"Make sure you spell my name as Imuda, not Ipmuda...I am not yet a public-listed company, only a public figure!" he grinned engagingly. Ipmuda, oops, Imuda is 37 but hardly looks more than 30. In real life, he is quiet, reserved even and certainly did not dance on our table. "I don't do crazy things in real life," he hastened to add. "Some people think I behave and act like the comic characters I portray on television or in movies but I am not like that at all. I am rather low-key. Even my own wife comments it is unusual I am so unlike the colourful, zany, off-beat characters I am always associated with."

In T-shirt and jeans, the bespectacled Imuda could easily pass as another man in the street. The only give-away is his familiar, carefree swagger. "Waa, fashion-kau," he remarked, staring in amusement at my newly-acquired woollen tie bought in Paris.

Born in Bukit Mertajam, Imuda stayed there until Form 5 when he moved to Penang some 8 kilometres away. "All my life I wanted to be an artist. I could always draw quite well, even as a child. In Standard Six, I could already draw cartoons. I drew cartoon strips like those I saw in comic books for my own private amusement. My friends were already my peminat (fans) and sometimes I would do a short series of cartoon figures and depict their adventures."

A
s early as four years of age, he was already fascinated by cinema posters. He was always pestering his parents to take him to the movies but then ended up paying more attention to the posters in the lobby than in the film! His mind was made up from young. "All I wanted to do was to draw, so in Penang I worked for United Books Company, quite a well-known firm. I was an illustrator doing illustrations in children's magazines such as 'Dunia Murid-Murid' as well as a proof-reader. I stayed on for 2 years until 1973 when I left to work in a sugar factory in Prai as a labourer."

I pointed out such physically taxing manual labour would not have been too conducive to his artistic aspirations. "It was for the money! As illustrator I was paid only RM110 a month -- how to survive? As a labourer I was paid RM15 a day, so much higher but kerja teruk (tough work)."

Just as one cannot survive on fresh air and love alone, one also cannot resist one true's vocation. The urge to put pen to drawing paper proved irresistible. In 1978 he applied and got a job as assistant artist with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur. "My job was only that of Assistant Artist, not even that of Artist!" he chuckled. "I was promoted to Artist only in 1980!"

Imuda's foray into acting happened at his workplace. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka had a theatre group as part of their recreational facilities so Imuda enrolled for acting classes. "That was the beginning of my acting. I didn't plan for an acting career. I acted for fun, mainly following my friends, as I was busy illustrating children's books, drawing cartoons and doing pictures for educational books."

His initial attempts certainly pre-empted any glamorous notions of being a star feted with confetti. "All I did was cuci lantai (scrub floors) or help move the furniture on the set! I was involved behind the scenes and thought that was the beginning and end of my 'acting' career -- until I was chosen to act in a play called Mayat (Corpse)".

Even then it was just about the most inauspicious start possible -- he was asked to be a corspe! "It seems comical today but back then, I was not at all amused! I refused point-blank as I wanted some dialogue and argued there wasn't much hope in that as corpse! So I finally found got a small speaking part. I almost regretted it as I found it difficult to act and remember my lines. Rehearsals took a whole month. I played the role of Sahabat Tiga (Three Friends).

"I trembled the first time I went on stage before an audience. I was so nervous I forgot my lines once or twice and my clothes were soaked in perspiration! The director scolded me soundly and told me to improve for the second night. I didn't sleep that night, I tell you, rehearsing and memorising my lines in my bedroom. The second night I remembered all my lines and on the third and last night, everyone remarked how well I acted! Mayat was quite well-received and we even went on to perform in Sabah and Sarawak, which was a big deal for me."

In the early 80s, Drama Minggu Ini (This Week's Drama) was the most watched local series and Imuda got his first break here. "RTM asked me to appear in Bahtera (Ship). No, I wasn't asked to be the ship as it was not surreal play! I was only an extra, paid RM50, but I was happy, more so when they asked me to act in more dramas based on my initial performance. My roles got bigger and so did my pay -- RM100. I couldn't believe my luck when I was paid RM600 for my part in the movie Mekanik and that was for just 4 days of shooting! And in colour too! Drama Minggu Ini was black and white!"

In late 1983 he got an even bigger break that was to take him to stellar heights. He was offered the fateful role of 'Budin' in Syy which was conceptualised by Hatta Khan. 'Syy' was the forerunner of 'Pimai-pimai Tang Tu' which has been running these last 14 years with Imuda permanently entrenched as Budin. "I was Budin from day one, from the time Syy was performed at the old Dewan Banadaraya which was later burned down, to the time when it became a TV series. Pimai-pimai Tang Tu means 'going here, there, everywhere, yet nothing gets done'! It is about the inhabitants of a squatter house battling DBKL which wants to turn their area into a rubbish dump. The irony is that there village is called Sri Wangi -- Fragrant Village!"

H
afsham, the director came to see Syy and thought it would make a good sitcom. So he proposed the idea and offered to take in the entire cast as it were! It was the first for TV in 1984 and was slotted in RTM's Drama Swasta (Private Sector Drama). In less than a year, it went to TV3 as 'Kampung Sri Wangi' before transmutting into 'Pimai-pimai Tang Tu'.

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