Of Story, Melodrama and Grammar:
The screening of the film Ningthem at JNU

Review by: Usham Rojio / Deepak Naorem *

Cinema as a popular art form not only entertains but also visually archives a huge corpus of social facts. It highlights not only social, political, economic and religious themes but also articulate in a subtle way the anxieties of the filmmakers, particularly that of the director and the screen-writer.

Those engaged with story-telling in visual and performing arts are all familiar with these, not so peculiar conditions associated with the medium. They express their anxieties in various forms of art like literature, theatre, songs, dances and cinema. Cinema as a popular art medium is liked by the people for its easy communicative capabilities in its myriad and complex forms.

Manipur Research Forum screened the Manipuri film Ningthem, directed by Bishwamitra on the 11th of July, 2009 at School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Those who watched the film comprised students, professionals and young scholars. One could see everyone willing to share his or her views when the screening was over. As programmed, a serious discussion followed the screening.

Dr. Bhagat Oinam, Associate Professor of Philosophy, JNU initiated the discussion and requested Associate Professor Dr. A. Bimol Akoijam from the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU to give his critical assessment of the film. Dr. Bimol Akoijam emphasized that we need to look into two aspects of film production.

The first one is the 'film grammar' aspect which include methodology, philosophy and technology behind film making. The second is the narrative aspect which include social message, issues addressed in the film that the writer/director is trying to depict. He pointed out that the film is very poor as far as the 'grammar' aspect is concerned. This view was seconded by many who were present at the discussion.

He elaborated on it by drawing comparison with the critically acclaimed Manipuri film Mami Sami. He further tried to examine the issue by elaborating the reasons why such technical brilliance could not take place in Manipuri Cinema. He argued that majority of the film makers lacked intimate knowledge of making films.

Despite this apparent lack, Dr. Akoijam said that when it comes to the second aspect related to narratives and of the ability to put across social messages, the film surpasses many of the familiar story-lines we see today in Manipur, despite the film Ningthem still following the typical melodramatic mode.

He argued that the filmmaker and the writer tried to address certain social issues in the Manipuri society caught between modern legal framework and traditional-familial associative relations. The film is a family drama, depicting different aspects of human relationships ranging from personal to social and personal to the legal. It highlights tensions that exist in the Manipuri society between the urban and rural, rich and poor and many other dichotomies. The film ends with a tragic note carrying strong moral messages.

Pari, the lone child of a young couple faces the trauma of separation between his father and mother. The poor father rears Pari all alone without the support of the childís mother. This plight of the parents affects the tender mind of the child. The deteriorating health of the child creates a new twist in the life of the child and parents resulting to ups and downs of the family and its relationship with the world outside.

Dr. Akoijam emphasized on the tensions that created obstacles in the relationship between the husband and the wife. He found pride, class difference, male chauvinism, patriarchal dominance etc. as the culprits behind the sour relationship.

Some participants in the discussion pointed out that the mother (played by Maya chaudhuri) in the film represented a feminist critique of the patriarchal stereotype and hence depicting a story of female emancipation.

Another young scholar viewed that the separation between the husband and the wife was hinged on a mild note which was the result of faulty characterization of the individuals by the director. The pride of the father (Sadananda) was clearly depicted, whereas why the mother having a son would not return at her husband's dwelling place, was not clearly depicted.

The young scholar argued that it is the prejudice of the mother that led to the break up of the relationship. But, the director failed to depict and arouse that prejudice to the audience. Hence, the child was sacrificed on the altar of 'pride and prejudice'. Social adjustment, which is the theme of the movie, is ultimately a question of human relationships and central human relationship that lies at the core of all societies.

As Dr. Akoijam had also pointed out that because of the capable director, the same actors Sadananda and Binata did a good job in the film like Mami Sami, however their potential didnít come out well in this movie, everyone also agreed on that note.

Mr. Dhiren Sadokpam commented that often while we use film as a medium of aesthetic communication, we tend to mix it up with other modes of communication such as theatre, sumang lila, radio plays, etc. It was felt that most of the films in Manipur fail to produce films using cinema as a means of communication.

He suggested two possible ways through which a film can be studied;
(i) seeing a film completely without sounds, and
(ii) listening to the dialogue without seeing the visuals. The exercise will show richness or poorness of cinematography of a film.

Other members who took part in the discussion too highlighted the absence or the lack of a consistent effort towards using the visual medium to its fullest by giving many more examples of various shots, sequences and picturization. Most of the members of the audience agreed though the story line was very strong it was not done justice by a good screen play or direction.



* Usham Rojio / Deepak Naorem, frequent contributor to e-pao.net , reviewed this film.
The reviewer - Usham Rojio - can be contacted at urojio(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was sent by Dr. Bhagat Oinam
This article was webcasted on July 30 2009.

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