Sunday, March 29, 2009

Encountering Yasmin Ahmad

Remember my writing on this blog about how I sometimes forget to take photographs of food because I devour the delicious stuff before me before it occurs to me to me that I ought to make photographic records of them? Well, the cinematic equivalent happened today at the ninth Hong Kong International Film Festival screening I attended.

What happened is this: As I hurried to the theatre to go watch Talentime (Malaysia, 2009), I spotted its director-scriptwriter, Yasmin Ahmad and a man who I later found out was her husband (who also has a small part in the film) lingering outside on the street. Then, again, as a friend of mine and I waited in the queue to get into the theatre, I noticed that the two had walked into the cinema lobby.

Part of me wanted to fish out my camera and take photos of them there and then but they seemed to be enjoying their anonymity at that point -- and it seemed like it would be an invasion of their privacy to take shots of them doing such as buying stuff from the concessions stand. So I figured I'd wait for the Q&A session that I knew my favorite Malaysian filmmaker would be taking part in after the show, only to find that: for one thing, the lights hadn't been lit up to an optimal level for photograph-taking and; for another, I was too engrossed answering a question of my own along with listening to the rest of the Q&A.

Towards the end of the Q&A session (which we were informed could only last for 12 minutes in the cinema due to the tight screening scheduling), it was announced that Yasmin would continue to entertain questions outside the cinema. Whereupon my friend and I took it upon ourselves to take up that invitation and go up to talk to her.

A wonderful chat ensued, one that ended with her thanking us for watching and liking her movies -- and pecking both of us on each cheek. And only after we had walked away did I realize that... my goodness, I forgot to take a single photo of Yasmin!

So, instead of a photo, here's showcasing an award-winning commercial by Yasmin to commemorate Malaysia's 50th birthday (that -- as one has come to expect of her work -- humanely deals once more with inter-ethnic relations):-

(P.S. Like I told Yasmin, that ad made me cry and laugh -- albeit in a good way -- as did Talentime today! I wonder: how many of those of you who deign to watch it will have a similar reaction to mine? ;b )


rdl said...

Love it!

Anonymous said...

A wonderful chat ensued, one that ended with her thanking us for watching and liking her movies -- and pecking both of us on each cheek.

Wow! You must have been on cloud nine.

I will probably check out Talentime if makes the festival rounds here in SF. But I must confess that as much as I admire Ahmad's multi-cultural mission, I find her films after Sepet to be a tad heavy-handed. However, considering the trouble she's had screening her films in Malaysia, perhaps her message is one that does need to be hammered a bit.

Hope the festival is full of more such surprises for you!

sarah bailey knight said...


Wonderful video!

Anonymous said...

You could check out her flickr photo page at, but I'm not sure if those pics were taken in Hong Kong. Did you watch the show? It was only shown here last week I think and one of these days I'm going to the cinema to watch it.

alejna said...

What a wonderful encounter you had. Thanks for sharing it.

And a very moving commercial.

eastcoastlife said...

I spent an hour with Yasmin Ahmad at an event grilling her with questions. I had photos with her and she was so sporting, putting up all sorts of poses while I looked like kayu. haha.....

She is a very very nice lady.

ewaffle said...

That was such a delightful video. I generally don't like videos with young children but this one was seemed so natural perfectly pitched and innocent that I was enthralled from the very first.

I couldn't tell what the racial/ethinic/linguistic differences between the little girl and little boy are so the impact as a plea for tolerance/acceptance/diversity was muted for me.

Stefan S said...

The commercial she did for a Ministry in Singapore also won the top award here too :)

I think she has another in the can already for the same Ministry, am waiting for it to debut on TV :D

YTSL said...

Hi rdl --

Am glad you do! :)

Hi duriandave --

I was! :)

Re your analysis of Yasmin's movies -- and more than BTW, it's Yasmin (not Ahmad -- since Ahmad's her father as Malaysian Malays do not have surnames): would agree with you re "Gubra" but less so re "Mukhsin" which I think is another gem of a movie. As for "Talentime": Strange but true -- I felt its dramatic sections worked better/felt more true than its comedic ones.

Hi sbk --

Agreed! :)

Hi Kit --

Thanks for the link and yes, I watched "Talentime" yesterday. Hope you go soon to the cinema to watch it -- Yasmin made a crack yesterday that there may have been more people at the HKIFF screening than have been to see it in Malaysia!

Hi Alejna --

Thanks for appreciating my fangirl blog entry as well as that wonderful video. :)

Hi EastCoastLife --

Yeah, I saw your blog entry about your Yasmin Ahmad encounter! And have to say that meeting her was one of those dream meetings: i.e., someone whose work you admire and respect turns out to be a nice person too.

Hi ewaffle --

Re the "racial"/etc. differences: well... yes, we are indeed one human race, so there's no shame in not being able to see differences between the boy and girl. Alas, though, it's too clear for Malaysians that he's ethnic Chinese (and probably Hokkien and Buddhist with the name he has) while she's Muslim Malay.

Hi Stefan --

Haha, yeah, you Singaporeans are major fans of Yasmin Ahmad too, I've gathered! And yeah, she mentioned making commercials for the Singaporean government in the Q&A session yesterday. :)

Anonymous said...

BTW, it's Yasmin (not Ahmad -- since Ahmad's her father as Malaysian Malays do not have surnames)

Just curious, if Malays don't have surnames, then is the use of Ahmad, in this case for example, to differentiate Yasmin (who's father is Ahmad) from another Yasmin (who's father is so and so)?

BTW, I agree that Yasmin is stronger when it comes to drama than with comedy. That's something I noticed in Mukhsin.

Anyway, in spite of my qualms about her work, I think she brings out great performances from her actors, especially kids, as the commercial you posted so wonderfully shows.

YTSL said...

Hi again duriandave --

What's common practice is that a female Malay's name would be something like this: Yasmin binti Ahmad (i.e., Yasmin, daughter of Ahmad). A lot of public personalities tend to shorten a names by removing the binti (or, in the case of men, bin (son of)) so it becomes, say, Yasmin Ahmad.

BTW, a lot of Malaysian Hindu Indians do the same -- only affixing the English "daughter of" (rendered in shortform as d/o)... as in Sujatha d/o Shanmugam. In other words, their ancestors took the opportunity that going to Malaysia gave them to rid themselves of their caste names (Indians in places like India and East Africa don't have surnames per se; rather, what people tend to think of as surnames for others, e.g., Chauhan, actually are cast names.)

Hope that clarify matters -- rather than confuses even more! :b

More re the commercial: the person asking the questions -- that voice belongs to Yasmin (and yes, she does speak with an English accent since, as she explained, she was educated and spent some years in England).

Anonymous said...

Wow... that's really fascinating. Thanks for the info!

YTSL said...

Hi once more duriandave --

Thanks for being able to understand what I was getting at (despite my writing "cast" rather than "caste" once in the above comments -- what can I say other than I've got movies on my mind!).