ASHRAFF DEWAL, 42,
Your heroes? How do you de-stress? Something big?
A place you love?
Travel is ... here’s this scene from David Mamet’s masterpiece Glengarry Glen Ross, where supersalesman Blake – played shark-cold by Alec Baldwin – says this one line that is the perfect, if sinister, crystallisation of success: “Coffee is for closers only.” Or, all good things only to those who sign, seal, and deliver the deals, and it is clear that every guy in this edition of the A-List is a bona fide closer. It’s a Thursday night, dusk has fallen to cocktail hour at The Smoke House, at The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur, and Ashraff Dewal is exchanging CEO repartee with Antoine Bakhache even as indie actor Bront Palarae catches up with hip hop boss Joe Flizzow. At the bar, corporate comm whiz kid Sashi Ambi decodes film with Nic Shake, the young rock royal – his dad is the Dato’ Shake – who’s just signed with Universal and looking forward to launching his album. As newsman Jahabar Sadiq chats with Jeffrey Mong, GM of this very fine establishment, resident barman Johnnie Yap, fixes rounds of the signature Code 55 and 2 Bulat and spins the yarn of how the drink got its name; it involves a handgun and a rather angry woman. Later in the evening, when the conversation gets cranking, is when the plot thickens and character develops. Over Chef Zaidi’s beguiling plates, Jahabar, whose next venture involves setting up a video news portal, regales the table with journalistic tales from the trenches. “It’s late in the evening and a chill wind was blowing across the highland town of Tila, some 60km of rocky road from the district capital, Dang, in western Nepal,” he begins. “For the highlanders, the four of us were among the first foreigners to come to their remote mudbrick huts and with good reason. It was a Maoist village and they were celebrating their 10th anniversary of the ‘Grand People’s War’ against their king. A colleague took a little earth lane off the mudbrick huts that housed us and was using a Thuraya satellite phone to call his family and say he was safe, hours after we arrived in a four-wheel drive. That’s when the drama started. The Maoists were upset. They thought he was spying for the government. At gunpoint, they took the four of us in a huddle. It didn’t look good. I had a video camera, my colleague had his DSLR, and two others were text journalists. And we had the satellite phone. With guns and rifles pointed at our heads, we told them we were journalists and just interested in their stories. Not spies. It took the better part of an hour to convince them otherwise. And local hooch. Yet, we did it. Did we get good stories from the misty highland town with colourful doors and people, and the moon hanging low over the horizon? Of course.” From the head of the table, Joe weighs in with an observation of his own. “Exposure is where it’s at, and talent, of course. Take singer-songwriter Yuna. All over the world, they’re talking about her. I met Verbal from Japanese hip hop band Teriyaki Boyz, and even he was asking about her. Then when I was in LA, Pharrell made me listen to like 10 tracks – wouldn’t let me leave.” Joe talks about the local music industry with a surge of adrenaline, crediting Ahmad Izham Omar with the success of Too Phat, the hip hop duo of which he was one half, and amped by his soon-to-be-released album in Bahasa Malaysia. “In some respects its revolutionary, in the flows and how we even have one or two songs that are almost bahasa sastera. The rest is street, of course.” At print time, Joe would have previewed a few hot tracks off the album on MTV World Stage, which he’d have shared with Robin Thicke of “Blurred Lines” fame. By the time mains are served, it’s as if everyone has known each other for years. Nic in one corner is playfully holding court on French idioms; Antoine is regaling all with tales of his family vacation and the importance of turning negatives into positives. “I never look at a situation as being either one thing or another conclusively – no good businessman does,” he says dryly. Ashraff agrees and ups the ante with: “Real leaders appreciate their teams because you are only ever as good as yours.” At the other end, Sashi and Nigel Gan, who handles The Majestic’s PR, are discussing the profound merits of football and film. “It’s hard to believe we are in the seventh year of the BMW Shorties,” says Sashi who cut his teeth reviewing new music at Australia’s iconic national daily The Age a decade ago. “The Shorties is about unearthing and cultivating Malaysian creative talent and we have just premiered last year’s winner Chua Dick Woei’s Shorties-funded Pizza, even as we launch the 2013 edition. Watching it grow has been something else.” Bront, the talented, coolly retiring actor whose latest project Kolumpo is an omnibus of three shorts scheduled to hit cinemas this December, has the last word on creativity: “In the end it comes back to campaigning for local film primarily because the interest is no doubt there. People want to see themselves; their stories up on the big screen.” CEO, Enfiniti Vision Media The day starts with … Your best friend would say you’re … Lessons your father taught you?