The lady boss

Dr Vimala Perumal is not only a highly acclaimed director but is also teaching the craft to a new generation

21 Jan 2021 / 11:32 H.

CELEBRATED filmmaker and producer Dr Vimala Perumal never really set out to be in the entertainment world.

Her first three films, Vilaiyaatu Pasangge, Vetti Pasangge, and Vedigundu Pasangge – also known as the Pasangge trilogy – became box-office hits.

In particular, Vedigundu Pasangge was awarded the title of Best Film at the Norway Tamil Film Festival, and also won Vimala the Special Jury Award at the 30th Festival Film Malaysia.

Vimala produced the films under the production company Veedu Productions, which she started along with her husband Denes Kumar (who also played the lead in the Pasangge films).

On top of directing, Vimala also lectures at the Faculty of Creative Multimedia at Multimedia University (MMU).

In June 2020, Veedu Productions broke new ground by producing the TV series Tamiletchumy which premiered over on Astro. Only 26 episodes were commissioned for the first season, but the response was so overwhelming that a second season was greenlit, and is currently in the pre-production stage.

“At the moment we are not making any movies due to the pandemic,” Vimala told theSun. “We have two movies pending release. We could not release them because the cinemas are not ready. So for now we are concentrating on content for TV.”

The movies she mentioned are directed by other directors, while she and husband Denes produced them.

When asked if making the transition from film to television was easy, Vimala said the hardest part of the process was writing.

“When we talk about a film script, the maximum we can go is about 120 pages. When it comes to writing a series, we had a whole thesis. We had so many elements that we needed to execute properly.

“Initially when we were writing for Tamiletchumy, we [planned] for 100 episodes. That is why when you watch the first season, it stops so abruptly. Everybody was like: ‘Why did it stop like that?’. That is because it was a quarter of [the story].”

Tamiletchumy features strong female protagonists – unlike most Tamil-language serials from India, which usually revolve around long-suffering, endlessly sobbing heroines.

Vimala added that she is not sure if the show will ever be aired in India, as it is a collaboration with Astro.

She did however get feedback from people living outside of Malaysia who had heard about the series and wanted to watch it.

Veedu Productions also finished shooting a talk show named PenGirl Rock which is focused on female empowerment. The icons who will be featured in this 13-episode series include A. Chandramalar, Tan Sri Devaki Krishnan, Mother Mangalam, Datuk Rajamani Mailvaganam and Datuk Rasammah Bhupalan. PenGirl Rock will be aired on Astro Vannavil somewhere in the first quarter of 2021.

On top of all this, Vimala also teaches.

“Filmmaking was not something I planned to do. I come from an orthodox family, and my dad really wanted me to become a doctor. But I wasn’t interested in becoming one.

“I ended up in the media line because I got a scholarship to study film and animation at the Multimedia University.”

Her first year was challenging, as Vimala often wondered why she was there.

“It was only in the second year that I started falling in love with it.”

This was due to filmmakers being invited to share experiences with students, and also because she was able to work as a production assistant for a film crew who were shooting on campus.

“I would volunteer and work on weekends. That is how I developed an interest.”

When she graduated, she got a job lecturing at the university, and did her Masters degree which was part of the package.

“I did my PhD because of my dad. He really put an emphasis on education.

“I could not become a medical doctor for him, but at least I could get a PhD.”

Career-wise, she started out as a cinematographer.

“I love photography. My mentor is my former lecturer Che Mat (Encik Ahmad Azhar). He is actually a very well-known street photographer in the country.

“I would say he is one of the reasons why I love film. The way he takes photographs and the way he lectures is very inspiring. “

Che Mat uses humour to get the point across, something that Vimala used in her Passange movies, which actually present very serious issues that are plaguing society.

She uses the same laidback style to teach her students. Vimala also noted that her students are ahead of her in terms of technology and she has to keep up with them.

“In a way, they inspire me as well,” she said.

“My idol is Satyajit Ray. He movies may be slow-paced, but what attracts me to them is their concept and their writing. He writes about the people and environments he is familiar with.

“That is why when we wrote the Passangge stories, they were about the people and situations around us. If you look around, there are so many interesting things, the struggles, the happiness; there are lot of untold stories, actually.”

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