Women in Manipuri Cinema
Manipuri Cinema, a world within a world Cinema

Bobby Wahengbam *

Rashi Devi (thangmeiband) and Jamani (Uripok) in  Imagi Ningthem

Rashi Devi (thangmeiband) and Jamani (Uripok) in Imagi Ningthem

Women in Manipuri cinema are always put from the male gaze. Most of the women put on the traditional Phanek. Western dressed or Salwar and Kameez worn women are hardly seen in films except by young heroines. But to show very goody goody traditional women, Phanek plays an important part. And westernized women are sometimes projected as bad women out of family values. Right from the first film 'Matamgi Manipur', the tight joint family system is considered sacred.

Strong patriarchal structure is always reflected almost in all the films. Man can have wives where the second wife is considered as villains by the family. The husband can return to the family but woman can never do the same and remarriage is taboo even in films. The more the wife is dedicated to the husband and the family, no matter the evils committed by other members of the family, the better woman she is. Films after films the women are reminded the attitude, 'the husband is my god".

In 'Matamgi Manipur' (dir. Devkumar Bose, 1972), the husband (Robindro Sharma), a working man and only earning member of a family of five heads, has stayed with a Mistress (Rashi) bringing hardship to the family. The wife (Roma), being a conventional wife in a patriarchal setup, suffers to remain in bed most of the time praying for the return of the husband.

Eventually, at the end, as expected, the husband returns home after realizing the mistake where the wife and the family welcome the man wholeheartedly. If we look the other way around, any woman, no matter her social, political, professional or economical status, will never be allowed to come back once such a step has been taken.

In a film, the protagonist (Pramesori), facing the economic predicament of being a wife of a joblesss husband (Gokul), takes up business where she buys cloths and other items from the border town Moreh and supply in Imphal. Unluckily, she has been hooked by an officer (Ratan). As the woman has taken a wrong step, it is expected by one and all, as a social convention, that she won't be able to go back to her husband and claim children. Finally, the writer can't help but to send her to God. She becomes an acetic to become an ISKON bhakta.

So, the traditional and ideal woman is represented as a sufferer and devoted wife whose main duty is to serve the husband and the family of the husband without any complain under any circumstance. Worst, facing even humiliation at their hands is considered sacred obligation. But the eldest sister-in-law is put to esteemed value and purity as they are considered as mothers by brothers-in-laws.

Working women are at the receiving end as they are expected to be a perfect house wife with all the domestic affairs slavishly fulfilled.

In family melodramas, women are made the scapegoats responsible for all the misfortune happenings around. Women are the villains specially the second wives and the wives of the working men. The films and the reality are so overlapping that people use dialogue from films in real life.

Manipuri women never shy away from any activities. They are ahead of their counterparts in most of the fields including games and sports and arts and culture. Somebody had commented that Manipuri films could have not been made an impression without the contribution of women personalities. As a matter of fact, Grand Prix winner "Imagi Ningthem"(1982) and Manipuri iconic film "Ishanou"(1990) were penned by none other than Emasi Binodini Devi.

Most of the noted films of Aribam Syam were written by MK Binodini including "Paokhum Ama", "Ashangba Nongjabi" and host of others. Another contemporary of her who involved with cinema was Khaidem Promodini Devi who had written and produced "Langlen Thadoi" and owned a studio called PK studio which used to be an oasis for film artistes, enthusiasts, musicians, technicians and writers. She had also written script for some contemporary films.

Noted critic Nongmaithem Tombi convincingly stated that Khaidem Pramodini was a writer who writes only on intuition and from real life experiences. She was not concerned about any academic research and hence not interested to read any work by any noted writer other than her friends' work. She did not follow any rule or style in her writing. She just jotted down what she felt. The positive part of her style is the originality in the creation. Some of her literary works are adapted to films.

'Langlen Thadoi' was her own production directed by MA Singh. She let real life characters to work for the film ignoring the suggestions that at least the heroine should be presentable if not very beautiful. Two others film that were adapted from her literary works are 'Kaboklei'(2009) directed by Pillu and 'Laisabido Mamado Anghoubido'(2011) by Romi Meitei. Followers of Khaidem Promodini complain of missing the inner ideas of the literary works in the mentioned films. (Anniversary of Khaidem Promodini, 2011). She is followed suit by Thockchom Binapani Devi who had written and produced "Chinglen Sana", a nostalgic feature film loosely based on the last authorized king of Manipur.

And in the digital video era, many women producers came forward, notable among them being Bandana of Bandana Films (Akhunba Mani, Emagi Ebungo), Ibechaobi of Sanaleibak films (Punna Amukta Nokshi), Sanahanbi of Eastern Motion Pictures' (Khonthangi Makhol), Khongsai (Pirangna Eigi marupni), Santa and Daina of Media Moods (Kubiba, Da Aphao, Singarei Leinam), Homeshori, Home Films (Thouri, Boiton Mangkhare), Huirem Seema of Huirem Seema films (Kalpana) among others. The last four producers also direct.

Among the artistes, late Huirem Seema remains an iconic and the most versatile actor who never fades through years so long since her debut in "31st December" in the eighties during the VHS period. She had rule Manipuri cinema till the day she passed away last year. Her dedication and talents had been seen in the three periods of VHS, Celluloid, Digital Video and even video albums and television.

Among the women writers, Santibala is worth mentioning. In the non-fiction section, Kabita, Nirmala, Meneka Thiyam, Sonia and host of others have shown their worth. Thiyam's "Cheng Khujok Ama" and Sonia Nepram's 'Guns and roses' (2012) won awards and acclamations in many festivals.

*Bobby Wahengbam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao ( English Edition )
This article was webcasted on December 29, 2013.


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