By Bobby Wahengbam (TVPAM)
The 34 year old Manipuri film industry has suffered immensely in the last few years with the loss of so many of its architects. We’ve missed the pioneers and first generation film personalities such as Karam Monomohan, Emmasi Binodini, Khaidem Promodini, Robindro Sharma, Birbabu, Eigya Ibohal and many more who dedicatedly shaped up Manipuri Cinema. Amidst the pangs of losing the veterans, we also mourn the untimely departure of cinematographer Jiten Sharma, director Shanou, versatile artist, Khun Joy, playback artist and musician Shyam Kanhai and acting icon Seema. Yet again, we are bearing the loss over the sad demise of a doyen of Manipuri cinema- MA Singh.
Maibam Amuthoi (18-10-1941 to 09-03-2013) is the first film graduate of the state who had the distinction of being a double graduate holder in Cinematic arts from the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. (Diploma in Film Editing, 1971; Diploma in Film Direction, 1974.) Before venturing into film training, he had already been a science graduate from Sriniketan, Vishwa Bharati, Shantineketan, Kolkata. He had made two notable films, ‘Sanakeithel’ (1983, ATB Films) and ‘Langlen Thadoi’ (1984, KP Films, the first color Manipuri film). In addition to these two feature films, he also directed and edited many documentary and newsreel films for various government and non government organizations which includes ‘Events in Manipur 1974 (1977)’, ‘Ariba Pala (1977)’ ‘Manipur News (1979)’, ‘Visit of Shri VV Giri, President of India in Manipur 1972 (1979)’, ‘Manipur News, 1979 (1979)’. He is also said to be actively involved in the production of some other Manipuri films including ‘Brojendro Gi Luhongba’(1972) though his credits were not acknowledged.
His zeal in film arts also paved the way to share his expertise with young film enthusiasts by introducing a film course in 1993, termed as Media and Media Personalities. This 2-month rigorous course introduced many talents to the world of film and TV and are today well known TV and film personalities of Manipur. He also contributed in the formation of film societies and cine clubs to bring an atmosphere for good film viewership and was one of the Board of Directors, MFDC for three years (1999-2002).
Among Oja MA Singh’s numerous awards and achievements, mention can be made of the National Award with President’s Medal at the 31st National Film Festival, 1984 as the Best Feature Film in Manipuri for the film “Sanakeithel”; the Best Editor, ‘Sanakeithel’, Manipur State Film Award, 1984; Scroll of Honour by Government of Manipur, 15th August, 1985; Certificate of Honour, 25th year of Manipuri Cinema, 1996; SN Chand Ningshing Award Certificate of Honour, 2009 among others. He also served as member, script committee NFDC, Censor Board and panel for various film festivals.
He was one of the few who had directed Bollywood greats such as Sabana Azmi and Zarina Wahab during his stint at FTII. In his diploma feature `Maan Apmaan`, a host of Bollywood actors including the two mentioned above were cast under his guidance as director and editor. There were 3 more diploma productions including a documentary entitled CITIZEN.
The experience he had in Pune Film institute and then in the film industry in Mumbai, especially in television, worked against him when he came back home because of the huge gap in technical set ups . He had to start everything from the scratch and the most difficult of all was to find a producer.
“The greatest set back was that there was no one to spend few lakhs of Rupees to try business in film making. There were friends who were ready to venture into government supply work and others but none for film making. My high hope did not materialize. And I had lost hope. If I could have managed to find financers, my career could have been very different and highly successful.”(Interviewed by Makhon Mani and TVPAM, 1st February, 2013.
In the TVPAM interview, he revealed that the influence for his interest in film came from avid film viewing, reading magazines, listening to songs and the urge to know more about the arts and crafts of cinema. One such film he recalled was “Sohag ki Raat Dalgaye” and actors such as Chandrashekhar and Madhubala. Though the sphere of influence were old Hindi films, the process at the film Institute pulled him towards aesthetically inclined realistic films which was expressed in Sana Keithel, a film made on a shoe string budget. Like Satyajit Ray, Bimol Roy, Aribam Shyam Sharma, Ibohal Sharma, he was greatly influenced by the Italian New realist cinema. Like most of the Neorealist films, the protagonists of his film were chosen from real life professionals. But he also gambled with host of established theatre actors in character roles including Talem Upendro (MDU) who successfully made an impression in the film. The bicycle thief, the pick pocket thief and other real life characters were scouted rigorously at Kwairamband Bazaar. An agreement was also made between the professionals and the film company to avoid any future conflicts as the film was trespassing into the privacy of the profession of the protagonists. The mixing of the professional and nonprofessional actors helped the film to be realistic and high in emotional quotient.
‘Sanakeithel’ (1983) in fact reminds us of Vittorio de Sica’s ‘Bicycle Thieves’ (1948). The later is a story of a poor workman whose cycle has been stolen whereas the former revolves around a cycle thief and his other friends doing petty illegal activities at Imphal market. ‘Sanakeithel’ (like ‘Emmagi Ningthem’, 1982) was a film far ahead of its time as the song and drama masala tuned audience were too naive to appreciate such a realistic film. Unlike ‘Emmagi Ningthem’, ‘Sanakeithel’ remained undiscovered by international film critics and curators. Though it won a National Award and participated in some festivals, it did not helped much in MA Singh`s film making career. Even his next directorial venture, ‘Langlen Thadoi’ (1985), the first color feature of Manipuri cinema failed to accelerate his career. Speaking on the ‘Langlen Thadoi experience, he attributed its failure both at the box-office and at the art house circuit to disregarding the sensibility of Film Art and its aesthetics.
All said and done, watching ‘Sanakeithel’ again will surely shed away the pretended authentically paddling impression on Manipuri Cinema so formed after seeing some aural melodramatic films. It is a film with a stream of consciousness. Talking about the dichotomy between Art and Commercial films, he puts his views otherwise by strongly terming Good and Bad films instead.
“Rather than terming Arts or Commercial, I rather consider a film being Good or Bad. A good film is something which is not chaotic in any sense in terms of story, treatment, form, style, technique and presentation” (MFDC, 2000; when he was an interviewer for selection of delegates for Film Appreciation Course, FTII).
In his last interview, he expressed his veiw that the present trend of Manipuri films lacks farsightedness and quality. He further commented that there should be good communication among the film maker and the audience.
“We lack co ordination and trust among ourselves to carry out co-production; I don’t like this. Now the new generation film makers are hopelessly lost unable to find good subject. At least there should be aesthetic, thematic and cinematic qualities in the story. These essential three ingredients are being neglected nowadays.” (Interview, 1st Feb, 2013).