Alan Bligh
Yasmin Ahmad.

UNFORGETTABLE: In her lifetime, the works of the director touched the lives of many, with their message of harmony between the races. One of Yasmin’s friends, Alan Bligh, shares his memories of her with Raja Khalidatul Asrin in conjunction with Merdeka celebrations

MERDEKA, or National Day, was celebrated with extra oomph in Ipoh when Malaysians visited the Yasmin Ahmad Museum.

Besides watching the Merdeka parade, they paid homage to the works of the legendary director at the museum, named “Yasmin at Kong Heng”.

Yasmin’s works have touched the lives of many, with their underlying message of harmony between the races.

The museum, located in Jalan Sultan Yussuf, has organised several programmes to commemorate not only Merdeka, but her life as well.

It pays tribute to her works, which range from iconic television commercials to uniquely Malaysian movies.

Alan Bligh, a former Radio 4 deejay and RTM news presenter, spoke to visitors about the ideas behind Yasmin’s TV commercials.

“Initially, Yasmin’s job was to produce advertisement pamphlets for Petronas, which were inserted inside newspapers.

“Then, she sold the idea of doing two to three minutes of commercials to Petronas, and they agreed. The rest, as they say, is history,” says Bligh.

He says Yasmin did many commercials for companies like Petronas and Malaysia Airlines, adding that Petronas is a good platform because it is a company our country thinks highly of.

The most memorable commercials were for festive celebrations, as well as Merdeka.

“Yasmin wanted ‘understanding and not tolerance’, hence, her commercials were based on interracial relationships, which are, in a way, what Merdeka is all about.

“Some of the commercials were from what she saw and experienced. The late director was known for her bold and unconventional choices,” says Bligh.

In 1996, she chose an Indian boy as the main character for her Merdeka commercial, named “The Little Indian Boy”. It was deemed groundbreaking at the time.

Bligh says Ipoh held a special place in Yasmin’s heart, which was why she chose to shoot many of her commercials and films here.

“Therefore, it is only appropriate that this event is held in Ipoh.”

He said Yasmin was a good storyteller, director and scriptwriter.

“That was Yasmin, gifted to touch the hearts of many. She was the type who would take credit only when credit was due.

“An example was the TV advertisement ‘Tan Hong Ming In Love’. It was not in her script. It so happened that the boy followed her around, pulled her baju kurung and saying ‘I am a vegetarian’. So, Yasmin told the cameraman to shoot and it was so natural that everybody loved it.

“When it won an award, Yasmin said it was from God and not her. The message was, ‘if children do not care about skin colour, why do we?’”

He reminisced about her movies like Sepet and Talentime, about love between different races.

“She received threats because of the movies, but she was calm, saying that she only feared God.”

Nazlinda Mahmood, 38, says she came with her husband and two children to join the Merdeka celebration at the museum.

“We’re also taking the opportunity to revisit Yasmin’s commercials, which are evergreen and promote the true spirit of unity.”

Yasmin, born on Jan 7, 1958, died on July 25, 2009.

The much-loved director, writer and scriptwriter was also executive creative director at Leo Burnett in Kuala Lumpur.

Yasmin had a few stories written for Leo Burnett, and last year, one of them was filmed, directed by someone else.

Bligh said there can never be another Yasmin, and the commercials shown at the museum were an eye-opener for the younger generation.