When Jagat premiered on the same day as Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015, it looked like Shanjhey Kumar Perumal’s directorial feature debut was destined to be overshadowed at the cinemas. But Jagat, just like its poster boy Appoi (played by Harvind Raj) in the film, did not go down without a fight.
The film, about a poor young boy falling into gangsterism, clawed its way out of the Hollywood blockbuster frenzy with a relentless social media campaign.
With positive reviews and word of mouth recommendation (and endorsements from celebrities like Sharifah Amani, Dain Said, Jo Kukathas, Gaz Abu bakar and Ida Nerina), Jagat became the longest-running local Tamil film in cinemas – a record eight weeks of screening at GSC Nu Sentral in Kuala Lumpur.
Months after its release, Jagat became the talk of the industry again in 2016 when the 28th Malaysia Film Festival (FFM) nominations were announced.
Initially, the film was excluded from the Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay categories as it did not meet a ruling that all local film entries must be in 70% Bahasa Malaysia to qualify.
Instead, it had to compete in separate non-Bahasa Malaysia categories. Shanjhey expressed his frustration over the divide.
He explained how Jagat was categorised as a Malaysian film when it was screened at the New York Asian Film Festival. The film was also labelled as “Malaysian” when Shanjhey sent it for the Digital Cinema Process in India.
“But in our homeland, our films are categorised according to languages so I think this is not necessary and I think it is something that is immature,” he said in a televised interview.
Shanjhey also issued a press statement seeking clarification from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) and FFM judging committee over the 70% Bahasa Malaysia ruling as it was not stated anywhere in the 1981 Finas Act.
The non-Bahasa Malaysia categories were subsequently axed and Jagat competed in the original Best Director, Best Screenplay and newly-introduced Best Malaysian Film categories.
At the FFM awards night on Sept 3, Jagat made history when it won Best Malaysian Film, beating nominees like OlaBola, Polis Evo and Best Film in National Language winner Munafik. It was the first local Tamil-language film to do so.
Shanjhey also received the award for Best New Director. A beaming Sivanantham Perianan, the producer, described the victory as “meaningful”.
“As you know, Jagat was a film made with a modest budget (RM300,000). We take these awards as a huge moral investment for us to continue making films in the future,” Sivanantham said.
Shanjhey explained that he thought long and hard about making Jagat before the actual process: “I asked myself 10 times.
“My team and I had endless debates on why is it important for us to make this movie. Maybe we won at FFM today because Jagat came from good intentions.
“We were making a movie based on a story that has never been told. It’s about giving a voice to an important yet unknown issue of struggle in Malaysia.”
He also described Jagat as the underdog at FFM despite many predicting that it would eventually triumph: “People didn’t see how much we struggled to make this film.”
It’s true. Shanjhey spent more than a decade developing Jagat. He couldn’t secure funding for a Tamil film grounded on realism without musical elements.
It also did not have a major production company to launch a nationwide marketing campaign. Instead, Shanjhey relied on the cards he was dealt with and it paid off handsomely. Jagat caused a lot of ripples in the local film industry and of course, made history in the process.
Jagat got the happy ending it deserved.