By Shazwan Zulkiffli

It’s no secret that Hari Raya Aidilfitri is one of the most celebrated festivals in Malaysia. A whole month before Raya, you can already hear classic Hari Raya songs coming out every speaker in your favorite congested mega-mall, accompanied by feint sing-alongs to keep the Raya spirits on a high. People from KL will start to flood the highways as early as Friday to return to their kampung for the classic ideal Raya celebration.

Aside from the regular rendang, ketupat and mercun haram, there’s also one thing that most Malay-Muslims will not stand to miss: Raya ads. It’s funny how the same people would rant when an online poker app ad interrupts their meme videos, but will patiently go through a 6-minute raya short film by an oil and gas corporation. It is understandable, however, given the impressive reputation these advertisements have managed build starting with the days of Yasmin Ahmad. It’s been years, and we have enjoyed so many memorable Raya advertisements to make us cry a bit inside.

Raya advertisements have known to be a bit more creative than your average in-your-face plus irrelevant grade A ambassadors that companies tend to approach their target audience with. Like BSN’s attempt on a spice of diversity by introducing a heartwarming story of a muallaf (newly-converted muslim) named Aloysius Abdullah and his adventures on the first day of Raya. BSN opted for a different path than the usual formulaic approach by implementing a style akin to the works of Wes Anderson – and that certainly paid off with over 1.6 million views on Youtube.

Fast forward to 2017, more companies have dipped deep into their pockets to produce a bit of an Aidilfitri light show before the big day. I mean yeah, Petronas, MAS and BSN continue to prosper, but now even the likes of CIMB, RHB and U Mobile have stepped their game up, squeezing just in between the big guns. But what really caused a massive friction elsewhere in social media, was TNB’s Dugaan Raya Aida.

We all know why this was probably the highlight of pre-Raya hype. TNB broke so many rules to make it happen: an animated female lead (rather than your regular ‘jaga-cantik’ beaut), imaginative storytelling, and an Edgar Wright-inspired artistic direction. They even brought a talking cat named Jiro into the film and you don’t hear any yippie yaps about how it’s ‘illogical’ (probably by rivals, but not viewers). It’s admirable to see a corporation as big as TNB backing the inventive ideas of young filmmakers in order to deliver fresh material to the masses that, at the same time, also benefits the corporation. TNB Dugaan Raya may impressed quite early in the calendar, but the hype didn’t stop there.

In the slew of Raya ad releases, two broadband juggernauts slipped through with script ideas that are fairly new and as far as I know, have never been done before. Maxis bend minds with a concept that many would recognise as taboo – a broken family. When most gigantic companies would pass on touching sensitive topics, Maxis braved through the storm and took that risk. The short film ended up being one of the best ones this year, alongside Yes 4G’s Dilema Aira, which casually brought up the modern notion of not accepting your mother’s follow request on Instagram.

This predicted but positively overwhelming surge of Raya ads can result to two things: one, that viewers won’t give that much of a damn about Raya ads next year, two, that this will allow more companies to make their own. Both will probably happen, and there is a possibility that the whole Raya advertisement hype will die down in a few years if social media gets oversaturated with releases every end of Ramadhan. But if this surge goes on despite its impending doom, the tables might just turn for the industry. No, I won’t say that it’ll give birth to many filmmakers because frankly, we already do have many talented filmmakers, ready to be given the chance to make wonders the Malaysian way. Can you imagine, TNB’s Dugaan Raya garnered 1.2 million views in a span of just a week? If that’s not 1.2 million eyeballs, at least the video got played 1.2 million times, and that people came back to link just to watch it again. That cements your brand as the one who that ‘understands’ the market down to its roots – and for companies like these, that’s a big deal. Yes 4G’s Dilema Aira received 1.4 million, Maxis with 580,045, and now other brands will want to genuinely and intimately connect with their audience after these numbers because, why not?

These raya releases will act as a proper platform, not just for filmmakers to shine, but for funders to build trust with filmmakers. The numbers are big, the engagements are there and have never been so real. It’s not like Malaysian filmmakers do not have the quality to make Oscar-award winning films – it’s just that in the eyes of many capable investors, the Malaysian eyeballs, attention span, and capability of understanding are not ready for such quality, hence  the repetitive, recycled and reused ideas of old will still be the prime focus, at least for the time being. But if investors, funders and benefactors are able to see, with their own eyes, that Malaysians demand something fresh and different, things might just change – if there’s nothing politically-motivated comes in the way to stop this shift (this is Malaysia, man).

I may be optimistic, but numbers don’t lie. The demand is growing and it wants something better than your rempit skits and ‘Cinta Something Something’ bullsh*t. Will this be temporary? Will this be slowly progress into something special? We will know, maybe glimpses of the answer, in a few years.  

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