Over the years we’ve seen a bloom of ads championing unity, but no matter what, we will always remember the woman who started it all…Yasmin Ahmad. And we’re sure Malaysians will talk about Yasmin’s work for generations to come, be it her ads or her movies.
What is it about this film-maker that appeals to Malaysians across different backgrounds? Her impact on society and cinema was so immense that her films were discussed in Parliament, throughout academic circles, online and by anyone anywhere. Even with all the awesome new stuff that’s been coming up, somehow Yasmin’s name stands tall in our national endeavour for equality and togetherness.
It’s difficult to describe in words, but we’ll try our best. Forgive us, Yasmin die-hard fans, if we don’t know how to capture the ‘semantics’ and ‘semiotics’, the ‘mise-en-scène’, or ‘cinematography’ here. This is simply us talking about the way we feel when we see a Yasmin ad appear on TV. Yasmin to us will always be…
1. A reminder of a Malaysia we once knew
Many of Yasmin’s ads are filled with nostalgic scenes of the past. There’s Raya cooking in the kampung, old school fishing on a wooden bridge, growing up in rubber estates, trishaws and how about the one above?
Two little girls in their primary school pinafore on Merdeka 1957. How many of us can remember growing up with a bestie of a different race in schools set up by missionaries, long before their names were changed to Sekolah Kebangsaan something something.
It’s a past many of us can relate to because that was how Malaysia looked like before its development and modernisation.
2. And of the Malaysia we know today
Though some of them evoke nostalgia, they’re so relevant to us today. Deepavali has been celebrated in Malaysia for decades – and very traditionally too ikut India’s adat-istiadat – yet Yasmin’s ad doesn’t unrealistically try to hide the fact that modern and Western influences have crept into our lives.
But at the end of the day, we’ll always have pati to remind us that we should never forget our roots…and our long Indian names.
3. How they’re so touching, and yet, not cheesy
Some ads make us feel cheesy. Especially the ones with the standard formula like all races coming together, got Jalur Gemilang flag in the background, inspirasi music, sunrise, sunset, food. But when you watch her ads, it comes naturally without looking forced. It can even be something simple like going to a sekolah rendah, no script, and talking to the kids there, then learning that hey, our children aren’t divided by the concept of race!
After watching them, we really question ourselves – why can’t we be more like children sometimes?
4. And they evoke multiple emotions
Yasmin’s ads are never all happy-happy or sad-sad. They bring out different emotions in us, sometimes all in one ad.
There’s this 2006 Raya ad where a sick datuk has to be looked after by his reluctant daughter. First we’re sad, coz they push him to the back of the house alone. Then, we laughed because datuk farts a lot, especially during mealtimes. Then we felt a weird satisfaction when the grandkids are snarky to their parents about their treatment of atuk. Serves them right. But the ad ends with tear-jerking sappiness coz the daughter insaf at last. That’s 4 emotions in one single ad!
Does anyone remember this ad? We hope you do because it’s where we got the iconic line:
“Aku sepak kang”
If you haven’t watched it, we highly recommend you do, coz it’s confrontational, funny, touching, and sad at the same time.
5. They WILL surprise you!
No one can say that Yasmin’s ads were one-tracked. If she wanted to portray unity, she didn’t have to resort to the Malay-Chinese-Indian template. Like this boat race ad:
What is unity? If you take race out of the equation (it should never have been there in the first place), you just get plain, ol’ unity! Bekerjasama. In the end, the team that is united, WINS!
6. Her ads are believable too
Y’know how some ads show people achieving their goals, but you don’t feel inspired to get off your butt at all? Along comes Yasmin’s ad and she’s showing people achieving their goals too, but it’s totally believable coz they’re ACTUAL people. Petronas ‘Aspire’ shows us Malaysians like Dr. Mazlan Othman and Zakaria Zahari, and somehow we ready and raring to go, coz if those Malaysians can achieve great things, so can we 🙂
Aside from that, she doesn’t preach a Malaysia that doesn’t exist. She has a realistic representation which at times can be very eye-opening. Like, did you know, Chinese people can be poor and work in fields too? OMG! She’s not afraid to show hardship and the struggles of poor Malaysians are portrayed in this 2005 CNY ad:
And in the world of Yasmin Ahmad, it’s ok to accept the fact that there ARE orphans out there. So those of us who are blessed with families, should treasure them with all our hearts…
7. Gives us faith in our film industry
Ok, this one cheat a bit. It’s not about her ads, but her films.
Before Yasmin Ahmad, we had P. Ramlee. The guy was a serious LEGEND! While his films will always be gems, P. Ramlee’s romance movies like Penarek Becha (1955) sorta scratch the surface of stigmas only. A rickshaw man from a poor background falls in love with a rich woman. Ok, it’s a class-divide sob story.
But Yasmin, she broke social stigmas on so many levels – race and religion – even though they’re very uncomfortable subjects to approach. Think of Sepet and Gubra. Think of Muallaf! WHOA, inter-racial relationships or friendships? It’s always been around in Malaysia, but maybe people were just too afraid to talk about it. Well, ok there was Paloh (2003) showing inter-racial love. But it was the only one before Yasmin Ahmad. She’s a pioneer in stripping Malaysians down to the core yo!
Yasmin has passed on but her legacy need not
Sometimes, we swear she’s still alive when we watch some of today’s ads. But you know what, we CAN keep Yasmin alive at this museum established in her honour. It’s called Yasmin at Kong Heng and it’s in Ipoh. It was founded by her mom Mak Inom and sister Datin Orked.
The Organising Committee Chairman David Lok said it was only natural they picked Ipoh coz Yasmin loved Ipoh and many of her films were done there.
“It will not be a conventional museum for a ‘dead person’s things’ or stagnant archives with permanent plaques. Instead, Yasmin At Kong Heng is an evolving space with content that is refreshed every 6 months to 1 year. Yasmin’s life’s work – whether in film, poetry, photography, TV and even print advertising – will be shared in a ‘newseum’ that inspires and springboards new talent and ideas.” Startsomegood.com
At the moment it only opens on the weekends, but with enough donations, the organisers hope to open throughout the week. Not only that, your donations will help turn it into an exhibition space for students, aspiring filmmakers and new artists. For the magic to happen, the organisers just need a tipping point of RM17,500. Who knows…you even stand a chance to win Yasmin’s own handwritten notes if you donate!