Unsurprisingly, Petronas has done a U-turn and cancelled the Dappan Kuthu “dancing in the streets” commercial scheduled to go on air this weekend for the Deepavali holidays, in the face of strong criticism. Petronas said the “Dappan Kuthu” was “an energetic dance routine which is prominent in Tamil cinema” after some said it was a funeral dance. To which critics said: what does Dappan Kutthu have to do with Deepavali? Good question.
The Chinese community had a similar question a decade ago when a Petronas holiday commercial for Chinese New Year turned out to be a satire on the grasping Chinese businessman and jewel-encrusted wife. Filmed in period surroundings, featuring mahjong, social climbing and pandering to the family patriach, the “Latuk”, that commercial was a hard-edged piece of social commentary disguised as an inspirational video.
Taking a sharp dig at the stereotype of the modern Chinese businessman’s family was difficult for the Chinese community to accept at a time when a celebration of family togetherness and harmony was in the air (though mostly over the department store Muzak channel). The commercial was aired, over protests.
The gold standard for Petronas holiday commercials is likely to be the late Yasmin Ahmad’s docu-drama “Tan Hong Ming in Love” (1.3m YouTube views and counting) — if not for Hong Ming himself, as the archetype of the endearing little schoolboy, then for the closing sequence of him and his tudong-clad classmate running hand-in-hand down the corridor.
Childhood innocence betrayed by adult manipulativeness, lost in an unsubtle piece of political and religious propaganda: Chinese boy hand-in-hand with tudong-clad Malay girl, lovey-dovey.
This year’s would-be Deepavali commercial had neither a redeeming holiday message nor kistchy sentimentality, merely reinforcing the stereotypes of the Tamil gangster, violence against women, and general poverty of the Indian community.
The commercial ends with Petronas trying to harness the “energy” and “passion” of the Dappan Kotthu to its corporate image.
It might even have succeeded as a standalone piece of corporate branding, without any association to Deepavali, given the current craze for Gangnam parodies.
But its ham-fisted approach in trying to yoke corporate and product branding to a religious occasion, turning topsy-turvy the revered Deepavali message of good over evil, light over dark, was much too much to accept.
Just not “Awwww” inspiring enough for Malaysian expectations.
Pass the schmaltz, please.