Rk Bidur, a hierarch in film critique

Review by Bobby Wahengbam *

In the midst of hefty columnists whose film reviews occupy precious back cover space of major newspapers, a true critic shines alone standing tall in the inside page without the recognition of general public. I wonder sometimes, if the knowledgeable critic has had compromised, blindfolding himself, to be a mere reviewer to the satisfaction of all concern, he might have a great fan, (producers) following.

But he remains aloof sailing solitarily against the high tide of the mad rush. It takes more than three decades of his toiled, passionate and dedicated affairs with the aesthetics of films to bear fruit. This recognition (The National Award for Best Critic in India for the year 2008) just comes along for the eyes and ears of the masses but his works have done more than the praise in grooming film makers who choose the other less travelled path. Ladies and Gentlemen! Let's give a standing ovation to this 'never say die' doyen of film criticism, RK Bidur.

If you want to know him better and personally, please go to any discussion forum on serious film making or any art film show. And don't go back without checking in thinking that the rendezvous is a close door one. Because such programmes normally attract very few film lovers though every Tomba, Hongba or Chaoba claims to be serious about films. The industry too has a good number of hypocrites as in any other profession.

Talking about hypocrisy! We have an interesting example. In one of the reception cum award functions in Manipur, an MLA who is one of the dignitaries proudly pointed out that one only talked and praised about an art film without the person concerned actually had seen the film. He also claimed that art films normally don't have audiences. Definitely true.

But he talked in length to convince the audience that he had quite a good knowledge on films. Right! But all his proud knowledge about the film remains inside the popular genre bracket. Mr Oken Amakcham got agitated when the respected MLA questioned how many of the audience had seen the films whose directors were given token of appreciation in that function claiming that he himself had seen none of the films. The film includes India's best documentary film of the year, AFSPA.

Yes, AFSPA directed by Paban and produced by Sanzoo got Swaranakamal for the best non fiction of the year 2008 in the National Award. Is not it a proud moment for us when a Manipuri film is declared the best in the whole of India? And that is not the end. Sanzoo's "Challenge" based on the challenges of ex-Mr Manipur Pradip and probably also some challenges of the film maker (?) got the best documentary in the Investigating and Sports category.

If that is still not convincing enough to prove that Manipuri film makers are arriving in the academically competitive platform, kindly put to your knowledge that the best Narrator for the year 2008 is also conferred to Ms Natasa for her impressive vocal rendering in another documentary, Sanakeithel. This is indeed a proud moment especially when Manipuris are teased upon for their different English pronunciation especially to those who are in Sports.

It is natural for human being to backbite when one can't compete with the better off ones. This is evident in the field of Sports. When others can't compete with the sporting acumen of the Manipuris, they hunt for other weaknesses. Ms Natasa proves that we can be at par if not better than the best in English pronunciation.

Mr Bidur absented himself from that reception function though he was one of the important recipients. I wondered why he did so. What was the harm in supporting such a rare function! Probably he does not like the mixed function of receiving National Awarded personalities, other achievers in the National and International scenarios in the field and awarding most popular male and female actor in Manipur.

He might have thought the merging of two extremes in one function made the value of National Award cheap. Soon I realised the intelligence of Yambung Bidur's indifference when I saw some 500 rupees notes being counted by one of the MLAs and handed it over to one of the organisers on stage in front of the huge crowd. Probably, it may be a traditional style of donation in Manipur since nobody seemed to mind it but it made me leave the venue immediately. I could not help but salute Yambung for his firm farsighted decision.

But sometimes, Yambung is too concerned with the aesthetics and development of cinema that he fails to check the platform when he talks on the subject of cinema. I remember in one "Film Khonghou Thauni Thauram" of a film, Yambung was in his usual thought provoking speech. It was absorbing to me but for the crowd who were from the busy commercial industry found it unbearable since most of them had a next shift in waiting.

One of the lead actors was becoming restless getting stuck between the speech and the mobile calls from the other party in waiting. He answered something like, "I am stuck, and the function is taking longer as they invite all the people in the universe who keep on talking." Poor Yambung, he was the Chief Guest of the function. I don't find anything wrong with Yambung and for the matter with the restless Star.

What is wrong is the platform. If one is confused about the different platforms existing in the closed film circuit, let me try to explain it very briefly. Broadly speaking, there are two types of film audiences who make the film professionals divide. The first one comprises the major chunk of audiences who just want to get them entertained in any which way the film can.

The second one has limited audiences who see film with good knowledge of the nuances of cinema. So, film makers are divided in satisfying these two broad schools. And both are equally important in a society. In the present prevailing situation, the entertaining films are the only few balms that temporarily heal the stark grievances of common people. It is the greatest form of recreation.

In fact, without the escapist platforms of Sumang Leela and Films, one can't survive in Manipur with its unpredictable existential predicament. Most of the Manipuri commercial films represent the elevation of the meekest to the heights of triumph. It is the only dream factory where audiences of the lowest denominator in the society find their cherished day dreams realised. It is not just that 2 hr and something that the audiences feel proud of himself but a good days thinking about it.

Audiences are not interested to those films which fail to make them proud and pleased. At the same time, the industries feed thousands of individual and their families literally. The extremely meagre amounts the technicians and professionals get from their works simply mean their livelihood. And nothing is important than Livelihood. If anybody interferes in one's legal elixir of livelihood, the consequences are normally fatal.

Unluckily, due to the limited and small market, the professional including the stars can not find anything more than just livelihood from their toiled labour. So, what they need is work and more work. This predominant reality makes that Star unmindful about Yambung's speech in that function. So, mind the platform and the prevailing status; neither the Star nor Yambung. To the commercial and popular film professionals, the box office is their parameter of success. Wish the volume of transactions is in terms of crores.

At the same time, a quality of a society is reflected through films. And quality of a film is not determined through the box office collection. The competition of films aesthetics outside Manipur and India demands intelligence in the nuances of cinema. This won't come in few readings, seeing and talking. Even a crash course on film appreciation won't help.

One needs passion for good cinema and familiarities with the film art. For that, extensive and unending studies and discussions on good cinema are called for. Without that quality, every art film is boring and slow to you for the gap in communication. Will general pleasant seeking audiences who find solace in the escapist films care for all these? No !

The general audiences, who have their own duty in their own field, consider film as a platform to enjoy and relax. They mean a lot for the worth of their valued hard spent ticket price. So, there is no room for film of other ge-nres to steal their right to entertainment. Theatre owners are also trying their level best to avoid non commercial motive films since they only concern for box office collection yet, another struggle for survival. Darwin is right!

At the same time, the art films connotatively strives for its deepest core of meaning where 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 familiarities 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 are straight away rejected and easily termed as boring. And any film that carried or tried to carry weight of conscience and aim at exploiting the film art could not find any favour from the general audience. Film makers who tried to link the two audiences through their films in Manipur failed miserably as the market share is too thin for such experiment. Consider this also that the highest ticket rate in Manipur is Rs.18 where the lowest in multiplexes outside the state is Rs. 150.

It is pity that some of the extremely talented film makers have to confine themselves under the bracket of commercial film making where they have to play around with the nine emotions of Love, Hate, Joy, Sorrow, Pity, Disgust, Fear, Anger and Compassion blending them in different ways around a predominant emotion. Luckily, it is indeed a good sign that some of the popular film makers including Bishwamitra, Romi, Subash could interact with some of the prominent documentary film makers and witness some of the better documentaries and short films through MIFF, 2010.

It is obvious that films meant for the na´ve audiences won't attract the art moguls of international cinema. Films that can bring laurels for Manipur have to be from the second category. For that we definitely need dedicated and knowledgeable critics like Rk Bidur and other focused film makers. And to bring such personalities who are more respected outside Manipur than in their own home State to the limelight for the benefit of the Manipuri film, the audiences are needed to make familiar with the art and aesthetics of films.

It is high time that film is included in the education curriculum. Then only, we can be part of the global market and can save the talented artistes and professionals from going astray. Are you listening, Sir? As a starter, let's give the new National Awarded film personalities who have made our films felt remarkably to the outside world. Cheers to Rk Bidur, Sanjoo, Paban and Natasa.



* Bobby Wahengbam wrote this review for The Sangai Express.
This was webcasted on June 23, 2010 .

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