Fri, Mar 19, 2010
Making a S'pore film in Tamil

By Sheela Narayanan

MOST of the members of his team may not have understood his film, but that didn't stop N. Mohamed Yahssir's short Tamil film, CheckMATE, from bagging four awards at the Panasonic Digital Film Fiesta.

The 25-year-old freelance television and film director and producer's 11-minute movie that follows a conversation between a nine-year-old boy and a 50-year-old man over a chess game won the Best Film, Best Cinematography and Audience Favourite Film awards at the competition.

It also got the Best Promising Director award for Yahssir.

The contest featured 10 entries under the Emerging Filmmakers Programme, where budding film-makers are picked and paired with mentors to make their next short film in a 10-week mentorship programme.

Yahssir's idea for his movie came from watching the old men in his HDB estate.

He used to think "What's their story?" every time he saw them and used that as the basis for the script about a young boy who chances upon an older man playing chess by himself in an HDB estate and sits down to play a game with him.

Having a non-Indian crew was important for Yahssir as their input proved invaluable to the script development. "I wanted the film to appeal to all races. My producer, production manager and music composer are Chinese and they would have had a different childhood from mine and those were the perspectives I wanted when I discussed the script with them.

I wanted to make a Tamil-language film... that all Singaporeans could watch," he said.

The Temasek Polytechnic graduate has been working in the local television and film industry for the past five years.

His first short film Bomai (Doll) was selected for the 5th Young Guns Film Festival at The Substation six years ago.

His subsequent short films have been showcased actively at local festivals, with 7 Storey taking first prize at the 8Minutes Short Film Festival in 2008.

Besides his short films, Yahssir has also directed local television shows like the 50-episode drama Devathaigal and the 44-episode info-education series Naam. In 2008, he produced Mathimayangum, Singapore's first high-definition Tamil telemovie, under his production company Millenia Motions Pictures.

One of the highlights of his latest win was getting the Best Promising Director award from local film wunderkind Roystan Tan.

"Roystan said I had a fresh and different directing style and he advised me to keep doing shorts for a few more years before I did my first full-length feature film," he said.

At the moment, Yahssir is back to his bread and butter work, producing shows for local television.

There are bills to pay after all but ideas are percolating in his head for his next project and, yes, it will be in Tamil.

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