For those of you who grew up in the years before Facebook and Instagram (hello 90’s kids), you might vividly remember this thing called Merdeka TV Commercials. These are two minutes short films that always found their way to interrupt our favourite shows during the most crucial scenes. Although it used to drive us crazy, I’m sure most of us would agree that some of those commercials ended up growing on us. It somehow brought out the patriotic feeling hidden within each of us.
In conjunction with Malaysia’s 60th Independence Day, we bring you six of the most memorable Merdeka commercials of all time.
1. One Little Indian Boy (1996 & 1997)
This 1996 advertisement was the first from Petronas and it was also the start of the Merdeka commercial tradition in the local television industry. The story is about a man reminiscing his childhood and what Merdeka means to him. This touching yet impactful commercial brings us back to the day when Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman declared the country’s independence in Merdeka Stadium. Since most of us see 31st August merely as a public holiday, this commercial reminds us of the true meaning of independence, and it still remains as relevant now as it did back then.
2. Boat Race (1999 & 2001)
If you went to school in the 90s, this commercial might be familiar to you. Starting off in a slapstick manner with a toothless whistler, this entertaining commercial hits your TV screen by showing two competing boat racing teams – the red and yellow team. The red team kicks off the race and took a great lead but overconfidence and disunity slowly led to their fall, whereas the yellow team, which looked like an underdog, managed to win the match by rowing slowly but steadily. But the commercial doesn’t stop there as the yellow team kept moving forward even after crossing the finishing line. The lesson: it is not about winning or losing, it’s about the importance of staying united.
3. Letchumi and Rokiah (2002)
As a multiracial country, Malaysia is familiar with the concept of interracial relationships, and this commercial looks at the friendship of couple of Indian and Malay girls. The story starts by showing the strong bond of friendship shared between these two girls which was later broken due to something petty. The twist at the end teaches us the importance of unity beyond skin colour and how we should not let anything trivial come between friendship.
4. Param’s Bicycle (2003)
Here’s another great commercial by Petronas titled “Param’s Bicycle” that was telecast in 2003. It traces the lives of three young boys – an Indian, a Malay, and a Chinese – and how they grew up together bracing both the good and bad times. The commercial ends by showing the now grown up little boys discuss about the current generation and how they don’t know the importance of friendship.
5. Tan Hong Ming (2007)
There’s always something adorable about kids’ love story. Their innocence and unprejudiced nature can instantly melt our hearts. As such, this famous Merdeka advertisement commissioned by Petronas and directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad was released in conjunction with Malaysia’s 50th Independence Day in 2007. The entire commercial was shot with a bunch of primary school children answering a series of unscripted questions. And when the ace director asked a genial boy named Tan Hong Ming, “Do you have a girlfriend?” his replied had the viewers fall head over heels as he professed his love for his schoolmate Umi Qazrina on national television. The advertisement captivated not just Malaysians, but the world as it won gold at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. The entire clip thought us about how we should the world through the eyes of our children and we should also see people beyond their skin colour.
6. It’s ok. We’re family (2014)
If this is your first time to Malaysia, you would realise that we Malaysians are all somehow blood related. We address strangers by using familial terms like brother, abang, macha, uncle, pakcik, and so on. This commercial by Maxis is narrated from this point of view. The story is about the comical and confusing experience faced by an expat called Tim Sharp as he’s always referred to by fraternal terms when he communicates with the locals. Though Tim’s eyes, the viewers see how Malaysians consider themselves as one big happy family.
Although all these commercials are different, but they share a similar viewpoint. They teach us to remember the spirit of nationhood and patriotism in our multicultural society by delivering messages of peace and harmony. Selamat Hari Merdeka and happy holidays everyone!