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Mon, Jul 27, 2009
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Touched by her maternal glow

BY HELMI YUSOF

MALAYSIAN film-maker Yasmin Ahmad, 51, died of brain aneurysm last Saturday night in Damansari Specialist Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

She was buried yesterday at the USJ22 burial site in Subang Jaya after hundreds of relatives, acquaintances and fans turned up for her funeral service at the Abu Bakar As-Siddiq mosque. Her death represents a great loss to Malaysian moviegoers and, some would say, Singapore moviegoers too.

Since her film, Sepet (Chinese Eyes), was released in Singapore in 2004, she had gained a strong and loyal following here.

Her poignantly comic films, such as Muallaf (The Convert, 2008) and Rabun (My Failing Eyesight, 2003), were usually screened in smaller theatres.

Nonetheless, her movies were usually well-attended, said Mr Thomas Chia, director of Lighthouse Pictures, which distributes her films.

For audiences on both sides of the Causeway, these films were particularly interesting because of their frank discussions of so-called taboo subjects like race, religion and romance between two people of different cultures.

Her films celebrated multiculturalism in Malaysia with wit and warmth, with a lively cast that often spoke a multitude of languages, including English, Malay and Cantonese.

In Singapore and Malaysia, where most movies feature characters of one race speaking one language, her films felt like heartfelt hymns to human diversity.

The former creative director of ad agency Leo Burnett Kuala Lumpur was not blind to her country's racial tensions, which often lurked at the edges of her stories. Her characters often pass snide remarks on Malaysia's affirmative-action policies.

Despite allegations of stirring controversy, Yasmin continued to garner acclaim at international film festivals. One of the highest awards she received was the Golden Lion at Cannes for her touching TV commercial entitled Tan Hong Ming In Love.

It showed a little Chinese boy talking about his crush on aMalay girl.

So popular was she that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong requested the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to engage her to direct two of its pro-family advertisements, with the most recent one depicting an Indian widow paying a moving tribute to her Chinese husband at his funeral.

The ad drew a strong response from Singaporeans, who embedded it on their Facebook pages and wrote glowing comments.

Yasmin was no stranger to interracial marriages. She was married twice, first to an Indian and subsequently to a Chinese, Mr Abdullah Tan Yew Leong.

Those who knew her said she was exactly like her films - warm and compassionate, with a generous view of human nature.

She visited Singapore frequently to promote her films and befriended many film-makers here. Director Wee Li Lin, who sought Yasmin's opinions about her debut film, Gone Shopping, two years ago, said: 'Yasmin was incredibly friendly and funny. She enveloped everyone in her maternal glow.'

Visual artist Charles Lim was inspired to shoot a short film after watching Yasmin's 2006 film, Mukhsin.

He said: 'I chanced upon the film after not being able to get tickets to Spider-Man that day.

'And it changed my attitude towards art completely. Her gentle pacing... gives you the impression of watching life as it gradually unfolds.'

Helmi Yusof is a RazorTV multimedia journalist.


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Touched by her maternal glow