Manipur films in limbo

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On the face of it, the Manipur digital film industry looks like a thriving sector especially since new films make it to the market every week. The reality though is that the Manipuri film industry is in limbo and is limited by various internal and external factors. A close watch on the content of the films will reveal shortcomings on the creativity front with a majority of them bordering on cut and paste formats from Hindi films of the 80’s but mixed with a huge dollop of ‘contemporary’ footprints of the social and political status quo in the state today and garnished with comic tracks that do not necessarily tie in with the film narrative and topped off by scenes and dialogues that are aimed at hitting the tear ducts. In the process, there is short shift for creativity, originality or aesthetics in the Manipuri film scene today. It may not be fair to compare or critique Manipuri films with other contemporary Indian language films considering that there is not much infrastructural support in terms of the latest film making equipments and other paraphernalia, that finances are scarce etc. Yet, the truth is we are now in an era when digital films which are much cheaper than the earlier 70 mm feature films, but which do not make any impression on the viewers. The essence, aesthetics and the pull of films being made in the state today is near zilch compared to those made when film making was in its infancy in terms of the number of films being made. Those tracing the roots of film making in the state will be all too aware that even as the first Manipuri feature talkie film first made its appearance in 1972 with “Matamgi Manipur”, there were other predecessors in the form of short films with and without audio tracks starting from as early as 1936. Most of the early films were a work of collaborations of entrepreneurs from the state who had no background or training of film making but who were determined that Manipur should also be a part of the global cinema movement. These entrepreneurs raised money and collaborated
with technicians and artistes from outside the state to raise the foundation of the Manipur film industry.

Interestingly, the public feted the few films that were made in the state then, despite the lack of financial and technical resources even as Hindi films were being screened side by side with the Manipuri films. This note should be borne in mind by those who are of the opinion that a go ahead signal to screening of Hindi films in theatres in the state would threaten the local film industry. At one time though, the quality of Manipuri films was much feted on the national and international film circuit. One name that springs to mind is that of Aribam Syam Sharma whose films have been dissected and appreciated, and whose preparations for his films entailed detailed character studies. Syam Sharma’s list of films included everything from romances to social drama to Manipuri culture and traditions and which made a mark on the film critic front and the box office with some of them beating Hindi film blockbusters in its run at the local theaters.  Another acclaimed film director of the state and who was technically trained in the craft of film-making was MA Singh who unfortunately did not get to see commercial success. Before the digital film boom in the state, the norm was for perhaps one feature film a year though it was common for video films made on shoe string budgets to be making their presence felt. The ban on Hindi films and Hindi entertainment, the later being totally ineffective now given the Direct to Home (DTH) service coinciding with digital films making their presence felt have in essence robbed off creativity and seriousness among film makers today. There is no practice of a bound script or dialogue sheet for most films being made in the state today, much less for film artistes to come from a trained background. The norm of singers, shumang leela artistes and other assorted characters turning to the film industry has led to a status quo where film artistes are doing everything but taking their craft seriously: performing in social functions, compering, playing football matches for money etc. In this backdrop, the announcement of a ‘red carpet’ event makes for a serious assessment of whether the film industry in the state in its current phase will do justice to a ‘red carpet’ moment when film artistes are a dime a dozen and where there is no exclusiveness involved given the very visible presence of the so called stars.

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