A 28-year-old Malaysian home chef has hurtled to YouTube fame, winning more than 740,000 subscribers and the praise of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan.
S. Pavithra and her husband M. Sugu, 29, manage the Sugu Pavithra YouTube channel, where she showcases wholesome dishes such as steamed fish, mutton curry, and sweet and sour chicken, using basic cooking implements and speaking in fluent Bahasa Malaysia, the country’s national language.
Sugu serves as a sous chef and is also featured tucking into his wife’s meals, along with their two young children.
Fans have described Pavithra as inspirational and humble.
In an interview with state news channel Bernama, Pavithra revealed that she does not even use a tripod to make the videos, perching her phone in a cup.
Her videos attracted the attention of the prime minister, who mentioned her in a public address on economic recovery, saying he hoped the husband-wife pair would improve their cooking skills and open a restaurant.
“Then we can try their chicken varuval (a spicy dry-fried meat dish),” Muhyiddin said.
He gifted her a tripod, cooking utensils and a rice cooker, along with a note asking her to “keep up the good work”.
Pavithra, who dropped out of school due to financial restrictions, told local newspaper the New Straits Times that the prime minister’s mention “meant the world” to the pair and that they hoped to open a restaurant next year.
After her videos became widely viewed, YouTube made the husband-and-wife team – referred to as SuguPavithra – partners, allowing them to monetise their uploaded content.
Thanks to the couple’s YouTube success, their household income has risen nearly nine-fold, with SuguPavithra earning 8,700 ringgit (S$2,800) a month, compared with Sugu’s previous monthly income of about 1,000 ringgit as a plantation worker.
The family has since moved to a new home in Ipoh, even recording and sharing their move on YouTube.
A magazine also featured Pavithra in a photoshoot, dolling her up – although she insisted she would not do it again and had no intention of pursuing a modelling career.
We may already be witnessing our very non-cinematic Cinderella story. Sugu Pavithra's rise to fame from rags to riches, is the story of Malaysia's 3 month lockdown! #meteoric #sugupavithra pic.twitter.com/Ko2E6eMFwm
— திவாகரன் சுகுமார் ♉ (@divasays_) June 21, 2020
Although many Malaysians have praised the couple’s accomplishments, some have criticised them as their popularity grows.
Members of the country’s ethnic Indian minority community questioned her decision to speak Bahasa Malaysia instead of Tamil, while a local TV host publicly slammed the pair for asking for a 10,000 ringgit appearance fee.
The comments prompted some to defend Pavithra, including Chef Wan, who said her confidence and fluency in Bahasa Malaysia endeared her to viewers.
“Even if she cooks simple recipes, you can see her passion, and that’s why the public finds her interesting and reciprocates that energy. We should be very proud of her, happy for her, and not judgmental or discouraging,” he said, adding that comments “targeting her race” were unacceptable.
“We can never go wrong learning how to masak (cook) from anybody, because then we learn from different walks of life, experiences, and cultures,” Chef Wan said.
According to social media manager Lancelot Theseira, the SuguPavithra YouTube channel is the fastest-growing non-commercial channel in Malaysia so far.
“She’s probably in the top five per cent of content creators in Malaysia. One of her videos got 1,700 views in just 30 minutes,” said Lancelot, saying that part of SuguPavithra’s winning formula was authenticity.
“With all the chatter we’re exposed to on a daily basis, someone who is clearly from humble beginnings and isn’t in it for the fame or likes views – she’s a welcome relief for the average Malaysian media consumer.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.