MFDC Beauty and Beast

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Palace Compound is today virtually acquiring the aura of an institutional area for the arts. Around the historic Hapta Kangjeibung, one of the three polo-grounds of antiquity on which the modern game of polo began taking shape for the first time in history, have sprung up a number of important institutions of arts and culture, such as the Bheigyachandra Open Air Theatre, more popularly known by its acronym, BOAT; the Iboyaima Shumang Lila Shanglen; The government Arts and Culture complex; a state Convention Hall which the government says would have state-of-the-art facilities; the Manipur Film Development Corporation, MFDC, etc. The last named is in news currently because of the ongoing 7th Manipuri Film Festival, a particularly important landmark in the journey of Manipuri cinema, for this year marks a formal transition in the state of the cinematic tradition from the celluloid to the digital. For long there have been almost a futile resistance to this transition, but now there seems to be a general acknowledgment, even amongst die-hard purists who claim superiority of the celluloid medium to the new wave digital image making, that the digital age has arrived and the old must give way to the new. In the parallel still image making tradition, pioneer photo film makers, Kodak and Fuji have stopped making photo films and famous camera shops, like Dixon in the UK or Adorama and B&W in the USA have long announced they would not be stocking film cameras anymore. With all research and development money going into digital cameras, the digital technology is growing astoundingly, so much so that today we have Digital Single Lens Reflex, DSLR, camera sensors that literally see in the dark, and take not just still pictures but high definition, HD, movies, that rival, if not exceed the quality of video produced by standard conventional video cameras. Canon has only recently even announced a 120 megapixel DSLR sensor which would quite obviously, sooner than later, arm some of the company’s high-end camera bodies. Ladies and gentlemen, sit back and watch the digital image making revolution unfold.

Let the digital revolution be. We are more interested in Manipur’s preparation to receive it. The revolution is a boon in many different ways. For instance, it has made movie making accessible to many more, having phenomenally slashed down the cost of film making, as well as simplified its production. In many ways, the MFDC building is a fitting symbol for the arrival of the new age film making. It is, by Manipur standards grand, but perhaps the grandeur is a little in excess. As for instance, the spanking new, glittering and still incomplete building has a massive main convention hall which probably would be able to seat nearly 1000. How many times in a year would the film crowd in the state find an occasion that can fill up the hall? For most of the year, it can be predicted, this hall will remain unused. Instead, constructing four or five relatively small but state-of-the-art digital theatres within the complex would have been more to the purpose. There are also some small but all the same telling architectural flaws. As for instance, on the 1st floor of the building, there are two washrooms, one for ladies towards the north end and another for men towards the south end. The well-constructed, marble tiled, modern washroom for men has altogether 10 pissoirs. At least one or two of them should have been a foot lower for the convenience of children. This oversight exposes the architects conceived the building as an adult facility only and not a family recreation centre. This is unfortunate and perhaps reflects a deeply entrenched social bias. We hope they can still make amends, as the building is still incomplete.

But there is another oversight which much more rudely betrays the invasion of an unfeeling materialism in life in general, or call it flawed notion of modernity. Look out of the men’s shit room window as you relieve yourself and be shocked to find the sombre, silent and melancholy Thangal Temple immediately below. Can anything be a more inconsiderate and irreverent act than this? Was this rude compromise of a sacred historical space of the society necessary? What would have been so terribly wrong to have the entire washrooms complex, housing facilities for men and ladies in separate rooms, on the southern side of the building to avoid this defilation? Must modernity and the alibi of space constraint always mean the decimation of the traditional and sacred?

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