Being my father’s son

In his youth, Zahir Omar fought against being in dad Omar Abdullah’s shadow but now, the director is proud to work together with him

14 Jun 2019 / 10:40 H.

ZAHIR OMAR is already a successful TV commercial director before turning his hand to directing his first feature movie.

The film, Fly By Night, which premiered here in April, not only received glowing reviews from local press and audiences but has also won critical praise at several international film festivals before that.

The 37-year-old credits his success to the influence of one man – his father, Omar Abdullah, who is also a well-known TV commercial director.

“My father cast a huge shadow in the commercial world,“ Zahir says. “He is a nice man and a good director who has a gentle way of telling his stories.”

When Zahir first started out directing commercials, it was inevitable that people began comparing him to his dad.

It used to annoy him so much that he went out of his way to step out from his father’s shadow. He started to adopt a ‘wild boy’ image and opt to do stories that were far edgier than his father’s.

But as time passed, Zahir became more confident of himself and his work. “I became as calm as my father,” he says, adding that when we get older, we tend to become more like our parents.

Zahir has even worked alongside his father as an assistant director – on a TV commercial for a bank in Jakarta. He remembers having had some difficulty maintaining a professional detachment as it was the first time they were working together.

“I was calling him father, Sir, and Omar on the set. It was confusing,” he recalls with a laugh.

Today, he still enjoys working with his 72-year-old father and has learned a lot from Omar along the way. In fact, the two of them are toying with the idea of working together on a feature film in the near future.

Zahir plans to shoot a movie based on a story that his father has written. The film, which is set in Kuala Terengganu, centres on a family feud, which comes to a head during a storm. Zahir is currently searching for funding for this project.

Describing his father, Zahir says: “My father is a kind man, full of empathy, and always generous. But he likes to keep things to himself and refuses to share his problems with anyone [which leads to] a lot of internal stress.

“My father has already suffered two heart attacks.”

Omar, on the other hand, describes his son as a ‘free-spirited guy’ who loves exploring and always pushing the boundaries, and never holding a grudge against anyone.

“You can only be creative when you are pushing the boundaries,” says Omar, who is also actively into organic farming.

Omar’s own late father was a technician in Telekom. As a teenager, he used to follow his father on his rounds repairing downed electric wires all over, including in the forest.

“The forest [then] was a dangerous [place] for anyone to roam around,” recalls Omar, adding that it was filled with wild animals like tigers and bears.

“But my father never stopped me from roaming the forest. He trusted that I could look after myself.”

When Zahir indicated that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps to go into producing TV commercials, Omar was not supportive of the idea at first.

“I did not want him to become a TV commercial director just because his father was doing it,” explains Omar.

“I wanted him to find his own voice and follow his own heart.”

When he realised his son was serious, he relented but did not make it easy for Zahid.

He made Zahir start from the bottom, believing that it was the only way his son could learn the tricks of the trade and become even better.

It appears his instincts were right.

Zahir himself is now a father to two daughters – nine-year-old Zoe and six-year-old Nyla.

Like his father before him, he refuses to mollycoddle them and wants his children to cultivate an adventurous spirit, and to go out to discover new experiences.

For example, he encourages his girls to climb trees if they want to, and it is perfectly fine if they fall and get hurt.

“A lot of parents today are too protective of their children,” he says. “They do not allow their children to fail. Do not be afraid of failure. We can learn a lot from failure.”

Omar echoes the same sentiments, adding that “sometimes, failure can be a good teacher” in life.

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