Manipuri Cinema, Phijigee Mani, Best Supporting Actress and National Awards
Part 1

Review by Bobby Wahengbam *

Phijigee Mani

Phijigee Mani

Thanks to the recognition of the digital video format at the National Film Awards two years back, talents of the North Easterners can be appreciated beyond the state boundaries. A Manipuri actress can shine at the 59th National Film Awards 2012 by winning the Best Supporting Actress for her superb performance in Phijigee Mani (My only Gem). Phijigee Mani directed by young and talented O. Gautam also won the National Award for the Best Manipuri Film in the same year.

Such a remarkable feat was done earlier by Master Leikhendro by winning the Best Child Actor for his natural acting for the Nantes Grand Prix winning film Imagi Ningthem (1982), directed by renowned film maker Aribam Syam Sharma, exactly a decade after the release of state's first feature film Matamgi Manipur (1972). Again in the year 1990, Kiranmala, the protagonist of Ishanou, another internationally acclaimed film by Sharma just missed the best actress award but to find contentment with the special mentioned.

The success of Tonthoi has rejuvenated everyone in the Manipuri film fraternity. Everybody in the small film industry is mindful for Awards not just for recognition and future prospect but for monetary reason too. For Tonthoi, the cash award of Rupees 50,000/- is going to be the fattest pay ever. Normally, a top star is paid a fee of only 35,000/- per film. The case is the same for the directors. Now, Tonthoi is receiving appreciations falling on her with a soft, contented smile.

She has already proved her mettle in earlier films that includes Thoicha (2010 dir. Prem), Paokhum (Biswamitra; she was conferred special mentioned in the state award, 2011), Sakhenba Bhoot (2009, Biswamitra), Nungsibi Kabo Valley (2011, Jeetendra Ningombam). Thoicha, a supernatural traditional horror, was a blockbuster. It is a rare quality for an actress to get appreciation from both the masses and the classes.

Recently, the versatile actress won the Viewers' Choice award for the most popular actress, 2011 organised by Film Academy, Manipur. When inquired about her method of acting for the two divergent styles, she commented that she tried to enter to the skin of the character heart and soul no matter the genre of the film, commercial or art.

In Phijigee Mani, she could manage to reflect the boiling pain she has been living with her body of art which is further enhanced by her free flowing but controlled dialogue delivery. Her class in acting is vividly evident in the scene in which she meets her brother, who is incommunicado for more than six years and whom she has come to meet all the way to Shillong from Imphal. Panelists, probably, could not help but to consider her for the prestigious Best Supporting Actress award for her absorbing facial expression in the scene. In the film, as a whole, her matured act echoes moments of almost unbearable poignancy. And it was so done by playing around the nuances of subtle but natural acting.

Phijigee Mani is one of the few films that attempts to divert tide from the forceful wave of commercial filmmaking. In spite of making digital video format eligible for competition two years back, Manipuri digital film industry, with 31 odd films a year, failed to win an award including the exclusive Best Manipuri Feature Film last year. Phijigee Mani ends a decade old draught of Manipuri film at the National Awards. A celluloid film "Chatledo Eidi" by second generation director Makhon Mani Mongsaba was last conferred the best Manipuri film award at the 48th National award way back in the year 2000.

The award is a saving grace for Mrs. Medha, the producer, as she used to shy away from public sphere to avoid embarrassment. She reminded how she was being teased for the poor show of the film at the box office. She was laughed at since she also wrote the story. The film, made with a budget of 10 lakh +, could not fetch even 10% of its cost from its limited release at 20 theaters. Even though she has not expected much from the box office, she had to face the disastrous box office failure with utter shock.

But her gut of selecting such a story which is not the scheme of thing of a commercial film is worth appreciating for. In the consumerist world, success is measured in harder material terms where the intellectual is under pressure to accept this criterion letting mediocrity at the forefront. The pedestal of high art no longer occupies the privileged space it used to enjoy. The low- budget, artistically advanced body of films using the universal language of cinema, rather than the uniquely melodramatic has been rejecting by the masses.

Depiction of reality in cinema is something the masses as well as the so called classes (lately) would like to avoid. Films that fail to provide fantasy are basically termed as 'sick' and 'slow' art films. Worst, the masses even voiced against such films. In this context, film like Phijigee Mani commercially asphyxiated at its release. It will be wrong to comment that Phijigiee Mani comes without visual and aural melodrama. But it is, at least, a film which can shed away the pretended aesthetically paddling impression on commercial Manipuri digital video cinema so formed. It is a film produced with a stream of consciousness which explicitly shows the pangs of thousand of parents. Yaiphabi's (Tonthoi) family is an index of thousand of such families which are facing the brunt after the physical and mental separation of the young and productive ones from the family.

Youths in Manipur are leaving home for want of jobs outside the state leaving their aged parents behind. The film also opines that such a condition is created by the unavoidable situations with no fault of anybody.

The film has several chapters, tones and hues. It reflexes the crisis between the patriarchal traditional way of life and the nucleus modern system. The film stands in the transit space. Parents are too tied up with the heavily mythologized institution of the tight-knit, controlled but warm joint family system. Being old fossils, they are unable to accept the modern reality which is becoming a norm especially for the people of Manipur as the educated youths are compelled to leave their native place for better prospects. They normally come home only for their weddings.

There is a traditional feast on the 5th day of the wedding called 'Mangani Chakkouba'. But the young workaholics can't wait till then. So, this 5th day feast is becoming 2nd day one. This is happening frequently. And they claim that Manipur is boring and they don't know what to do in their short forced stay here. They are too tied with their work which they perform their duties sincerely with slavish obedience. Manipur would have been an amazing place if this work culture is contaminated to the lethargic but privileged employees in the state.

In that case, there won't be corruption, a disease with no medicine at sight. Slowly and gradually, such young NRM are becoming culturally and geographically rootless. And this condition brings unbearable pangs to the old parents who normally nurture wards with an expectation-the logical expectation that children will look after them when they become old. The parents seem to be happy when they talk about their children getting job outside but internally they are suffering.

They prefer self suffering than see their children going astray. The unfavorable social, political and economic situations make children vulnerable to get spoiled. In Manipur, there is no scope, the law and order situation is unpredictable, drug and AIDS crises are rampant. But the film is concentrating on the notion of loneliness of the senior citizens.

To be continued ...

* Bobby Wahengbam sent this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 03, 2012.


Who is the Best Actress?

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  • * Binata
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  • * Kamala
  • * Manda
  • * Sonia
  • * Sunila


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