Mouna Khatladi Si Ngaaktani: Observing Manipuri Digital Films

Konsam Panthoi *

A scene from Thajagi Maihing

A scene from 'Thajagi Maihing'
Pix - Mayum Media and Communication

It has not been long since Bollywood films were the main source of visual entertainment in Manipur. Now it is a pleasant change to see this being replaced by Manipuri films. Though a problematic situation and an authoritarian diktat compelled the transformation, a few foresighted Manipuris decided it was an opportunity to strengthen the Manipuri film industry.

First of all, a sincere congratulations to members of the film industry whose efforts have mapped a unique history of Manipuri cinema. The industry has come a long way from the days of Matamgee Manipur to Mami-Sami. New talents are wooing the audience every week and there is definitely a growth in the film industry. However, a simple yet intriguing question stirs my mind every now and then- is the growth in terms of quantity only?

Manipuris are artistic people; our culture is an affirmation of our creativity. But when an artist is focussing on numbers (a popular female actor has supposedly work on 20-something films in a span of 5 years!) and on popularity, his or her art is bound to succumb to mere replication and imitation. It is then no surprising that many Manipuri films are characterised by recurring plots and characters.

Most of the times characters are more or less perfect examples of stereotypes; widow mother with a hard-working but luckless son, rich brats and their contractor father. I wonder why a widowed mother always has to be the silent sufferer and son of a rich contractor, always a brat. Real life does have such characters but can we be deduced to certain stereotypes only? Is not this narrowing our mindset and promoting prejudices and rigidity?

A mind conditioned by formulaic constructs will have difficulty accepting people and situations outside walls of stereotypes. Imagine the same 'widowed mother' having an affair. In reality, our society will question her morality and in films, such character is soaked in every traits of negativity. The fact that a woman can be a nurturing mother and as well as desire erotic pleasure is hard to accept by the patriarchal norms of our society. Cinema in Manipur (except a few) has not been able to capture the myriad of roles and moods a person depicts in real life. Consequently, we have a cosmos of flat characters in our industry.

Insensitive portrayal of homosexual or effeminate characters, ridiculous comic relief at the expense of the 'fat' and the 'ugly' (in the 'conventional' sense of the terms) problematise the quality of Manipuri films. In an attempt to satirise, a drunken abusive husband will shout in English to his weeping wife. The audience will hardly smile and think in retrospect. Instead, they will roar in laughter for the satire is just a shallow mimicry of the plaguing condition of alcoholism and domestic violence.

Another amusing observation is that some of our talented actors seem to be stuck in a particular role only. Imagine Gokul as the mabuk-mapao-phaba, masha kanba, chamlap touba pakhang and numerous films will pass through your memory. A box-office hit casts them into a particular mould, to be unchanged for films to come. It will be a narrow vision to assume that audience wants to see them in that role only, just because of a single hit. Experimenting with their versatility will be the real test of their talent. Maybe lack of fund is another constraint but it is not a reason enough to let talents succumb to numbers.

Women are reduced to a fallen Pizza, a succumbing reluctant wife in Luhongbagi Ahing (the male protagonist in the movie should in fact be tried for kidnapping), and the silent sufferer in Thabaton. The supposedly famous "Khudang se migi oikhre" seems to imply sternly the conservative notion of equalising women to commodity. Hearing the audience blame a teenager, a high-school girl, for not being a perfect mou in Mounao Thoibi was heartbreaking.

However, the mindset of the audience is not to be blame entirely. Someone said art should never be didactic but should be a platform for discussion. In this film, there was not even an inch-space left for discussion. The film fed the audience and they said in unison "Mouna khatladi si ngaaktani." Of course, what do you expect from a dreamy young girl! What about the 40-year-old man who entice a school girl with expensive gifts? He escaped, was redeemed by 'love' and, as expected, compensated with a new bride. To me, he is a criminal.

On the other hand, there is no dearth of talent. Tonthoi of Thoicha fruitfully blended into the role of Yaiphabi in Phijigee Mani. We have veterans like Aribam Shyam Sharma with Imagi Ningthem and Leipaklei; new filmmakers like Sonia Nepram with the powerful Gun and a God. However, one cannot deny the success of masala movies (as it is called in Bollywood) perhaps because we do need Chetan Bhagats as well as Kafkas. Exaggeration lowers the essence but yes, sometimes we all need a larger than life character- an Inspector Yoihenba to fuel our optimism, a Ta-Tomba to laugh heartily and remind us the beauty of innocence and simplicity.

When it comes to flow of creativity, there is no shackle on it. Maybe, this abundance of ideas materialises into release of films after films every week and month. We will agree that when a novel idea approaches an imaginative mind, it comes like the wind. However, the rush of the moment entangles them and our thought processes them in a web.

Giving ideas a little space and time to develop might perhaps help in initiating a dialogue between a film and its audience as an alternative to returning home with "Mouna khatladi si ngaaktani". A perfect symmetry between quality and quantity is scarcely possible but attempting to balance them is definitely worth trying. It is a wonder to the outside world how a conflict-ridden state is a powerhouse of sports in India as well as a centre for art and culture. Now it is time for our cinema to set the bar.

* Konsam Panthoi wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at konsampanthoi(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on April 16, 2014.


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