Malay Mail + Yasmin Ahmad = Creative magic

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MALAY MAIL was different things to different people.

One thing many will agree upon though, despite the hard news reporting, is the paper’s quirky sense of humour.

Through the years, many creative minds have contributed to the paper… lending it a unique personality that easily stands out from other publications in the country.

Even its in-house ads reflected the character of the paper as evident in two particular ads which came out circa 90s (go check them out in the other pages of this final edition of the newspaper in print!).

Unbeknown to many, the creative force that was behind those ads was none other than the late storyteller extraordinare, Yasmin Ahmad.

Yasmin would go on in the next decade to stamp her mark on Malaysia’s collective psyche; not just for her advertising artistry that included those tear-jerking Petronas ads Malaysians looked forward to every single major celebration, but also for her films that were deceptively simple but infinitely relatable.

From her debut in 2003 with Rabun to the breakthrough hit that was Sepet the following year, Yasmin amassed not just a following, before her final effort in her fifth full-length feature film in 2009’s Talentime, but also the respect of an entire industry.

From sitting down with Yasmin and dissecting Sepet to being stunned on the set of the controversial Muallaf in 2008 where lead actress Sharifah Amani shaved her head to Yasmin’s gentle shrug at the reaction of her established peers walking out of her Gubra premiere in 2006, I was fortunate to have been able to write about her work.

The final print edition of Malay Mail would be incomplete without featuring Yasmin and it was by sheer coincidence that the two ads featured in these pages were found.

The discovery came in the form of a chance discovery of a special collectible — a limited shoebox edition of Yasmin I Lup Chew.

Nine long years after her passing, Yasmin’s legacy is kept alive through reproductions of her raw works that ended up captivating the hearts, minds and imagination of Malaysia.

Launched in tandem with the book, Yasmin I Lup Chew, titled after the lovingly cheeky phrase she became known for, it is a must-have offered for sale only online.

An exploration of its contents reveals a treasure trove offering an insight into the eccentricities that made Yasmin Ahmad special.

Neatly packed in the shoebox is a painstakingly reproduced collection of her works a book could not house.

Handwritten poetry, ideas, miscellaneous jottings, scripts and photos, apart from the book itself are in reproductions of a notebook, the occasional doodle, a sketch, an old-fashioned photo album from the Nineties and a ‘newspaper’ with articles and press ads dreamt up by Yasmin herself.

And in the pages of the I Lup Chew Daily, sandwiched inside are these two rib-tickling funny full page ads about the Malay Mail.

While it is aesthetically awe-inspiring to see the attention to details in the recreations with the yellowed and aged pages, and little blotches of correction fluid (today’s generation will never fully appreciate the use of Liquid Paper), the magic here is the insight into Yasmin’s musings.

The box is akin to finding a little time capsule. Sister Datin Orked Ahmad would probably know best, as much of the material was sourced from an actual shoebox, that held most of the items.

“When I saw it, I cried. It was exactly as she left it,” she sighed.

“We kept it as a limited edition item, because we wanted to keep it special for those who appreciated, missed and treasured her.”

Through the beauty of technology, former colleagues and a new generation of creatives have managed to put together the package that is a work of art on its own.

One of those mainly responsible for the limited edition shoebox is Virgil, who worked with Yasmin as a copywriter from the late 80s at Ogilvy & Mather to her last agency Leo Burnett.

“Yasmin kept her handwritten notes and photos in various shoeboxes, just like how she depicted it in her movie Gubra (where Alan Yun shows Sharifah Amani his late brother’s shoebox hidden under his bed).

“In the Ogilvy & Mather office, whenever Yasmin noticed struggling fellow copywriters, she would show us her… shoebox. And tell us stories.

“She was never lokek or kedekut when it came to helping others improve. She never hoarded knowledge.

“Her library in the office was open to all. She would even insist we read her books on Zen koans, the Tao Te Ching, Rumi’s Sufi poems, even Wislawa Szymborska’s Polish poetry.”

At Leo Burnett, Yasmin organised classes every Friday night to teach whatever she knew, which by the third week, attendance had dwindled to Virgil alone.

“She didn’t give up teaching the one person who turned up.”

Bringing the project to life was Fictionist Studio founder and creative director Joanne Chew, along with art director Jona Lim and intern Kimberly Yap.

“We were given quite a lot of disparate materials to work with, and the freedom to suggest how they could be showcased.”

The small team worked with paper sponsor Antalis as well as printers, Percetakan Image Vest, to ensure that all items were faithful reproductions of Yasmin’s stuff.

“I had received a call from Hyrul Anuar, a friend who was part of the team at Leo Burnett who was tasked to get the project off the ground. He asked if I was interested to take on the project.”

Despite budget restrictions and swamped with work, Chew however agreed.

While she knew of Yasmin, she never had the opportunity to meet her – and working on Yasmin I Lup Chew was an eye-opener.

“I think most of us Malaysians identify Yasmin as a creative genius. That was what I knew of her, and her witty sense of humour.

“But working on Yasmin I Lup Chew shed so much more light on what a kindred spirit she was, how quintessentially Malaysian she was, in the movies she made and her outlook on life. She loved her family and country so steadfastly, it was beyond inspiring. And not to mention her humility.”

And that was the creative direction from the get-go.

For Virgil it was years in the making, and for Chew, endless hours spanning five months.

“It was a labour of love and our way of paying tribute to her — by trying our best to design a damn bloody beautiful book which matches a damn bloody beautiful soul,” said Chew.

“Having received positive reactions has been very rewarding for us but more importantly, we hope that this project can inspire other Malaysians to be more compassionate, live life with a greater purpose and the realisation that something can always be made from nothing, just as how Yasmin did.”

Yasmin Ahmad never wanted to be idolised nor was she perfect, and that is one of the messages the team hopes to get across.

“Everyone, herself included, started from nowhere, and took years to improve as you can see from her notes, poetry and ideas.”

Malay Mail would like to thank Joanne Chew and Fictionist Studio as well as Leo Burnett for providing reproductions of the two advertisements reproduced in this final print edition.

‘Yasmin I Lup Chew’ the limited shoebox edition is available exclusively via www.yasminahmad.com or Yasmin at Kong Heng on Facebook for RM299 ; profits from the sale of the book will be channelled to Yasmin’s favourite charities, Mercy Malaysia and Persatuan Yasmin Ahmad.