Manipuri Film Trends

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The 7th Manipur Film Festival saw a fitting conclusion yesterday. As in all competitions, there obviously would have been many left disappointed. The disappointment probably would not be just about having lost, but also quite likely at a sense of being let down. There is no way this can be prevented, for there are no absolute, objective scales by which to measure art. A degree of subjective assessment is always unavoidable, and indeed is called for. This is the challenge before those who sit as the jury in these competitions. They would have to exercise their subjective judgments at some point, knowing full well the danger that through the subjective lens, beauty can come to lie solely in the eye of the beholder. The judge and indeed any observer must have the liberty to indulge in some measure of subjectivity but he must guard against being arbitrary in judgment. To underscore the point, the line that divides the subjective and the arbitrary must never be lost. Between the very good and the very bad, the dilemma should not arise, but when it comes to choosing one from among similar standard of performance, the decision to favour one over the other becomes extremely difficult. Ironically, it is also implied that the greater the difficulty in making this choice, the competition standard is also reciprocally high and keenly fought.

The IFP was in a position to know that this was indeed the case. Every title, every award was extremely closely fought. This knowledge should make the winners a little humble amidst obviously their victory celebrations, but also lift the heart of those who did not make it. Given another day and even a slight shift in hue to the moods of those sitting in judgment on the day of the final brainstorming, the results could have been radically different, for the margins of difference amongst those who were shortlisted as the top performers were extremely slight. In almost all cases, the winners won by the proverbial skin of the teeth. In particular, when it comes to deciding the best actress, audience, critics and judges would be unanimous there were too many superlative performers to choose from. Our plea is, no winners in the just concluded film festival should allow the success to get into their heads or those who did not make it this time, become cynical. Sportsmanship is not just about sports.
All observers would have also noticed one more thing. Manipuri cinema is splitting into different genres. At this moment, there are only two broad categories, that of documentary films and feature films. The first is story telling of actual events cinematically, using the crafts of the cinematic art as well as available technology. The other has a foot in the world of literature, telling stories not of the actual world in real time, but of how the soul and heart of a society negotiate the bitter and sweet realities of the society. Metaphors and symbols become important, but it is also much more prone to get lost in the world of fantasy, totally divested from reality. While there is little conceivable problem in treating the documentary section as a single block, with some finer distinction here and there, it is in the feature film section that the need for sub-classifications are felt much more. Clearly distinguishable already in the feature film making tradition in the state, are two streams. The first aims at pure entertainment and thus has no compunction about allowing the films they make to wander off into make belief fantasy. The familiar formulae are the recipe: Boy meets girl, are star-crossed initially, but the lovers eventually overcome all hurdles to unite into wedlock; or else blood siblings are separated at birth, are antagonistically placed all through much of the story but fortuitously discover their blood tie before they go for each others’ jugular thus preventing tragedy, cry over each others’ shoulders and then together defeat the villain. The second seeks to represent the essence of various aspects of life in the state as seen through literary imagination. They also explore avenues of hope or to come to terms with life’s essential tragedies of defeats as well as partake in its joys. Surely there can be no single yardstick to assess both these genres. Film festivals normally are weighted towards the merits of the latter. This is why these festivals are more often than not caught in the awkward situation of preferring films which are far less successful commercially, over runaway box office hits. The challenge, in this case is not for those in the jury box, but those in the drivers’ seat of the fledgling Manipur film industry, to reconcile the two trends to the extent possible.

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