The new movie “Norah” blends past and present, showcasing the Southern Thai heritage of manorah
A popular country singer in the 1990s best known for his blend of Thai genres pleng choy and pleng E-saew, Nakhon Si Thammarat-born Ekkachai Srivichai turned his talent to directing back in 2016 with “Therd”, a movie inspired by the traditional Southern Thai dance drama known as manorah. Now the 56-year-old is back with a new film “Norah”, which opens today at cinemas across Thailand.
“‘Norah’ is the second episode of ‘Therd’ but much more enjoyable,” Ekkachai told reporters during a recent press conference at Wat Thai Khae in the southern province of Phatthalung.
The appointment ceremony of Khun Sri Sattha, played by Paisan Khunnu (seated, front row), as a royal performer by Phaya Sai Fah Fad (seated, back row), portrayed by Ekkachai Srivichai, is one of the key scenes in “Norah”.
“Mahorah is part of the culture and identity of Phatthalung and this movie will help all Thais to become better acquainted with the province.”
“Therd”, which means a manorah crown in the local dialect, tells the story of a manorah performer, who wants his son to carry on the traditional form of dance but the young man is far more interested in modern music, not least because the family is facing financial problems as interest in the tradition fades. “Norah” takes a slightly different tack, focusing on the origins of the first manorah performer, Phor Khun Sattha.
Director Ekkachai Srivichai plays Phaya Sai Fah Fad.
“Many Thais believe that manorah is Kinnaree, the half-woman, half-bird who lives in the legendary Himmaphan forest where she is caught by hunter Pran Boon. But, in fact, it isn’t that at all. Manorah in Southern Thailand is Phaya Sai Fah Fad, Mae Nual Thong Samli, Mae Sri Mala, and Phor Khun Sattha, the royal offspring of the Kingdom of Sathingpura,” says Ekkachai.
The film focuses on a young couple, Singkhorn played by Paisan Khunnu and Norah portrayed by Angelina “Jade” Formonto who fall in love after crossing the two worlds of the past and the present.
Singkhorn and Norah are happy and in love.
“In ‘Therd’, I played the teenage boy forced to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a manorah performer when all he wants to do is play his guitar and sing at local pubs. He has many arguments with his father. But finally he can’t escape his destiny,” says Paisan, when he’s not filming performs with his manorah troupe.
Singkhorn and Norah in the fighting scene.
“After ‘Therd’ was released, many more young people turned to learn manorah. In the past, we were lucky to draw an audience of 20 people to our performances but today we attract many more because the new generation is interested. They have set up their own fan clubs too, much like the ones that exist for likay. That is a good sign for the future as it indicates that the culture will not be lost. With my manorah troupe, I preserve the traditional style and at the same time attract young people by bringing in a band featuring singers and comedians rather like a luk thung concert. It’s a harmony between music and culture.
“In this second episode, I play a more difficult role, portraying Phor Khun Sattha, the master of manorah to whom all performers pay respect. He was the first manorah master in the country. At first, I was extremely anxious about this role, but fortunately Ekkachai gave me plenty of advice on how to act like the distinguished master. I have confidence in my abilities as a performer. I was born into a family of manorah performers and started dancing manorah when I was five years old.
“In this second episode, Norah is a modern woman who meets Singkhorn, a young man living in the past. Love grows between the two but doesn’t go smoothly because Singkhorn has to choose between culture and love. As a manorah performer, he is obliged to remain a virgin until the age of 20,” the 26-year-old adds.
“Uncle Ek (Ekkachai) is a friend of one of my mother’s friends. My character Norah is very kind and very polite and I find her easy to play because I’m like that myself. But as it’s my first role, I also signed up for an acting workshop,” says Angelina.
Sonthaya “Son The Star” Chitmanee plays Pran Thip the hunter who has looked after Singkhorn since he was a child and helped him take his manorah performance to the next level.
“My character is a fighter and the moves were designed specifically for me,” Sonthaya says.
“It was difficult to get it right because the fighting moves are mixed with the dance style of manorah and accompanied by manorah music, the same as Paisan. I’m lucky in that like Paisan, I was raised in a manorah family. My sister is a manorah performer though without the dancers. We have seen more youngsters wanting to learn the manorah and I suspect that number will grow thanks to the film. In some ways, manorah dance is similar to yoga as it requires pure concentration.”
Sompong Jitthiang, who is better known on the luk thung scene as Luang Kai, worked with Ekkachai on “Therd” and has written the movie’s theme song, “Norah” as well as the love song “Nuea Saneha”, which Paisan covers in the film.
“For the theme song, I drew on the legend of menorah, blending the traditional singing style with a Malayu accent to reflect the ancient kingdoms of Sathingpura and Langkasuka.
"‘Nuea Saneha’ is about Phor Khun Sattha, the first manorah performer in Thailand who must make a choice between tradition and love. I would like to thank Phi Ek for passing on this traditional Southern heritage to the new generation through social media and song,” says Luang Kai.
Making the moves
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