicago and there’s such a sense of patriotism towards the city. The people there are so proud and excited about their city and I don’t know what it is or where it comes from or what inspires it, but they’re very proud being a Chicagoan, it means something to them. We have it here too, like in Penang. Penang people are very proud of being Penangites. And Johor people, and Selangor people.
Basically everyone who’s not from KL?
But you know why that is, right? It’s because KL isn’t a real place. KL is an artificial construct. It’s a federal territory, it’s the capital, and it’s drawn out from within Selangor. KL doesn’t have that emotive resonance because the people aren’t necessarily from KL. Well there are some with this generation, but the previous generation have come in from all these different places.
Uma speaks to Cik Yun, a local villager about how the porridge is sold and distributed.
A lot of people know you from your radio show ‘At the Movies’. What local film do you think best represents KL?
That’s a tough one; you’d have to go back to P Ramlee movies, the old P Ramlee movies that were set in KL. [Tries to think of a movie]. Cannot lah. Even when you’re done making a film, as a filmmaker you can’t really show KL in all its glory can you? I mean ‘Polis Evo’ is a good example of showing another side of Kuala Terengganu – that was cool. ‘Lelaki Harapan Dunia’ was a great current contemporary movie showing kampung life, that was fantastic as well. But the heart of the city? I honestly can’t think of a movie, I really can’t.
You’ve been on radio for a while but this is your first time hosting a TV show. How was it like for you? Will you do it again?
It was a lot of fun, a completely new experience for me because I’ve never done it before. I think I would definitely do it again. On radio I have to do everything: find my own story, research, produce, edit and everything, which is a process I enjoy and that’s why I do it all the time. And hosting a TV show was both easier and harder. Easier because I didn’t have to do any of the grunt work, but harder because it was a completely new learning curve. On camera, everything needs to be amplified – you have to be more energetic, more smiley than usual and that was weird. Depending on what the show is, I would definitely do it again.
'Every Street Tells a Story’ premieres Sep 11, 10pm on the HISTORY Channel.