Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Using death to sell marriage

April 8, 2009

Director Yasmin Ahmad's new commercial to get Singaporeans married is set at a funeral

By john lui

Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad can always be relied on to get people talking.

Her first award-winning commercial for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports last year, Family, generated a lot of buzz for its depiction of the devotion of a single father to his strong-willed teenage daughter.

Her second commercial for the ministry is likely, in the words of Mr Richard Tan, its director of communications and international relations, to 'raise some eyebrows'.

The advertisement, which debuted on television on Sunday, is set at a funeral, depicts an interracial marriage and talks about bodily functions.

In it, a wife pays tribute to her dead husband and talks about his less than endearing habits - snoring and farting in bed.

It is part of a $1.25 million campaign to encourage Singaporeans to get married. The campaign was spurred in part by a 2006 survey which showed that many respondents were waiting for a suitable partner to show up.

'People want to get married, but they want to wait for Ms or Mr Right,' said Mr Tan.

'We want people to know that you can build a beautiful relationship - an imperfectly beautiful relationship.'

Yasmin said the characters in the commercial, titled Funeral, are based on her own life and those of people she knows.

The 51-year-old film-maker said: 'When I was young, I used to sleep on my father's chest and he would snore like a buffalo. And everybody who has been married will have the same stories about their spouse.'

Annoying traits are the very things that partners will treasure about each other in the long term, says Yasmin, who scripted, cast and directed the work. She is married with a teenage daughter.

The unconventional three-minute advertisement breaks social taboos. Funerals, for example, are considered by the Chinese to be unlucky occasions. Then there is the delicate subject of breaking wind.

But the commercial has already caught people's imaginations, judging from the speed at which the link to the YouTube version is making the rounds on Facebook and the reactions of viewers.

Auditor Nancy Chew, 33, said she found the new commercial to be even better than Family and gave it high marks for its subtlety.

'I came upon it channel-surfing. That I stayed to watch it says a lot. I cried after watching it,' said Ms Chew, who is single but dating. She was also surprised by how light the touch was, considering it was a government-sponsored ad.

Yasmin was first approached by MCYS on the recommendation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had seen her series of family and racial harmony commercials for Malaysian oil company Petronas.

The Family commercial won the recent MediaCorp Viewers' Choice 2008 award in the local category. It has also garnered thousands of views on YouTube.

For now, there are no plans for a third commercial. Yasmin is set on making her first Singapore film.

She is known for taking on the troubling and beautiful aspects of life in multiracial, multi-religious Malaysia in award-winning feature films such as Muallaf (2008), about the friendship between a Malay Muslim girl and a Chinese Catholic boy, and Sepet (2005), which tells an interracial love story between a Malay girl and a Chinese boy.

Her movies have caused controversy across the Causeway and some people have accused her of hurting the reputation of Malays.

But her films have also earned her a devoted following on both sides of the Causeway. The fact that Singapore has released her movies which have run into censorship issues in her home country has not escaped the film-maker's attention.

She said: 'Singapore has been very kind to me.'

So she is keen to make a film here about the lives of Bangladeshi migrant workers and Malay pub waitresses set in, and around, a karaoke lounge in Little India.

She said she is fascinated by the idea of social status in Singapore and how little it has to do with happiness.

'I've made friends with some of these workers and they are so hopeful and optimistic and I've met middle- and upper-class Singaporeans who are so pessimistic,' she said.

She is now looking for financial backers for the project. She said: 'The budget is going to be around $300,000. Very cheap lah!'

Funeral - English

[I like her work.]

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