The news item that Hollywood movies are making their way back in the cinema theatres in Imphal came as a pleasant surprise. After more than a decade of their abrupt withdrawal from the state cinema together with Bollywood movies following a ban on the latter by the underground Revolutionary People’s Front, RPF, the pleasurable tradition of going for these movies in Imphal’s then growing number of movie theatres had begun to seem like a distant memory. It may be recalled, the RPF had banned Hindi film saying they are a dangerous tool for advancing culture hegemony from mainland India in the immediate wake of the killing of one of their top leaders, allegedly in custody by the security forces towards the end of the 1990s. The story at the time was, national film distributors, probably under covert official pressures, had set the condition to Imphal movie theatres that if they did not screen Hindi movies, they would not be entitled to have English movies either. In the end, both were dropped and movie theatres in the state had to find other means of survival.
Thankfully, this was the time the digital age was not only burgeoning but as is the case with all modern technology, becoming cheaper by the day. Understandably the vacuum left by the sudden withdrawal of Hindi and English movies created a stir in the fledgling Manipuri film industry, and had it not been for the much cheaper and easier digital technology available, the vacuum perhaps never would have been filled. This is not to say it has been filled completely or adequately, but the fact is, it was not left a complete vacuum. Something good did come out of the bad situation. The necessity of the moment pulled the tottering Manipuri film industry up and forced it to stand on its own legs. A new crop of enterprising and talented young film makers came forward to take on the mantle from their forerunners who worked on the celluloid medium. While the former managed to bring out movies at the rate of at the most one every two or three years, their inheritors the digital film makers of today, especially the commercial oriented ones who are interested only in using well established formula melodramas, bring out several each every year. In the absence of competitors from infinitely bigger, richer, resourceful and experienced film makers from the giant industries of Hollywood and Bollywood, they had the entire field to themselves to experiment and also not be mauled into total submission by flops, therefore not be afraid to experiment further. They also helped at least a good percentage of the cinemas theatres to sustain their businesses. At the time of the withdrawal of Hollywood and Bollywood films, there were 11 theatres in Imphal city alone. Some are still very much around, but some others have had to convert their infrastructure to other more sustainable businesses.
We do hope that screening of the Hollywood film “Fast and Furious” at Usha Cinema last Friday is the beginning of a new era of openness in the state. Though movie fans did continue to still see Hindi and English releases on private video facilities and TV, seeing them in the theatre is an altogether different experience. We also hope theatre owners would also take the necessary steps to upgrade their theatres to make them fit for the new age films made on radically transformed technological platform. To underscore the point, what is more important is the atmosphere of openness and freedom which only can guarantee the foundation on which good art can grow. Manipuri film industry benefitted from the decade long hiatus of films from outside, but now it certainly has its own legs and should face no danger of being pushed away into insignificance by the formers’ re-entry. The pressure of having to live up to a higher standard should also do the home industry good in the long run, provided the people behind the enterprise are ready to meet the new challenge. We are confident and optimistic they would be able to do this with courageous aplomb, for they have indeed carved out an unmistakable niche for themselves amongst theatre goers in the state. This confidence is writ large in the large hoardings at vantage positions all over the Imphal city. The same confidence is also equally evident in the gleams on the faces of the Manipur film industry’s ever growing number of star actors and actresses.