Yasmin, A True Malaysian

22 Jul

Yasmin and some of her works in posters.
Yasmin and some of her works in posters.

When you see an out-of-the-ordinary commercial or film, you can bet your bottom dollar that Yasmin Ahmad would have had a hand in it. FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN talks to the celebrated director whose works transcend racial boundaries.

The award-winning advertisement Tan Min Hong in Love.
The award-winning advertisement Tan Min Hong in Love.

RENOWNED film-maker Yasmin Ahmad’s heart-warming TV commercial, Tan Hong Ming in Love, has amassed a total of 21 awards.

The commercial which was part of last year’s Merdeka campaign picked up top awards at reputed advertising events in the Asia-Pacific region as well as those in the United States (Andy Awards, One Show 2008, Clio Awards Festival) and United Kingdom (British Design and Art Direction awards), among others.

More recently, it became the first local work ever to be honoured with Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival 2008 in France. Another Petronas advert under the same campaign, Race, bagged Bronze Lion at the same event.

Yasmin, who was delighted when she heard the news said: “InsyaAllah, it is still travelling the world and picking up awards. It now has a life of its own.”

Tan Hong Ming in Love is a simple yet heartfelt interview by primary schoolchildren, Tan, and the girl he has a crush on, Ummi Qazrina. One of the most captivating scenes in the commercial is the look on Tan’s face when Ummi announces that Tan is her boyfriend.

In April, nine months after the shoot, Yasmin had the opportunity to have lunch and catch up with the two talents.

“They have grown so much! He still fancies her, but she tak layan (ignores) because there’s another boy who’s interested in her,” Yasmin said, adding that both Tan and Ummi are now very famous in school, especially Tan.

“My friend, film-maker Ho YuHang, wanted to feature him in his upcoming commercial. But Tan just refused to speak! He just sat there and said: ‘I don’t want to talk’. I was lucky that I caught him for the Petronas ad when he was in a good mood.”

While Tan Hong Ming captivated the world with a simple story about a boy-girl crush, another of Yasmin’s work which is taking the world by storm is Mukhsin, a tale about adolescents’ first love.

Mukhsin was recently screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was part of a special series on Asian cinema called ContemporAsian and also featured Ling Yi Ban (China) and Senkyo (Japan).

Following the screenings, Mukhsin received a thumbs-up from film critics, with the New York Post writer saying: “I am so taken by Mukhsin that I’m going to hunt down the two previous movies”.

“And I also received news that Mukhsin is still playing in France and it has already been a month.”

The film’s distribution right was recently sold by Grand Brilliance to a French company.

Her recent work Muallaf has been picked by the prestigious Lucarno Film Festival. Finas (National Film Developmet Corporation) has offered to help with the 35mm film transfer as well as making film prints and Dolby audio transfer which could cost up to RM200,000.

She said the film is currently with the National Censorship Board and that Media Prima has the distribution rights.

As to how the deal with Media Prima was inked, she said: “I showed it to ntv7 so that it could be screened on TV because I gave up on that film going anywhere.

“I have made it with help from a friend in Ipoh and all they have to do is finish it. But then I was told that Media Prima wants to push it for a cinema release. The first thing they have to do is submit it to the Censorship Board.

“As for the Lucarno which will be held next month, I don’t think I can make it because we are rehearsing for my upcoming film, Talentime. We will shoot the film on Aug 17 in Ipoh,” she said.

For Talentime, she said Sharifah Amani Syed Yahya, who was understandably Yasmin’s muse for her earlier works (Sepet, Gubra, Muallaf), will not star in it.

“She wants to learn film-direction and production, as the movie’s third assistant director. Replacing her is Pamela Chong, know for her stint in Amazing Race Asia.”

She said meeting her reminded Yasmin of meeting Amani and her sister, Sharifah Aleya, for the first time. They were smart, witty and intelligent. She said Chong will star alongside a newcomer, Mahesh Jugal Kishore.

The two have met during rehearsals and “the chemistry is electric”. Other stars include Mohd Syafie Naswip, who made his debut performance in Mukhsin, Jaclyn Victor and Azean Irdawaty.

“It’s a story about family and a talent competition in a rundown school. Mohd Syafie plays a teenager whose mother is suffering from brain tumour. It moves in tandem with Mahesh’s story whose sister is played by Jac and then there’s Chong’s family who comes from a mixed parentage,” she said.

“There’s a lot of ‘mud’ in these stories, from which comes the most beautiful lotus,” she said, adding that she has also been rewriting the script since the rehearsal began. “It’s interesting how you discover new things at rehearsals.”

Talentime will feature a beautiful soundtrack O Re Piya, taken from Bollywood’s acclaimed love story last year, Aaja Nachle, starring Madhuri Dixit and sung by classical singer Rahat Fatheh Ali Khan, the nephew of legendary Indian artiste, Nusrat.

Other composers for Talentime include Pete Teo who composed three songs, two of which Yasmin penned. There are other compositions including one by Yasmin’s parent’s which was written in 1957 called Kasih Tak Kembali. The others are by New Zealand TV commercial composer Anton, a local band Silent Scream and a Sydney-based songwriter Azhar.

“InsyaAllah there will be a soundtrack from Talentime. We will have to wait and see,” she said with a smile.

How did Azean come on board?

“I have always been a fan of her work. Who hasn’t? And the more bad press she receives, the more I admire her. When I met her, she told me that she wanted to act in my film some day. I was surprised. ‘Azean wants to star in my film?’. She said she wouldn’t mind playing a woman suffering from brain tumour.”


New Straits Times


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