Saturday afternoon (or was it Thursday?), Sfunz Theatre, Pusan. We had just finished watching Yasmin Ahmad’s world premiere of ‘Muallaf’. The screening went well; the halls were full, and there were a number of intelligent questions querying the director after the screening. After all that was done, all the Malaysians took the fine opportunity to take pictures together. It was sizeable; Amir Muhammad and Azhar, representing their film (another world premiere), were there, as was Wong Tuck Cheong.
“If you do that, then it will stay with you forever. I don’t want to have that on my CV.”
That was Kak Yasmin speaking. I told her that ‘Cicakman 2’ will also be screened later at Pusan, and that I intend to check it out. More to the point, I said that if given the chance, I actually wouldn’t mind making ‘Cicakman’. It wasn’t all that great, but all the more reason for it: I would make it differently. Better, perhaps. That was my point. But it got lost somewhere along the way.
“Please,” she said, getting up, her cigarette, now finished, tossed effortless to the side. “When you make a film, it will stay with you forever. I’d rather spend my time and effort doing other things than ‘Cicakman’.”
Fair enough. She linked her hands in mine, and we (Amir, Irwan, and Vicky) went off to look for lunch. Along the way, she told me about her next project (we know now the project is called ‘Wasurenagusa’), confiding in me, it felt like, about the origins of the story. What inspired her to do it. Everything. I don’t know how much of that personal backstory I’m allowed to write here, but put it this way: I wouldn’t have gone that deep and that personal with someone I had just met three hours prior.
The bleary-eyed buggers that we were (having taken the red eye train from Seoul, if ever such a term could be used), we mildly cursed when we realised that ‘Muallaf’ would be in the very first screening slot of the festival, at the same time as Azhar’s film (two Malaysian world premieres at the same time; what are the chances of that?). We decided for ‘Muallaf’, but, my God, the lines were long. And this was at 7am! There were fears that we wouldn’t get the tickets for it, but fortunately, we managed to get it.
The best part was when I was looking for the right screening theatre, found it, and was about to go in when one of the attendants stopped me. “Are you the director?” she asked nervously. I tried hard not to laugh, as the thought of being a director of the same calibre as Kak Yasmin amused me to no end. She obviously thought that since I looked foreign, like someone from Malaysia, I must be the director for this Malaysian film. “No,” I said in Korean, which confused the poor girl even more, “I am not.”
I waited outside the screening hall with Vicky, who had met Yasmin during last year’s festival. He was slightly worried that she wouldn’t remember him. “Come on, man,” I implored him, “have a little faith. Let’s wait here, and say hello to her, at least. I also want to meet her and introduce myself.” Or something to that effect. That effect announced itself without warning when she came almost absolutely steaming into the corridor outside the screening theatre. She obviously thought that she was late, and took one look at us. Vicky barely managed to get a ‘hello’ out, and she said, “Eh, hi! You’re here! Which one is Dr Mahadi’s son?”
F*ck. So much for introducing myself. “Ya, saya,” I stepped forward, resigning myself to the fact that I will probably never ever step out of my father’s shadow, even halfway across Asia in the Land of the Morning Calm. “Assalamualaikum.” I shouldn’t really be surprised; my father was bound to have told her about me.
“Your father have always stood up for me,” she told me later. “We don’t always agree, but I feel that with your father, he always tells it like it is. Other people always talk behind my back, but he would always defend me. Maybe it’s because we’re from Muar; the Muar people are a little bit tough like that.”
Later that night, Vicky, Irwan and I had dinner with her. She had finished her meeting at the Pusan Promotion Plan (which was successful, as it turned out; ‘Wasuranagusa’ will get around US$10,000 in funds), and was feeling a little weary. It showed in her face. I told her that I plan to take in Azhar’s film later in the festival. “Is it any good?” she asked. “Well, I don’t know,” I replied. “I haven’t seen it yet.” Pause. Then she quipped, smiling, “Haha, ‘Punggong Rindukan Bulan’!” It basically translates from ‘The Owl Missing The Moon’ to ‘The Ass Missing The Moon’. “I suppose that’s probably why they call it mooning,” I added, and she laughed out loud. “Hey, this is cool,” I thought to myself at the same time, “award-winning director Yasmin Ahmad likes lame jokes.” 🙂
We walked her back to her hotel. It was a cool, calm night. Little was said along the way. Perhaps each of us was reflecting on the events of the day.
“Thank you for walking me back. Such gentlemen you guys are,” she said, before stepping into the elevator to go to her room. “Keep in touch.” We waved to each other, the last sight I saw of her before the door closed was of her smiling.
She does that a lot.
That was the only time that I saw her. We did indeed keep in touch, via email and SMSes (she seemed genuinely interested about helping Vicky get a particular project off the ground).
She still has much to give not just as a filmmaker, but as a human being. I don’t know her all that well, but she strikes me as a humanist, someone who would stand up and be counted for her views…and then apologise if she knows she is wrong. She opened up to me, with sincerity, with honesty, in a way that very few people do right from the start. In that one day, she left a great impression on me. I wonder of the impressions she left on the lives of countless other people she meets. Her colleagues.
Please, God, I pray to you. Don’t take her away from us yet.
Fikri. Yasmin Ahmad suffered a stroke on Thursday, and underwent brain surgery. At the time of writing, her condition is deteriorating, and she remains on life support. I ask that you spend a moment to pray for her recovery and well-being, as well as for her family. Thank you.
*Update: Yasmin Ahmad passed away around 11:25pm on Saturday, 25th July 2009. You left us far too soon, Kak Yasmin. Far too soon…