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Nadra the Movie
Will anyone be watching this piece of Singapore history when it comes out?
Maria Hertogh has been living in Holland since she left Singapore as a teenager.
CANNES: Deadly riots and the tension-filled true story of a teenage girl at the centre of conflict between East and West will soon be reenacted on the big screen in a movie that is to be partly shot in Singapore.
Co-produced by Singapore’s Monsoon Pictures Pte Ltd and Dutch film company IdtV, Nadra tells of 13-year-old Dutch girl Bertha (or Maria) Hertogh, aka Nadra binte Maarof, the focus of a 1950 custody battle that became an international political and religious struggle.
The two companies signed an agreement on Wednesday on the sidelines of the ongoing Cannes Film Festival to make the US$6.5 million ($10 million) movie, directed by Dutch film-maker Ben Sombogaart and co-produced by Monsoon Pictures managing director Christopher Chew along with IdtV’s Hanneke Niens and Anton Smit.
“Beyond being the story of a girl, it’s really a story about clashing cultures — Christian and Muslim — so it’s a very timely and relevant movie,” said Chew at the signing ceremony. “More importantly, it’s about people caught in the middle of a war between governments.”
Born in 1937 to a Dutch family in Indonesia, the real-life Hertogh was given up for adoption by her mother during World War II after her father’s capture by the Japanese.
Converted to Islam and given the name Nadra by her adoptive Malay mother, she drew attention at a sports meet eight years later and quickly made headlines around the world as “the Dutch girl raised as a Muslim in the jungles of Malaya”.
Her birth family’s subsequent battle to reclaim the girl in a Singapore court led to riots that left 18 people dead, around 200 injured and a rift between families and countries that would take decades to repair.
Despite the media attention the case drew at the time — and again in 1975 when a Dutch TV show reignited public interest — little was known about Hertogh herself or what had become of the “jungle girl” until the film’s Australian screenwriter, Sarah Lambert, tracked her down while researching the script.
“It was weird that with all the people who were looking for Bertha, when I went to Holland I found her within two phone calls,” Lambert said. “Until then, no one had ever really asked her what happened, what she wanted, how she felt.” The subject matter of the film, for which shooting will also be done in Malaysia and the Netherlands starting in the middle of next year, made it the ideal vehicle for the first co-production between Singapore and Holland, Chew said.
Not that film-goers should expect Nadra to reopen old wounds. “This isn’t a political film, let’s get that straight,” said Chew. “It’s set at a time when there were religious sensitivities, which there still are. We’re not focusing on politics and religion but at the same time you can’t run away from that.”
It may be a tale torn from the history books, but in Lambert’s view Nadra will still resonate with contemporary audiences.
“It’s about what happens to real people who get caught up in tense situations,” she said.
“When the press leaves, the ramifications of what happened continue.” - additional reporting by Valerie Tan - TODAY/fa