Manipuri Cinema, a World within World Cinema

Bobby Wahengbam *

A scene from 'Mr Maipak'

A scene from 'Mr Maipak''

Documentaries and shorts: Manipuri film industry is unique in many senses. The genre of documentary and short film in the State is being considered more serious and intellectual than other genres. There is a general opinion that the seriousness attacked to Short films and documentaries is due to the steady decline of sensible and universally appealing films in the full length Manipuri feature film world. These days, people can hardly see production of excellent film like 'Ishanou'(1990) and others. In recent times, Manipuri filmmakers have won many national and international laurels in the genres of documentary and short film category.

And the best year so far have been the year 2010. AFSPA 1958 (Producers- Sanzu and Paban; director - Haobamm Paban Kumar) won Swarna Kamal, the top Honour, as the best documentary at the 56th National Awards in the year 2010. The film also won many International awards.

"AFSPA, 1958 certainly deserves the awards it has garnered for its humanistic approach and its obvious human rights engagement, just as much as for its point of view on women's empowerment, its encouragement of women standing up against the repressing forces of society and for its open accusation of the army's crimes over the people of Manipur. But that is not all. When judging a film, some political and humanistic guidelines may play its role, but in the end a FIPRESCI - jury should always give the award for cinematic qualities. And cinematographically, AFSPA, 1958 definitely convinces in its approach and style. The movie is a raw, frank, direct piece of cinema verite", commented Rudiger Suchsland in Documentary Today, (2010;3(3)p.33).

At the National awards, that year, "Shingnaba" (Dir-Producer- Bachaspati Mayum Sanzu) won Best Exploration Film. Natasa was conferred the Best Narration award for "Nupi Keithel" and veteran RK Bidur was decorated with the Best Critic Award.

The strong presence of young intelligent filmmakers in the State was strongly felt that year. Ten other films including Kabui Keioiba (Bhupen; Animation feature) got official selection for the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2010 (MIFF). Bishwamitra's 'Boiling blood' and Bobby Wahengbam's 'Roshni' were in the International documentary competition section among other ten films.

Chaoba Thiyam's 'Nungee Mit' and Suvas E's 'The sun is still not setting' were among the 23 fiction films in the competitions upto 75 min duration. 'Keibu Keioba' was one of the eleven animation films in the competition section.

Non-competition section had Oken Amakcham and Nirmala Chanu's 'Ratan Thiyam- the man of theatre'. Among the ten North East films selected, four were (H Pabankumar's 'Mr India', H Ronel's 'My story-you and me', Romi Meitei's 'Cease baby's whimpering cry' and A Priyobra's 'Pung Rhythm of paradise') from Manipur (11th MIFF Festival Book). On top of that, veteran filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma was conferred with the V Santaram Life Time Achievement Award appreciating and recognising his immense contribution in documentary film making. As a matter of fact, Sharma has single handedly exploited the documentary genres with credible success for so many years.

Among his prized works, mention can be made of 'Sangai, the Dancing Deer of Manipur' (Merit Award, 12th International Film Festival of Wildlife, USA,1989; Outstanding film of the year 1989, British Film Institute; participation London Film Festival and Bombay International Film Festival), 'Koro Kosii" (International Film Festival of India, 1989; Indian Film Week, Hungary; Bombay International Film Festival, 1988), 'The Deer on the Lake' (National Award for Best Environment/Conservation/Preservation Film, 1990), 'Indigenous Games of Manipur' (Indian Panorama, 1991; National Award for Best Exploration/Adventure Film, 1991), 'Meitei Pung' (National Award, Special Mention, 1992; Indian Panorama, 1992), 'Orchids of Manipur' (Indian Panorama, 1995; National Award for Best Environment Conservation/Preservation, 1995; International Wildlife Film Festival, Morocco, 1996), Yelhou Jagoi' (Indian Panorama, 1996; National Award for Best Anthropological and Ethnographical film, 1996), 'The Marams' (Indian Panorama, 2000; Mumbai International Film Festival, 2000; Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, 2000), 'Thang Ta' (National Award for Best Arts/Cultural Film, 2000), 'The Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh (Indian Panorama, 2002; National Award for Best Anthropological and Ethnographical Film and Best Cinematographer, 2002), 'Guru Laimayum Thambalngoubi Devi' (Indian Panorama, 2006; National Award for Best Biographical/Historical Reconstruction/Compilation Film, 2006), 'Rajashri Bhagyachandra of Manipur' (Indian Panorama, 2007), 'Manipuri Pony' (Indian Panorama,2013; National Award for Best Exploration/Adventure Film; MIFF 2014) among others (Souvenir, Jewel of Manipuri Cinema, 2015, Film Forum and MSFDS). v When then Bombay International Film festival (later changed to Mumbai International Film Festival) was gaining momentum to be one of the best documentary film festivals in the world, other than Aribam Syam, Sanzu's "Rude Awakening"(1998), 'Thread of Life' (2004) could be part of the festival and later Paban's 'AFSPA' (2006), Ronal Haobam's 'Nongpok Thongakpasingi Wari', Bobby Wahengbam's 'Joseph Ki Macha', Haobam Paban's 'Along the way', Th Brajabidhu's 'Aribam Syam Sharma', Y Romabati's 'Jagoida Kathoklabi Shurjamukhi Devi' the year 2008 made the cut to this esteemed biannual international film festival.

Another achievement worth mentioning is the winning of the Best Debut film at the National Awards by Thockchom Barun's "The Silent Poet' two years later. Over the years, many Manipuri shorts and documentaries brought laurels in national and international film festivals. These young Turks can be clubbed to the third generation film makers pioneered by Ninghtouja Lancha (Nongdi Tarakhidare- Indian Panorama, IFFI 2004; llisa Amagi Mahao- Indian Panorama and some international film festivals).

Among the other prominent film makers in the genres of short and documentary, mention can be made of Oinam Doren (Songs of Mashangva), Paban (Lambisida, Mr India), Th. Brajabidhu (Aribam Syam Sharma), Y Romabati (Jagoida Kathoklabi Surjamukhi Devi), Sanzu ( Singnaba, Heart to Heart), Ronel Haobam( The Zeliangrong, My story you and me), Oken Amakcham (Ratan Thiyam, Man of Theatre), Romi Meitei (Cease baby's whimpering cry, Noong amadi Yerum), Bishwamitra (Boiling Blood, Hinao), ChaobaThiyam (Eyes of an 'I'), Suvas E(The sun is still not setting), Bhumenjoy (KeibuKeioiba- animation), Natraj (April 26th), Barun Thockchom (The silent Poet), Nabakumar (Fast unto death 10 years, Victim), A. Raseswori Devi (Evolution of Raslila in Manipur), MenakaThiyam( Cheng khujokama), Sonia(Gun and God), Nirmala Chanu (Ratan Thiyan, the Man of Theatre), Bina Khagopam ( fast unto death 10 years), Priyorbatra(Cholom), Saikhom Ratan (SOS), RK Suresh (SOS), Alex (My grandpa's village), Jnanranja(Indigenous Musical Instruments of Manipur), Amarendra (films on differently abled), Inaobi (Eshei hanbi, Ibemhal), Adibo Newmei (The Arbour Life), L.Surjakanta (Guru Thanil, the Man of classical Manipuri Dance), Bobby Wahengbam (Joseph's Son, Roshni, Rhythm) among others (Festival books- Indian panorama 2004, MIFF 2008, 2010, 2012, Manipur State Film festival 2013).

Among the young turks, Haoban Paban, an alumni of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, has an edge with more recognition, awards and participation in the international platforms. The tradition of documentary film making in Manipur was said to have been pioneered by Late MK Priyobarta Singh who shot "actuality movie" with his 8mm camera as early as in mid 1960s. The relentless effort and sincere dedication of Eigya Ibohal in documentary film making should not be forgotten with varieties of films in his lab.

Maipak, son of Manipur (1971. Prod- Karam Monomohan; Dir- Debkumar) is recorded as the first documentary. Some of the first (SN Chand, Aribam Syam Sharma, G Narayan Sharma, Banka Sharma, K Ibohal Sharma, GC Tongbra, MA Singh, M. Nilmani, Sankhya Ebotombi, Basanta Kumar Wangkhem) and second (Makhon Mani Mongsaba, Rajen Meitei, RK Kripa, Surjakanta, Padam, Samacharon, Oken Amakcham, Bimol Sharma, M. Ashni Kumar, Ningthoujaa Lancha, Huidrom Noren, Bishwamitra, Chand, Kishorekumar and other Bright Films products) generation directors did also made documentaries and shorts and could make impact in festivals by winning awards. But with the advent of digital video format, a vertical growth could be made by the third generation whose directors are now expected to venture into feature film making to push up the aesthetic sensibility of Manipuri cinema.

* Bobby Wahengbam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was webcasted on Ocotber 19 2015.


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