Opinion: Creative life flourishes both in and out of adland

The comings-and-goings of advertising folk are indeed fascinating. Today's crop is no exception.

First comes Sepet, a new Malaysian film that premiered in Singapore recently.

It's a heady cocktail of Cantonese, English and Malay, and a feast of vernacular one-liners. The director? None other than Leo Burnett Malaysia's Yasmin Ahmad. Yasmin is the doyenne of Malaysia's creative fraternity, and no stranger to spinning passionate tales of life, love and conflict.

Her story-driven campaign for Malaysia's national petroleum company Petronas is a legendary case history. Once, Petronas was perceived as the kampong (village) oil company; Locals rushed past on their way to buy foreign-branded petrol. Today, due entirely to Yasmin's endearing perspectives on the Malaysian condition, Petronas is an icon of national pride and a dominant, profitable brand.

Sepet in Malay alludes to the slit-eyes of the young Chinese hero, an appropriate title as Yasmin explores how two young people - a Chinese Romeo and a Malay Juliet - from vastly different family and social backgrounds meet and fall in love. Not surprisingly, Sepet has been accepted into a major American film festival, but make no mistake: Sepet is no mere art house flick. Yasmin has a mainstream movie on her hands, a movie with the emotional firepower to touch the lives and hearts of the average Tom, Dick and Hamid.

One of Yasmin's friends has made a transition of a different kind. Art director/creative director Andrew Bell is hanging up his layout pad and stepping into two new incarnations. In the first, he'll focus on his Chiang Rai boutique hotel. Meanwhile, he'll work on a fascinating book based around the Thai language. Never one to suffer fools gladly, Andrew describes his increasing frustration with advertising as it exists today: "It's like the Emperor's new clothes," he says, "and I can't help being the little boy in the crowd." So if you'd like to retreat to the hills and gaze out over a peaceful valley far from your madding clients or colleagues, check out Andrew's website, www.rairakang.com.

And that brings us to our Indian lemon, or to be precise, the Lemon advertising agency in Mumbai. Inspired of course by Bill Bernbach's famous Volkswagen ad, Ravi Deshpande's new shop is making waves. Ravi is one of India's creative elite, the former national creative director of JWT's Contract Advertising. His leadership resulted in the famous anti-smoking ad that got into D&AD: there's no such thing as extra mild cancer.

Ravi's own shop was made possible with an investment from Euro RSCG.

It started appropriately enough on August 15, 2001, India's Independence Day, and then battled through the economic backwash of September 11. As you'd expect, Lemon is no ordinary agency. For one thing it has no walls.

Suits, planners, writers and designers work together, producing a raft of highly original lateral ideas for such clients as Cadbury, Morphy Richards, a Kerala State website and the Standard Chartered Mutual Fund. Despite the events of 2001, Ravi's business timing has proved exquisite. Consumerism is all the rage even in the small towns. We talked from breakfast till lunch and it was refreshing to hear such passion for advertising and India's place in the scheme of things.

Which reminds me: Ravi's new campaign to save endangered species has a real twist of Lemon thinking. The creative line is "Soon it will be harder to find elephants"; the twist is, it's going to be especially hard to find an elephant if you're an elephant and you're feeling a bit frisky.

Beg, borrow or steal a copy!

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