At last, the long-awaited shooting of ‘Rajah’, a Hollywood production based on Sir James Brooke, Sarawak’s first white Rajah, will begin soon.

Based on a report in StarLifestyle, the film shooting begins tomorrow (Sept 24) and is estimated to finish at the end of October.

The film is directed by Michael Haussman, an award-winning music director well-known for his work with the likes of Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez.

‘Rajah’ producer told StarLifestyle that they had taken over the whole Borneo 744 complex in Kuching for their workshops, production offices and sound stages.

The film has the support of the Sarawak Tourism Board and the Film in Malaysia Incentive’s rebate on Qualifying Malaysian Production Expenditure. The Brooke Heritage Trust is the film’s technical advisor.

Sir James Brooke will be played by Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is best known for his roles in movies such as ‘The Tudors and Vikings’, ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ ‘Match Point’ and ‘Mission: Impossible III’.

Three Malaysian actors — Bront Palarae, Shaheizy Sam and Rahim Razali — will play major roles in the film.

It is learnt that Bront will play Pengiran Indera Mahkota who was Brooke’s principal rival for power; Shaheizy will play Subu, Brooke’s lifetime Malay companion, while Rahim will play the Sultan of Brunei.

It has been revealed that the film will also feature two Sarawakian actors, Peter John and Kahar Jimi. Many of us may not have heard of these two but we will definitely know more about them after the film is made.

There will be Indonesian actors in the cast and they include Atiquah Hasiholan (who will play Fatimah, Brooke’s love interest), Yusuf Mahardika and Samo Rafael.

Hong Kong actress Josie Ho will play Brooke’s former lover, Madame Lim, while English actor Dominic Monaghan, who starred in the acclaimed ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, will play Colonel Arthur Crookshank, Brooke’s cousin and comrade-in-arms.

All in all, an interesting international cast, you may say.

Those of us who belong to the older generation would have learnt about White Rajahs first in our history lessons in primary school.

James Brooke

The first ruler was an Englishman called James Brooke. He was granted the province of Kuching known as Sarawak Asal (Original Sarawak) in 1841 as a reward for helping the Sultanate of Brunei fight piracy and insurgency among the indigenous people.

The White Rajahs’ dynasty continued through Brooke’s nephew and grandnephew until the latter ceded his rights to the United Kingdom in 1946.

In our history lessons in primary and secondary schools, we learnt a lot about the achievements of the individual Rajahs but nothing about their private lives.

James Brooke, for instance, was listed as unmarried. Now, thanks to the upcoming film, it looks like the skeletons are coming out of the closet. So, he had lovers…

When I Googled Wikipedia, I found out that although he was unmarried, he acknowledged an illegitimate son.

Initially, life must have been lonely in Sarawak for James Brooke. He was in a strange land and had to deal and live with people with strange languages, traditions and lifestyles. It must have been an immense culture shock for him initially.

After he got over the culture shock, he must have found love with some of the local maidens and taken one, two or even more lovers.

‘Rajah’ will not be the first Hollywood film to be shot in Sarawak. It certainly will not be the last.

The first Hollywood film to be shot in Sarawak was Orion Picture’s ‘Farewell to the King’ starring Nick Nolte, Nigel Havers and Aki Aleong in 1987.

It was produced by the Al Ruddy/Andre Morgan team that made Oscar winner ‘The Godfather’ and directed by John Milius of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘The Wind and the Lion’ fame.

The story is about an American soldier Learoyd (Nick Nolte) who takes shelter in the remote wilderness of Borneo after escaping from being jailed by the Japanese forces.

When Learoyd meets a primitive tribe out in the jungle, it seems that he may be in trouble again, but the natives, awed by his unusual appearance, embrace him as a god.

Later, British troops discover Learoyd and his followers. Events lead to his fighting for his adopted people.

In 2000, Fine Line Features (which produced ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy), shot ‘The Sleeping Dictionary’ in Sarawak. The film starred Jessica Alba, Hugh Dancy and Golden Globe winners Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn.

The story is about a young British colonial officer who was sent out from England to serve in Sarawak. He is presented with an Iban-English maiden (Alab) who is supposed to teach him the local language. Eventually, they fall in love but she was already spoken for. Heartbreak, human drama and betrayal come after that.

Although the shooting will only start tomorrow, I am already looking forward to watching ‘Rajah’ in the cinemas. I hope I can easily recognise the local landmarks and film sets in the film.

I also hope the film would be a huge success, capture the imagination of the global audience and serve as free advertising for Sarawak Tourism Board.