The man who made the first Manipuri digital film : An interview with Premjit Naoroibam

By Oinam Doren *

Premjit Naoroibam

Premjit Naoroibam

Manipuri cinema is the first film industry in India to go fully digital . 'Lammei' has been honored as the first digital film to be shot in Manipur. Premjit Naoroibam, the managing director of Kangla films who produced the film can also be considered the pioneer of digital cinema movement in Manipur.

As we sit in his office in Palace gate Imphal, Premjit shares with us the traumas and hassles of making the film and taking it to the theatre paving the way for his contemporaries to follow.

the camera used to make the first digital film in manipur

the camera used to make the first digital film in Manipur

Question: Please tell us about your background?
Premjit: I used to run a watch shop in BT road Imphal for a livelihood. But I have always been interested in the arts and acted in a shumang leela play as the protagonist. The first video film I produced "echelsida" under my production company Kangla films was also based on this play. It was made with a budget of 60,000 rupees and directed by Oken Amakcham. Oken was a national award winner and I had gone to him to ask for some guidance as he stays in our area.

But then eventually I persuaded him to direct it. Celluloid films were very active then and I always had this inferiority complex to tell others that I was a video film producer. For post-production of the video film, I hired a room in the electricity department office of my area Kongba bazaar as they have 24 hour electricity.

The room was strewn with straw and it was covered with bedsheets where we sat day and night cutting the film with 2 VCRs. Sound dubbing was also done in the room and sometimes we have to retake again and again due to the external noise of vehicles passing by the road.

Question:So how was video films shot on VHS distributed in those days?
Premjit: They were usually rented out to video parlors for rupees 200/day. Copies were also sold at rupees 1500/ per tape. I can't recollect correctly but I managed to sell between 80-100 copies of my film echelsida.

In those days, video films were not generally screen in theatre as celluloid medium was active. But as an experiment to check whether video films can be enjoyed with theatrical experience, my film echelsida was released in Mata Cinema at Singjamei area in Imphal. The video projector was placed on a table in the middle of the theatre and though it looked odd, the film managed to run for 35days.

Question:How did you organise to make the first digital film in Manipur?
Premjit: In 2001, Kangla films organised a 10days workshop where all the departments of filmmaking was covered. Oken Amakcham was the director and other eminent film personalities of Manipur like RK Bidur, K Ibohal Sharma, Meghachandra Kongbam, Makhonmani Mongsaba and Diya were the resource person.

About 45 participants took part in the workshop including 2 child artists. The plan was to do a production after the workshop where all the participants would be made a part of the production team. The screenplay of "lammei" was also developed during the workshop by the participants in the script department.

Although guest artist were hired in the cast, it is funny to remember that the age of the girl playing the mother of the heroine in the film was almost equal to that of the heroine. It was so because the girl was a participant in the workshop and we have already committed to involve her. As for the equipments, I went to Guwahati and bought at Sony digital 8 camera along with a VHS superdrive VCR. In 2002, the film "lammei" was made with a budget of rupees 1.5 lakhs directed by Oken Amakcham.

The 4 songs in the film were edited on Apple G5 while the main film was edited using the VCR.

Question:How did you get it distributed as theatres in Manipur at that time were not equipped to screen digital films?
Premjit: I started running around to theatres in Imphal to meet the managers or the proprietors. But it was difficult to find them as most of the theatres had shut down due to the bandh called by an insurgent group against screening of hindi/bollywood movies. A major share of the theatre business in Manipur is run by screening bollywood movies.

But I got a chance to meet the owner of Mini-friends and told him of my intention to release my new film "lammei" in his theatre. He agreed. But unfortunately in the second meeting, he told me some groups were opposed to screening video films in theatre. Then I approached the owner of Friends Talkies who guided me to make my film eligible for screening in theatre. He asked me to get a censor certificate and a permit from the Deputy Commissioner of Imphal. The same opponent group warned that if video film was screened in Friends Talkies, the screen would be burnt down. But I ran around and got the censor certificate.

But after running around for a month in my Luna (moped bike), the Deputy Commissioner of Imphal refused to give the permit as he was advised by the same opponent groups against screening of video films in theatres.

But I was not ready to give up and wanted to prove that my film was like any other celluloid films except that it was shot in a small digital handycam camera. So on 5th May 2002, I organized a releasing function in Friends Talkies in which I invited the Deputy Commissioner and his family to watch the film. His Excellency the Maharajah of Manipur Leisemba Sanajaoba did the honor of releasing the film.

But unfortunately the Deputy Commissioner didn't turn up. But his wife and children came. I was hunting for a projector that could be kept in the projector room and project better quality images. I was lucky to find a guy who had bought a projector from Singapore and had been lying idle for one year. He agree to rent his equipment for rupees 1500/ per show.

After the screening, the Deputy Commissioner seemed to have heard positive views from his wife and children and agreed to give permission to screen my film in Friends Talkies for 15 days. He also added a clause that if the public demanded, the days would be extended.

But my problem doesn't seem to end there. The owner of Friends Talkies asked me to hire his theatre on rent by paying 21000 rupees per week. And the cost of hiring the projector was coming to rupees 4500/ for 3 shows per day. But I somehow managed to convince the owner of Friends Talkies to run the show on profit sharing basis. I even persuaded one of my uncles to buy the projector from the old owner at 1.45 lakhs on the guarantee that he would get back his investment after my film makes rounds of theatres in Manipur.

So on 24th may, 2002 my film lammei started screening in Friends Talkies. As there was nobody in Imphal at that time who could operate the projector, I also worked as the operator for the entire screenings.

During that time, a celluloid film was also being screened in another theatre in Imphal. The black marketeers were pulling away my audience saying that it is a video film. That also recharged my inferiority complex that I was a video film producer. But my film managed to run for 45 days in Friends Talkies and the net profit was shared between me, the owner of Friends Talkies and my uncle who bought the projector on 1:1:1 ratio.

I then trained a young chap to operate the projector who screened the film in theatres across Manipur. I managed to make 300% profit from the film. After my film's success, all the celluloid filmmakers in Manipur started making films in digital format.

Question:Recently Manipur digital films has been made eligible to compete in the national awards and for the 59th national awards, the Manipuri digital film "phijigee mani" (my only gem) was given recognition while its actress L. Tonthoingambi devi snatched the best supporting actress award. What is your comment on that?
Premjit: I think digital technology is a blessing for a small place like Manipur with its small population and limited market. But most of the digital films made in Manipur are meant for cheap entertainment as producers expect to get their investments. And such films do not find a place in competitions.

I think if the government gives some subsidies, we would be able to make better quality films that can compete on a national and international level. Kangla films is also starting a film appreciation course from May 2002 where we would train people who want to enter the field.

* Oinam Doren is a national award winning filmmaker and a freelance writer on cinema, music & culture.
He is also a regular contributor to
You can contact Oinam Doren at doren(dot)ourvillagefilms(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was first webcasted on July 28, 2012


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