Sugu Pavithra cooks for Malaysia

MAY 21 — A young lass from Ipoh’s old gangster haunt Buntong has captured the imagination of the prime minister and country and is firmly on a trajectory to fame. 

Still, some have concerns about whether her ascent aids race relations.

S. Pavithra, resident of Sungai Siput through marriage, started a video channel together with her husband M. Sugu and brought millions into her kitchen and family life.

Commit this to memory. Gold Creators are YouTube channels with a million or more subscribers, and there are a total 16,000 such elite brands worldwide.

Subscription is a critical marker for success because it indicates overall support for the channel rather than just for a video or two. It means active loyalty. Think PewDiePie or ChuChu TV Nursery Rhymes.

I suspect by the end of the Hari Raya holidays next weekend, Sugu Pavithra will join this premier list, which has about 40 Malaysian channels.

Even if not, it’s still the most meteoric rise of an individual social media account in Malaysia — as her channel’s subscription doubled in the past week to 570,000, as of yesterday. 

While there are lies — or worse, statistics — from analytics, one constant convinces this column that faith in her is not misplaced, incidentally, from her post about PM Muhyiddin Yassin four days ago.

Not inasmuch about the million views inside four days, but the affection present in over 11,000 comments accompanying the video.

Malaysians want her to succeed!

As evidenced in the past, passion moves mountains in this country.             

Secondly, while her ethnicity remains in the spotlight, her vast demographic appeal shouldn’t be ignored. 

She is a young mother in her late twenties, neverendingly emphasises her husband’s presence in her life, unashamed to present herself inside the B40 space, speaks in plain clear Malay and eats her cooking on video with her family. The lack of pretensions is liberating.

She ticks boxes aplenty.

To provide context, Pavithra is 28 years old and her husband Sugu a year older, while former minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman turns 28 in December. 

If Syed Saddiq does his stumping from a rostrum facing TV cameras, his peer Pavithra does it with a ladle in hand facing a mobile camera and affixes emoticons to her video titles.

If all that was not enough to win a MP seat in any west coast state, her plain-spokenness comes across kind, vulnerable and heartfelt. 

There are grown men of all races speaking of how she reminds them of their mothers. And the women see a sister or friend who comforts them.

More context.

Namewee is a Gold Creator. Imagine the absolute opposite of him, and you get Pavithra. The most shocking thing about Pavithra is that she has zero interest to shock. A celebrity with no statement to make, no anger to solicit or melancholy to parade.

Viewers are convinced any monetisation from the channel actually goes to her household’s needs. It is a reverse Robin Hood, where viewers watch the ads so that they can steal money from the corporates and hand it over to her.  

And this column agrees with the viewers.

She should pursue this commercial boon because while there are thousands of Gold Creators, they represent less than 0.05 per cent of the 31 million YouTube channels created. Excelling in a competitive field should be applauded and rewarded as such. So, more power to Sugu Pavithra!

Ours is ours

The second half is trickier, about the symbolism and cultural implications brought on by Pavithra’s exploits, mostly unintended. This tends to be negative.

Cultural appropriation is bandied about, on how Pavithra’s cooking sessions dish out ethnic preserves to outsiders.

While art and music are complicated, food is the most fluid of cultural products, for longer than when Marco Polo added noodles to the Italian culinary experience. Mexicans never were sore Indians adopted their chili as their own or the Chinese bemused the Indians are more defensive about tea than them. So, should all of us chill on this matter?

The complaint in regards to the series of cooking segments in Malay when stripped down is more particular. The perception that Pavithra is the exception to most Malaysian Indians in the eyes of majority of the people, irks many. Like highlighting her clean kitchen. “Were they expecting our kitchens to be filthy?” is the annoyed reaction.

Which is more to do with minority insecurities but those misgivings have basis. As Malaysian Indian population shrinks to below 8 per cent, questions naturally appear inside the ethnic community.

Indian Malaysians feel shut out from mainstream Malaysian — as in Malay language — culture because they are assumed to be considerably different from Malays. And so, unnecessary in Malay language activities.

Therefore, the perceived marginalism is converted into isolationism labelled as self-enforced exclusivism. “It’s not that you don’t want us, it’s that we don’t want you.”

Sugu is a reminder of the divide, but I rather her become the bridge.

Integrationists should point out that Pavithra’s rise is an accident and ask for that to be rectified. Tax-funded media — RTM 1, Radio Satu and Bernama — was unlikely to select Pavithra if social media did not do the job to raise her up to their eye level.

If there’s one Pavithra, there are many Pavithras.

Minorities who can host home improvement shows, sing, dance, moderate national discourses, act, judge reality shows and do stand-up comedy. They are out there with reduced opportunities.

The progressive step is not to hold back the latest talent in order to make a social statement, but to use her prominence to push to the front all the other talents.

The politics of parity

The government of the day struggles to present itself as a multiracial outfit.

In Saifuddin Abdullah, as Communication Minister, there’s a man who can sense how individuals like Pavithra if handled well can embellish his government’s credential as one for all Malaysians, rather than for some Malaysians before all Malaysians.

The ball’s in their court.

Meanwhile to other Malaysians wanting to help Sugu Pavithra to one million, you can do far worse than forwarding the channel videos to friends and family near and far on WhatsApp.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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