As a young boy, Sanadtkumar Ganesan noticed how his tuition teacher parents would provide more than just extra academic classes to their charges, which included those from underprivileged backgrounds. They were patient listeners, recognising many children needed this more than additional lessons.
“I particularly remember my mum making deliberate attempts to talk to the kids about their everyday lives. I guess the lesson I learnt from them was to always listen carefully to what people have to say,” he recalls.
Might this be what led him to be a documentary filmmaker as an adult? The articulate Sanadt laughs. “Perhaps, but what I do know is this is always what I have wanted to do.”
Sanadt has come under the spotlight recently for his work on Moving Forward, a made-for-YouTube documentary about Malaysian chess master Genkeswaran Muniyan, who rose from a life marred by gangsterism to represent the country at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, winning a bronze medal for chess. The documentary just won Best Inspirational Film at the Los Angeles Film Awards for its moving tale of a young man who, despite all odds, turned his life around to inspire thousands of students across the country to pick up the game of chess as a means of improving and developing themselves.
Moving Forward is the third in a series of documentaries under a platform called WANTED: Shades of Life, which Sanadt established as a means to tell stories about inspiring Malaysians and the tireless efforts that go into improving the quality of their lives and those of the people around them. The film draws its resources from Ascendance, a non-governmental organisation Sanadt founded in 2015 with four friends to provide young people a platform to live out their dreams.
“When I told my parents I wanted to grow up and become a filmmaker, they were very supportive, which made me think it was an achievable ambition,” Sanadt says. “My co-founders and I wanted to recreate that feeling for other young people. Our vision is to provide the resources and guidance for youth to discover themselves and create sustainable careers while contributing to the betterment of society.”
Sanadt was just 15 when Ascendance was established; to date it has impacted over 35,000 young people. It also received the Diana Award in 2019, which recognises humanitarian efforts and social work among youth in honour of the late Princess of Wales.
Sanadt and his team conduct a great many outreach programmes in schools across the country, during one of which last year he made an interesting observation. “We are very affected by the movies we watch. The stories told through the media that we consume actually wield a lot of influence, and this matters in communities where kids may not have enough role models to look up to.
“This made me realise we need more programming to tell stories that will inspire the young. And there are so many great ones to share!”
Sanadt created the WANTED: Shades of Life platform for this express purpose.
Ascendance was where he was able to draw inspiration for content — it is, after all, supported by a number of Malaysians who are aligned with its aim to support youth — and also find people to work on the films. Everyone involved in the production of WANTED’s three documentaries is involved in Ascendance’s outreach programmes, and Sanadt simply had to thumb through the organisation’s lengthy list of supporters who have good stories to tell.
This includes Genkeswaran. “Actually, I have known Gen since I was a child,” Sanadt says. “Although I never went on to play chess professionally like him, the time I spent at the academy he started inspired me, and I never forgot his story. We stayed in touch, and he is now one of Ascendance’s most supportive partners.
“His story is also important to tell because what he went through could happen to anyone. Growing up with little or few opportunities, falling into the wrong company, then clawing your way out to do good for the community — these stories resonate with people from all walks of life, from anywhere around the world.”
The documentary is in Tamil, as that is the language Genkeswaran is most comfortable in, which fills a gap in the local creative scene. Although there are many high-quality theatrical and film productions in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin, very few are in Tamil. It was not deliberate on Sanadt’s part, but he does acknowledge the dearth of subject matter in the language. Considering how South Asian content is rising in popularity in the West — the Telegu language RRR’s success at this year’s Golden Globes is an example — Moving Forward is a critical addition to the genre.
Feedback on Moving Forward has been positive, Sanadt says, based on the multiple screening requests the team has received since the news broke of the film’s win at the Los Angeles Film Awards.
“Its success in LA opens a lot of doors, not just for the film to get more exposure but even for me to grow my own skills and create better work in the future,” says Sanadt, who graduated from the Toronto Film School in Canada. “The work I do benefits both the benefactors of Ascendance and the many young people whose lives we seek to change, but I obviously want the chance to enhance the quality of my craft as well.”
'Wanted: Shades of Life' premieres on March 26, 2-5pm at PJPAC. Purchase tickets here.
This article first appeared on Feb 6, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.