Sunday, July 26, 2009



The last time I "spoke" with Yasmin Ahmad was on a Facebook forum. She wanted to know why so many of us were so keen to see an end to BN rule in Malaysia when Pakatan Rakyat leaders had yet to convince her that they could do a better job. I made an attempt to explain why I was putting my hopes on complete regime change, and she remarked that she had seen no evidence that the Opposition was worth betting on.

I understood where she was coming from. She had spent most of her adult life in advertising and had reached the highest altitudes of success within that profession. Not only that, she was the only person I knew in advertising who had then gone on to achieve her personal dream of making memorable feature films with a uniquely Malaysian flavor. Her best work in commercials was for Petronas. Her specialty was producing classy vignettes of Malaysian life with a distinct feel-good factor.

I thought her work as a director was superb - but nonetheless a subtle and therefore dangerous form of spin. Yasmin was rather pissed off with me for saying that. In fact, she was pretty dismissive and arrogant in her response. I wasn't sure if it was funny or sad that Yasmin Ahmad and I could be in such utter disagreement about the political status quo. I told her I didn't think we could ever get along and left it at that.

Afterwards, I felt prompted to add one more comment to the forum, suggesting that since the ice was now effectively broken between us and we each knew where the other stood, maybe we could begin to set aside our public personas and really talk.

But I didn't do that... and now it's too late. She's gone. At only 51.

Yasmin Ahmad, I just want you to know. I really do admire your accomplishments and deeply regret that we never became good friends. I don't dislike you at all. It's just that I detest the advertising world you chose to call your own. Maybe it's just a stale chip on my shoulder, having begun my own uncareer in advertising. I guess I just didn't understand why anyone with your talent and sensitivity to the nuances of the human heart would opt to continue producing commercials that ultimately served only to prop up the status quo by making it look so much better than it actually is.

In any case, I'm glad you did get to make a few feature films for which you will always be remembered with profound affection and gratitude. I sincerely hope that with your newfound freedom from budgetary constraints, you will hover around long enough to help us write a happy ending to the unfolding story of a much more mature Malaysia liberated from gender bias, racial prejudice and religious bigotry.

Fare thee well and infinite blessings upon you, Yasmin Ahmad, storyteller extraordinaire.