Sangai Festival 2011: a scrutiny

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By Chitra Ahanthem
The ongoing Sangai Festival with the theme “Destination Manipur” being organized by the Government of Manipur and fronted by the Tourism Department is definitely creating a lot of buzz around us. A casual glance of the various activities playing out under the festival makes one feel that that the festival, which is aimed at bringing tourists and business opportunities to pitch the state as a destination point is indeed more polished than other Tourism festivals that has happened in the state so far. Local newspapers and some regional newspapers carry stories about the “attractions” at the Festival but there is no blip on any major media outlet. Ironically, the media stories of “attractions” of the festival are not on local artisans or products but on stalls and products from foreign countries! But before this piece ends up sounding like a rant against the festival, let’s do a careful scrutiny listing both the upside and the downside of the festival.

First, the positives:
1.     There was a touch of professionalism in the arrangements made at the main venue at Hapta Kangjeibung. Unlike other editions where the stalls cluttered the ground, they were more organized and left a lot of room to walk around. Having the cultural performances and other evening items inside the Bheigyachandra Open Air Theatre (BOAT) is great thinking, with the Hapta ground being extended in such a manner that one can walk into BOAT. Till last year, one had to get inside the venue ground and then walk outside and then enter BOAT. Taking the performances inside BOAT has taken care of seating arrangements for people while also giving a wide space for people to walk around. Of course, it is another story altogether that the area was used by VIPs to zip in and out of the venue, thereby kicking up dust (both literally and figuratively). But well!

2.     The sight of smartly dressed young boys and girls as stewards is a nice touch. Normally, most functions in the state are marked by young girls trying very uncomfortably to do their job on stage, like tagging the dignitaries on stage, handing gifts and flowers etc el. This festival edition sees professionally trained young people doing the honors. I was very impressed when one young man had the basic courtesy of handing tea to the professional photographers taking shots of an evening performance. Normally, only VIPs and dignitaries gracing such functions are served! Photo-journalists operate to document what is going around them in very uncomfortable positions just so they get that perfect shot, and the least that can be done for them is to have some refreshments served to them. I sincerely hope that it wasn’t a one off gesture and that it continues.

3.     The media center was good for the fraternity to check the latest developments on the festival. One hopes that by the next edition of the festival, the organizers will think of putting in work stations in the media center so that stories can be filed from the venue itself without journalists having to bother with going back to their offices and then filing their stories. All it takes would be to make Wi-fi operational and to provide plug in points for computer laptops.

The negatives:
1.     A tourism festival meant to showcase the best of Manipur’s culture, handloom, handicrafts and its tourist potential featuring stalls selling products being brought in from outside the state somehow does not fit in. There ought to have been more stalls with handicraft and handloom items from the state, rather than those selling shoes and purses. The later could have made their presence in the various other Melas /trade fair that takes place. The organizers should have looked for applications from firms producing local goods and given the platform of the festival for the products to be talked about and noticed.

2.      The festival also features a Photography contest with four categories. I may be mistaken but I distinctly remember that the cash prize amount when it was first announced on various social media sites was different from the amount being attached to the prizes now. The more important factor apart from the matter of cash prize amount is the lack of clarity on the copyright and use of the photographs being submitted for the contest. It is often a norm for one Government department to pay well below the market price for photographs and having the photograph being used by other departments. This is a total infringement of copyright and totally unfair on photographers. The current photography competition does not mention how many times the prize winning photos or submitted photos will be used and whether they would be used only by the Department of Tourism. In any case, Rs 25,000 as the cash amount for the first prize is too low for the photos to be copyrighted to the department.

3.     The separate parking space for media personnel is welcome indeed but the first vehicle that got stolen was that of a media person! It tells you there is not much guarantee that your vehicle will be waiting for you once you get out of the festival venue. And this is in the backdrop of a very strong presence of police commandoes and army personnel. This is being flagged off because if vehicles can get lost despite the huge security presence, then there is an equally serious matter: that security can be breached. One hopes that there is better vigilance for the remainder of the festival.

End-point:
The festival had its funny moments too. Every time any proceeding of the festival was being announced on the mike, the announcer said “phestibel”. I also noticed that most people at the er..phestibel had a common fashion accessory: the patch of cloth over the nose and mouth.; to ward off the dust at the venue. Though the ground was covered by a thick sheet, the entry of vehicles of the VIPs would make people scurry to cover their nose and mouth. I overheard someone say at the festival, “This is crazy! We are paying an entry fee, a parking fee and then eating kanghou bora at hiked rates. Let’s go home.” The other person responded with a “go home and do what? Today is load shedding day.” That conversation said it all for me: if the festival is about getting people to spend their time and money then it is a success. But if the annual Manipur Sangai festival is about bringing tourism opportunities, a lot more needs to be done.

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