Of Commercial and Art Films
Manipuri Cinema, a world within a world Cinema

Bobby Wahengbam *

A scene from Yairipok Thambalnu

A scene from Yairipok Thambalnu

In advanced countries like France, Korea and host of others, the two terms, Art and Commercial, are merging. But in country like India, there is a huge gap between the two terms to be two different dichotomies. And the dichotomy between the art and commercial widened and moved in the opposite extremes. The two are like two sides of the same coin. In Manipur, it seems that only one side of the coin is shinning bright, at least within the state, where the other side is rusted beyond recognition. So, some films from the shinning side even won the exclusive Best Manipuri Regional Film at the National Awards in the absence of good art films.

The commercial film making has both positive and negative connotations. Positive, if we consider in terms of entertainment, recreation, economy, livelihood, employment, social integration, acting talents and popularity. It is negative if viewed in aesthetic, high art and intellectual terms.

Manipuris can't live without Manipuri films because Film and Sumang Leela are the elixir of life being the only recreational platforms. As a matter of fact, Manipuri film industry is the only happening industry in Manipur whether on calls it cottage industry or not. Thousands are being fed by the industry directly or indirectly. Actor Bony and many others experience a fairly tale like experiences, of rags to riches. What they get per film may be too small comparing with any other film industry but such meager income is good enough to lead a decent life here. And some film makers optimistically claim that our films are popular even in neighboring countries.

Though it is hard to critically discuss Manipuri films aesthetically, intellectually and cinematically, films do reflect the social, political and economical conditions of the period. If not serious enough in the approach, Manipuri films often reflect the existential predicament of the common people. And common people, especially the lower denomination could get fulfillment in Manipuri films escaping from their unfavorable reality. If we look at global scenario, film is now a consumerist art with globalization and commercialization gaining momentum.

In commercial world, the creation is not only the world of the image of the general public but also more importantly the image of their fantasies. The characters may not be that 'larger than life' image, still the emotion and the emotional toning play a very important role in our preferences for visual fiction. A given viewer at a given time will often want to see something funny, tense, thrilling, sublime, or tear-jerking. We know that commercial films in our context involve in plating around the EMOTIONS - fear, anger, joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, expectation, and surprise.

As a result, our society is absurdly run by emotion making the reality fades out and impractical which is destructive and counter progressive as we havewitnessed in some of the crucial moments we have had.

In some regional film industries, luckily, there is no dearth of audience for both the genres. But in Manipur, there is no provision for aesthetically rich films which shed off conventional melodramatic and pleasing potboilers. Too much logic, reality and layers of thought are bored to the general masses. Normally, people have left behind their thinking cap while watching a film. Films that fail to provide their dreams come true are basically 'sick', 'boring' and 'slow' films.

People, probably, are not familiar with world cinema and cinematic art because Bollywood, Sumang Leela (basically a very different art form based on verbal power, body movement. philosophy, style and loudness) and Television (idiot box; read serial) have been our staple diet. So, the taste of the audience is so formed. The three forms have merged with the birth of "EsheiLeela". And popular films need to be articulated in the hue and tone of that familiar plane.

"It is now difficult to say whether Manipuri films influence Sumang Leela or Sumang leela influences film."

But such films will remain local. In International and universal sense, many film enthusiasts would not feel proud to show our films to the world. Pabung Syam seems to be not contented with the present trend.

"The present film making trend is good and the digital revolution is a good sign. But there should be films which we don't feel awkward to show to our friends, outside the state."

Furthermore, many claim that the digital video film genre is hangover of the Hindi films of the 90's. Professor Bimol Akoijam opined that the style carried out by most of the films were the continuation of the film style of the 90s Bollywood films.

Akoijam's view cannot be taken lightly as he has served the only two festivals of Manipuri films during 2005 to 2011. But the silver lining, as commented by him, was the improvement in terms of quality of films from the festival in 2008 organised by Film Forum, Manipur, to the one organised by Manipur Film Development Corporation in 2010. And comments by outside critics are not encouraging as well.

"Filmmakers in both states (Assam and Manipur) need government's support to keep making films otherwise they are forced to work in the domain of digital and video films, which are quite popular in Manipur in particular. But those films are generally of very poor quality. They need to break the cocoon in order to be competitive nationally."

All said and done, it will be wrong to see the commercial film industry only in the bad light. The industry is also taking a big responsibility to bring smiling faces and remove tension by working as a wonderful balm to heal the predicaments we are witnessing now and then.

"Our core responsibility is to entertain. If we are to do social work, then we would have opened educational institute. So, we should respect that responsibility."

Like Bollywood counterpart, the Manipuri film industry is also taking a big responsibility in society. The film fraternity forms a football team and plays exhibition matches with various organizations both from the hill and the valley for social integration, entertainment and popularity. Interesting, the commercial film professionals are so obsess with Hollywood and Bollywood that they called themselves MANIWOOD and hence the football team, 'Maniwood football team'.

Even though many criticize 'film for profit' being working in the surface, but that surface has been the way of life for the masses getting their hard earn morale booster in the desert of entertainment. It becomes one of the very few platforms where their right to entertainment is entertained.

But at the same time, it will also be wrong to scale 'achievement' by popularity, mass appeal and financial gain as we can't say that "Chitrahaa Dance (Film Eshei Tantha)" is better than a "Khamba Thoibi dance" because the earlier could gather more audiences in the 'Laimang' during the Lai Haraoba festival.

Art film connotatively strives for its deepest core of meaning where the present Manipuri commercial film does not have the luxury to shed its denotative nature but instead demand for vocally exaggerated and melodramatic information. The audiences are firmly sucked to their familiarity of melodramatic signs and are never moved unless the presentation is heightened emotionally.

They are unable to have any link with the so called meaningful art cinema since the languages of such cinema are very Greek to majority of them. Any film that tries to depart the conventional denotatively exaggerated melodramatic discourse is straight away rejected. And any film that carried or tried to carry weight of conscience and aimed at exploiting the film art could not find any favour from the general audience.

Theatre owners are trying their level best to avoid such films since they are concerned only for the box office collection.

Amazing as it may be, people, including those involved in film making referred to art film as documentary for the simple reason that such films do not have songs, dance, violence, melodrama, exaggerated emotions and loudness. I am really fed up telling people that I'm making documentary films for the innocuous reason that their comment at the end is, "Oh! You make art films". It is very unfortunate that we are too naive to understand the genre of art film.

The so called ART or the AUTEUR films are irrelevant in their world of quality commercial film. The dogma that 'Film is an art form, a means of expression, a mirror, a source of shared experience' does not exist in their dictionary.

In such a scenario, the pedestal of high art no longer occupies the respected space it used to. Their logic is straight, "no audience, no use." And those who go against the tide, no matter how high their arts are, have nothing to gain except humiliation. It will make you have a sense of loss and disorientation. But you should be unmoved because 'ignorance is bliss' for them. And it should not erode art and aesthetic. Film is not a kid's play.

In Greece, film is kept under Education Ministry. Many Indian University do have MA course in Film Studies. There are institutes all over the world to learn film arts. If we remain cut off from the world cinema limiting ourselves to local market, then, our reputation is at stake because film connotes the quality of thought of the people.

An Art film should run by logic, reality, intelligence and aesthetics with innovation in cinematic arts. It would be good for us to make universal films in the art genre. It will bring prestige to our people. Commercial films will come and go, but a good art film will remain forever. There is, now, good prospect of art films. If any film can get an entry to reputed festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Vanes, London, Kolovos Vary, Nantes, Rostradams, Freiberg, Munich, Busan, Hongkong, Tokyo, Rome, Sydney, Doordarrshan will telecast such a film by paying the producer a fee of around 25 lakh Rupees.

Easier than this, an inclusive award like the Best Manipuri Regional Film in the National Film Awards can easily fetch you the same. Not so serious film like 'Phijigee Mani (2010)', which was a box office disaster, has enjoyed the benefit. It has earned more profit than any otherfilm that year. This has opened up host of possibilities for creative endeavor today in conscious film making.

1. Actor, director, Jnanaranjan in a casual talk.
2. Aribam Syam Sharma in various platforms.
3. Bimol Akoijam. A meeting organized by Film Forum, Manipur at Mini Shanker. January 2012.
4. Ankita Das. Cinema in North-East India.Women's Panorama. 2013;1(7),p8
5. Amir Khan on Times Now.30.04.2012: 11.30pm

*Bobby Wahengbam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao ( English Edition )
This article was webcasted on January 30, 2014.


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