The rise of digital movies in Manipur

Khelsoril Wanbe *

Romi Meetei, a director, during film shooting of 'Sangbrei Managi Chengi Manam'

Romi Meetei, a director, during film shooting of 'Sangbrei Managi Chengi Manam'

There was a time when I wanted to see only new award winning English movies in DVD format that can be played on Lap top, Desk top or DVD player after the demise or extinction of our once imposing cinema halls of Imphal. Yes, before I talk about one of my new found pastimes, I would like to briefly recall those yonder halcyon days of long gruelling queues at ticket counters of our Asha, Jina, Shankar, Mini Shanker, Victory, Usha, Pratap Talkies, Friends Talkies and Imphal Talkies.

Generally on Fridays, new movies were introduced at the cinemas. There would be a big rush of folks of all ages at the halls, and Kala bazaaris would have busy earning time of their life. Those days 2.5 rupees would manage to buy a front-seat ticket. Shankar Talkies and Asha Hall were the biggest and favourite for Hindi and English movies, respectively. With the virtually permanent ban imposed on Hindi movies in Manipur, most of the cinemas fast lost their glory and with the heavy influx of DVDs and DVD players, the death knell of our grand cinema halls had been tolled.

The DVDs came as a boon for movie lovers as each DVD was packed with a dozen movies, and every English movie lover would go on a CD/DVD buying spree. Suddenly, Manipuri digital movies began to trickle and gradually the production frequency increased to the level that today several movies are being made every month; well, I don't have the data, but I mean to say that the production has increased by leaps and bounds, so to say.

Initially, for quite some time, I wasn't interested in Manipuri movies. I was rather lamenting the coming to an end of those good old days of English and Hindi movies. Then some members of my family began to watch Manipuri movies, perhaps for the obvious reason that Manipuri language is perfectly understood. The number of Manipuri CDs and DVDs at home gradually increased, threatening to outnumber my English DVD collection and I gradually succumbed to the pressure to watch Manipuri digital movies and I gradually became personally interested in our local-made movies; I even started buying new digital Manipuri movies which are well advertised on ISTV and by friends and neighbours.

In the beginning I didn't know the names of most of the local celebrities; but in course of time, I have come to know and recognise most of our Manipuri actors and actresses who are loaded with enormous talents. Movies of romance, patriotism, communal conflicts, corruption, migrant influx, neighbourly squabbles and bickering, land disputes, idle life are being churned out on regular basis. Almost every film/movie is embellished and flavoured with beautiful post-modern songs and well-choreographed dances. The acting talents of our actors and actresses are no longer inferior to those of the Bollywood.

Today, the names of Kaiku, Gokul, Olen, Sadananda, Bonny, Kamla, Sonia, Bala, Soma and many many more have become very familiar household names competing, displacing and replacing names like Shah Rukh, Salman, Amir, Akshay, Ajay, Saif Ali, Madhuri, Karishma, Kajol, Shilpa and a host others as far as movie scene in Manipur is concerned.

One aspect of the Manipuri movies that entertain me much is the comic scenes and characters. Great comedians like Hemanta, Chinglen, Guna, Joseph, Rangilal, Manglem, Monbi and many others do not fail to add spices and flavour to the movies and bring joy and laughter to the hearts of the viewers. Besides the entertainment aspect of song, dance and comedy, Manipuri movies have a big role to play by realistically portraying the evils, problems and conflicts bedevilling the tiny but multi-cultured, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic state.

Utmost care also needs to be taken to avoid conveying of wrong messages to the viewers. For instance, while portraying some evils and vices infecting the society such as drugs, corruption, violence and crime, it might sometimes happen that a well-intended message gets distorted in the process of attempting to convey it and casual viewers end up imbibing some socially harmful ideas. Nevertheless, I wouldn't like to denigrate the wisdom and skill of our playwrights, directors and actors who are trying hard to bring out the best out of the meagre finance, resource and infrastructure.

Movies, indeed, have a big role to play in bringing about peace, love, understanding and harmony among different sections of the society. Our local Manipuri movies are still comparatively less affected by vulgarity and obscenity. It may not be an exaggeration to say that most Manipuri movies are watchable by all family members together. It is, of course, true that the market for Manipuri movies is very limited as our state population is very small- at the most only about three million.

Well, commercial gain or profitability should not be the sole guiding principle of movie making. In an environment reigned by the hunt for easy money and easy life, the temptation for looking for the easy way may become very alluring, however, it should never be forgotten that filmmaking has a great moral role to play in bringing about far-reaching changes in the society infested by all kinds of moral maladies.

Incidentally, in the recent time, traditional moral values have increasingly come under severe assaults. True love, honesty, sincerity, hard work, perseverance etc are today at a premium. Crime rate has spiralled up to the sky. Despite being a tiny state, Manipur has been gaining increasing notoriety of being swarmed by cases of robbery, burglary, rape, murder, cheating so on and so forth. In such a critical juncture, movie industry can play a steering role, should I say?

As far as songs and dances of Manipuri movies are concerned, I feel they are still decently and gracefully done compared to those sultry steamy flimsy revealing dance scenes of Hindi and Tamil movies which I'm afraid might be playing significant role in indirectly abetting sexually perverted mentality among the highly susceptible viewers. However, perhaps, owing to the influence of the violence saturated society, many Manipuri movies seem to contain a good amount of violence which may have harmful influence on the viewers. Action movies are, of course, more exciting to watch, but care needs be taken to maintain proper moderation to avoid unwarranted violent influence on the viewers.

Despite all the financial and infrastructural hurdles, Manipuri film industry has come a long way and is thriving. However, the industry is mainly based in the valley. On the front of movie production, like in other areas as well, the hill people are still lagging far behind although abundance of talents seems to be there in the hills too. I haven't seen any other movie than Gospel Bell which appears to have been produced through the collaboration of talented hill and valley actors.

In tribal languages, only negligible number of movies has so far been made. Movie making too being part of development and advancement, the government also needs to give proper attention and extend adequate financial help to the rapidly developing industry of the state which should, in due course of time, incorporate the varied elements of the hills and valleys of the state.

* Khelsoril Wanbe wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 27, 2015.


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