Remembering late Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysia’s famous creative director

By Aida Mokhtar

I recollect the concoction of excitement and apprehension felt as I awaited the big day of my interview with one of the famous creative directors of Malaysia, the late Yasmin Ahmad, in 2007.

Yasmin Ahmad was eminent for both her advertisements and films. Her profusion of achievements earned her place in the inaugural Malaysian Advertising Hall of Fame by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) in 2008.

What spurred me to conduct a research study on Yasmin was her impressive work on the corporate advertisements by Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS). I had been following her for quite some time before my interview through other events and was enthused by her passion and her quality of works each time.

I was fortunate to have met her in person when she directed several advertising scenes for PETRONAS.

One of the corporate television advertisements that she was working on in 2007 was ‘Tan Hong Ming’ that had won several awards much to my delight: the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2008, Clio Awards 2008, International Advertising CUP 2008, the 2008 International ANDY awards and Asia Pacific Advertising Festival 2008 to name a few.

The ad was one of several created by PETRONAS for Malaysia’s 50th year Independence Day celebrations. The achievements alone for this one advertisement were amazing. 

I saw Yasmin Ahmad as someone who was jovial, friendly, humble, passionate and professional from my study. I admired her for endeavouring to fulfil my need for interviewing her during the filming breaks while she was directing the advertisements.

She was a natural behind the camera as she effortlessly posed questions to the young talents while directing the advertisement reflecting the theme she had in mind. The colour blind theme was embraced for the Tan Hong Ming advertisement that was expressed through children.

It was a wonderful depiction of the crush of a Chinese schoolboy, Tan Hong Ming on a Malay schoolgirl, Ummi Khazriena that exuberated a plethora of rich facial expressions making us smile and reflect. Yasmin mentioned to me that her choice of children for the ads was based on their good articulation more than anything else and that God helped her in successfully filming the advertisements as children were unpredictable when they acted. 

Yasmin’s passion when working on PETRONAS advertisements was also helped by her love for PETRONAS, the organisation and advertiser, and she described it as an organisation that was “world class yet down-to-earth”. The creative director personified the value well herself.

Sadly, 2020 marks the eleventh year of her passing on 25 July 2009, two years after my study of her. 

Yasmin Ahmad should be remembered for the quality advertising works that she had brought to us through her involvement in their pre-production, production and post-production phases. Her advertisements deflect the ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ philosophy of which the intrinsic values of art are detached from any didactic function as they were purposefully value laden marking their educational role. The most important lesson I learnt from her is that we can be both world class and down-to-earth at the same time. 

May her soul rest in peace. May she receive the blessings of God. May she be placed amongst the pious. Al-Fatihah.***

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