“Ever since I was kid, I wanted to own and ride motorcycles. It was my first love,” recalls director Rajay Singh, wistfully. His father was not such a fan of Rajay’s childhood dreams, but the wannabe easy rider was determined to have his way and saved up for his very first bike, a Kawasaki 250cc. “A dream is a dream, and I always wanted to go back to it. In fact, I only got a driver’s licence to drive a car at the age of 33 when I had a family and needed to - because for me, bikes were always number one.”
Rajay is known and respected in the Malaysian ad industry as an award-winning director at Directors Think Tank – but beyond the borders of adland, he is building a reputation with the biker community. He co-founded Beautiful Machines
, a custom bike shop that’s allowing him to express his creativity in a rather different format.
He was inspired to get into the custom bike game after a visit to a shop in New Zealand. “It started off as a hobby, building custom bikes and trying to do things differently. I learnt bike design by doing – experimentation and working together,” says Rajay, who collaborates with his close friend, the tattoo artist Julian Oh, his design partner.
But what started as a hobby soon became a more serious concern. “As people started to notice the designs, we started building bikes for shows. First for local shows, and when we saw that the customs we were designing were winning awards locally, we took to competing internationally,” says Rajay. Their most successful project to date is ‘The Monster’, which was the first Malaysian custom to be featured in an international show, the Yokohama Bike Festival.
Being part of Malaysia’s growing biker scene has been an exciting and inspiring experience for Rajay. And, surprisingly, Rajay has found that while designing bikes requires technical know-how, he’s also found himself drawing on his experience as a film director and producer.
“Each field is a different discipline, but it’s being able to express yourself creatively that matters,” he reflects. “I try not to mix it up too much, and it is important to keep each passion separated. But while they are different things, there is definitely synergy in the way I approach each passion - Problem-solving, keeping it honest and human, creating something that means something.”
Perhaps Rajay’s ability to throw himself into custom bike design and make a success of it isn’t so surprising – after all, it isn’t the first time he’s jumped into a new field of expertise. Before becoming a director in 2006, Rajay had been exec producing for ten years.
“We were really busy and there was work that we even had to turn away. We only had one in-house director then, and I had been executive producing for almost 10 years at that point. I realised I could do better work than what our one director was doing – so I made the jump. Then I realised all the difficult challenges that come with directing too!” he recalls.
That led to Rajay setting up Director’s Think Tank. The goal was to create a fluid structure where you could be a director, a producer, a first AD or an intern and share ideas.
These days Rajay wears multiple hats – director, leading the team, being a mentor. He doesn’t care about his specific title – it’s all in service of the creative. “All I care about is that we do good work. I want everyone in Think Tank to grow and we want to be amongst the best production companies creatively. The challenge is always to be better and not get complacent. It’s important to always invest in the young people in the company and make sure that they have the input and support to grow.”
Over the years, Rajay has shot all sorts of award-winning ads, but looking back he has a few favourites. Sunlight Pig, Sony, Lazada ‘Blast Oﬀ’, as well as the recent Tokopedia
for Indonesia, a production that involved creating eleven films in two months. He’s in his element when he works with what he calls ‘real talents’.
“I always try to inject humanity into each of my spots – even if it doesn’t even feature a human. I always try to make sure that the visuals or art direction doesn’t overpower or outshine the human emotion,” he says.
Another spot that he’s particularly proud of is a Vodacom spot for the Tanzanian market. It won Gold at last year’s Spikes, a milestone win for the country, a production that presented a particularly tricky casting challenge as the story followed a boy and a girl growing from babies to teenagers.
But to truly understand what makes Rajay tick creatively, you need to know one thing. He is a dog person. More than that, he is a rescue dog person. He and his wife support an NGO called Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better and his family has four rescue dogs.
“Sadly, sometimes the dogs we adopt are near the end of their lives, and they’ve had such a difficult life – we always do what we can to make their lives as happy as possible. We lost one of our dogs to cancer last year. Her name was Begum - a Rottweiler, and most recently, Blue… also one of the Bulldogs we adopted as well,” he reflects sadly. But he notes that his pro-canine ways have rubbed off on the rest of the Think Tank team; production assistants have been known to rescue strays that rock up on set. And it’s something that is just as much of an inspiration as his custom bikes. “I have a soft spot for Bulldogs because they are usually amongst the breeds that are badly treated in Malaysia for some reason. But I believe that our dogs have brought us good luck.”
From custom bikes at Beautiful Machines to his growing brood of doggos and, of course, to his directing work, Rajay is a man of many passions – as the most creative minds are.