Laden with meaning
A simple story that revolves around cooking is this year’s Deepavali commercial by Petronas.
Somewhere in a bustling market, a mother finds herself amid a colourful spread and splash of bright red tomatoes, delicate onions, meat and spices in every variety. meanwhile, a young boy drops a coconut from atop a tree, to be grated for coconut milk with his father. It is used later by the womenfolk of the household to whip up a hearty feast that will be enjoyed by the entire family.
It is a simple enough scenario, but the spirit of togetherness it showcases is what embodies the true significance of Deepavali, says Datuk mohammad medan Abdullah, the man behind this year’s Deepavali commercial by Petronas.
medan, the senior general manager of Petronas’ Group Corporate Affairs Division, says the ad, aptly titled the Pursuit Of Perfection, juxtaposes individual effort with familial support.
“we picked a simple story that revolves around cooking. The commercial shows that everyone in the family has a role to play in preparing the perfect Deepavali meal. It takes a lot of effort to make a good, simple meal and everybody has to work together in order to achieve that,” he says at an interview at the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
True to the Deepavali celebrations, popularly known as the festival of lights, the commercial is founded on the concept of bringing out one’s light from within. “It’s also a celebration of good over evil, and of light over darkness,” he elaborates.
Surely it is a conscious decision to incorporate food, the favourite pastime of malaysians, into the minute-long clip as well?
“we used cooking as a metaphor to convey that there’s a light in all of us and we have to try to get that out and let it manifest into something good. It’s a universal message,” he explains.
“we decided from the start we didn’t want to do a straightforward story. Instead, we wanted to try and take storytelling to the next level.”
The absence of oil lamps quintessential in most local Deepavali commercials is testament to his willingness to break with the norm.
“It was an attempt for us to try something new,” he says.
“Perhaps some might struggle to understand what we’re trying to convey in our ad when they see it for the first time but, ultimately, I think the messages we’re trying to communicate are clear enough.”
Among them, he explains, are traditional values innate in malaysian society, such as hard work and unity. “It’s also about loyalty, cohesiveness and coming together to achieve a certain goal. In this case, it’s cooking a perfect meal.”
medan adds that commercials are the company’s way of participating in local celebrations.
“Since 1996, Petronas has been engaging malaysians to discuss local issues through our commercials. we’re lucky we have so many festivals over here and we take advantage of these celebrations to communicate messages that reflect our values, as well as what we think are relevant to society at large. It’s a mutually beneficial exercise that contributes to national awareness.”
he also speaks of pushing the envelope for story-telling in commercials.
“we stretch the limit a bit for the thinking-man in this commercial. But if you’ve noticed, we also went for a more abstract approach for our merdeka-raya ad this year. All we featured was a set of hands throughout the commercial, as a metaphor for unity.
“we’ve sort of moved on from the more conventionally direct approach, and I believe that malaysians are sophisticated enough to comprehend and appreciate it.
“Plus, some of the best stories were told using symbolism. Sometimes, it’s not so much what the story is about, at face value, but the message behind it. we believe the Deepavali celebration brings out the light within every individual and that’s what the celebration really is about.”
Speaking of story-telling, who could forget the simple but compelling Petronas ads by the late film director and scriptwriter Yasmin Ahmad?
“what we’re doing now is in fact an extension of what Yasmin used to do,” he admits. “If she were still alive, being the creative person that she was, I believe she would explore all the possibilities to experiment and try out different things as well.
“our previous approach sent powerful messages that people connected with, but we can’t stay at the same stage forever. we have to keep trying and experimenting with new formulas that we can adopt to tell stories to the nation.” n PursuitOfPerfection airs on TV2, TV3, 8TV, and Astro’s Sun TV, Vaanavil and Velli Thirai.