Personalities

A Rainy Day In Kuala Lumpur: A tribute to Yasmin Ahmad

The auteur once said that the way to start writing is not by writing at all. It’s by living. Here we look back at wonderful career she had and catch a glimpse of her life through the people whose lives she touched along the way.
Reading time 6 minutes
Photography: Raymond Pung

There’s a lot to unpack from the late Yasmin Ahmad’s filmography. Despite only having five features films to her name, her modernist take on somewhat traditional themes has forever changed the landscape of our local film industry. Yasmin’s celebration of “Malaysianness” was a breath of fresh air amid horror flick and slapsticks comedies galore in that particular decade.

Her perfectly imperfect Malaysia perspective made for stories that are as compelling as they are comforting, self-aware but never self-righteous.

It was starting to pour outside of Unknown Imagery Studio. Some of the talents that Yasmin had nurtured rolled up to what turned into a little reunion for them. Exchanging hugs and catching up with one another, they eventually got settled in — some on the wooden chairs, others lounged on the mattress — and began discussing Yasmin’s legacy, from the cultural touchstone that is Sepet to her return-to-form film Talentime.

Sharifah Amani as Orked (Sepet & Gubra) And Rohani (Muallaf)

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On her first encounter with Yasmin Ahmad…

It was 3AM at Hartamas Square where I saw this lady in baju kurung and sneakers. She was with Jit Murad, a writer and also a family friend. He introduced me to her and the rest is history.

 

On Yasmin tapping into Sharifah sisters…

I think she saw that she could relate to. She said that I reminded her of her younger self. And my parents are basically much like hers—loving, open and very touchy-feely. My sisters are the same.

 

On the core themes in Yasmin’s filmography…

I just know that she wrote things that she knew, things that she experienced. I know that she took stuff from her life and she wanted to share it with the rest of the world.

Sharifah Aleysha as Rohana (Muallaf)

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On meeting Yasmin Ahmad…

I don’t remember the first time I met her but I talked to her when my sister Sharifah Aryana was shooting Mukhsin. I was quite shy then but I slowly warmed up to her. I’d talk and crack jokes to her, and she found me very weird (laughs).

 

On her casting in Muallaf…

I was the only one who didn’t have to audition for a role because the character was written after me. So that character was very much who I was as a young girl. She’s, like, old for her age, very weird, very eccentric.

 

On hesitation in taking the role…

Doing a feature film and playing one of the lead roles scared me more than the film’s subject matter itself. At that point, Yasmin was already so well known that I was worried if I didn’t measure up

Jaclyn Victor as Bhavani (Talentime)

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On meeting Yasmin Ahmad…

I met her on a talk show. I was a little shy and intimidated but the minute she saw me, she straight away said out loud to someone “Oh, she can be Bhavani, right?” and she went on to explain the film to me.

 

On her reluctance in taking the role…

I told her I couldn’t act to save my life! But she convinced me that because I have three brothers and I’m the oldest, I was right for the part. She told me not to think of it so much as acting. And the intensive rehearsals kind of put me at ease too.

 

On how Yasmin helped her transition into an actress…

She’s always there when we did script readings. In between the sessions she would explain the scenario, tell me what to imagine—just trying to bring out the emotions. I’m not naturally an actress, so she needed to dig it out of me!

Ng Choo Seong as Jason (Sepet)

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On his first encounter with Yasmin Ahmad…

When I joined Leo Burnett she asked me (and the others) to go for a movie during office hours. Because I was quite nervous, I remember her telling me, “Do not fear those above you and do not look down on those below you.”

 

On how she approached him for Sepet

She just came over and casually asked me. “Be in my movie”, she said. I was nervous and I didn’t want to screw up the film, so I turned her down. She than approach somebody else for the role but it didn’t work out, so she asked me again.

 

On what drove him to take the role…

I think she choose me because the character and I have similar personalities. She wanted somebody who’s constantly nervous. She didn’t want me to act, she just wanted the actors to be who they are.

Kahoe Hon as Kahoe (Talentime)

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On his first encounter with Yasmin Ahmad…

I worked with her for a commercial. I was in Bali with my family when the production company contacted me, but once my dad overheard that Yasmin was going to direct it, he immediately booked new flight tickets for us to fly back to Malaysia. He was a huge fan of her.

 

On how she got him to star in Talentime

I was doing some fittings when Yasmin and my parents went into a different room. When they came out, Yasmin asked if I was interested in acting and that she had a role for me in her upcoming film.

 

On her character…

She’s very down to earth and she was caring. She’s like a mother figure to all of us; the kind of love that she shared—she’d talk to you, really talk to you, and she’s always being true to herself and to others.

Read the full interview on L'Officiel Malaysia November 2019 Issue.

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