Winner of Best Director at the 28th Malaysia Film Festival (FFM), as well as our Film honoree at the 2016 Men of the Year, Shanjhey Kumar Perumal prevailed over a discriminatory attempt by FINAS to divide Malaysian film nominees into Bahasa Malaysia and non-Bahasa Malaysia categories, which thankfully was overturned by the Multimedia and Communications Ministry, and eventually won Best Film for Jagat – the first of its kind in the category, largely considered to be one of the best Tamil language films made in Malaysia.
The film tells the plight of a marginalised community, and a success that raises the curtain on a personal filmmaking journey of 10 years. Set in the early 1990s, Jagat underlines the Indian Malaysian community during the trying times of post-estate life that saw many out of work, live in squatters and resort to gang life. Jagat was launched to critical acclaim and has subsequently become the first local Tamil production to enjoy eight weeks of unbroken screening.
In response to the support from the industry and people of Malaysia, Shanjhey said, “When I did Jagat, it was always my intention for the movie to reach out to a wider audience. I don’t see people as ‘others’, I see us as the same. I believe Malaysians were already a united society in the past; we’ve only been increasingly divided over the past 30 years or so. I’m really happy that finally something’s happening, and a lot of people have lent their voice to the cause. I see that as a good sign, a sign of acceptance, a sign of art as transcending borders and language barriers.”
Since then Shanjhey has gone on to represent Malaysia at the 2017 Asean Film Festival, travelled to various film festivals, and conducted screenings across different colleges, sharing his experience with the students. Upon returning, he shared with us his exposure to other filmmakers, and their work, from around the world, “When I was travelling and watching films made by other people from all over the world, and comparing my work and theirs, I discovered my strengths and what’s lacking in my work. It has made me reflect on myself a lot over the past two years. It has been a soul-searching journey.”
While things have been looking up for the filmmaker, Shanjhey remains committed to his art with two to three projects under way, as he navigates through changing times. He shared, “People have a less attention span these days. It’s probably because we have something to say, in an artistic way, but many like it straight to the face, as short as possible, less than one minute, if possible. But sometimes, for certain ideas and emotions, you need to shape a world around it, because we’re talking about consciousness. Sometimes when we say things too bluntly, there is a chance for misinterpretation, because words can always be a lie, whereas the audiovisual can’t. These are the times that you need to create a world, and put the layers around it, so that people can understand and digest the complete narrative and emotion better.”
He also wishes that more of the younger filmmakers would come forth and produce contents of our own culture and society, saying, “Often, our own Indian filmmakers feel the need to copy Kollywood (Tamil cinema in India). I would like to encourage them to tell our own stories. We’ve been here for several hundred years, so we have a lot of history, but these stories seldom get told. We ought to take pride in ourselves, in being Malaysians.”
Photography by Kahmun Ho
Styling by Ibnu Aswan
Grooming by Joey Yap, Mavis Ow + Wanning