Meeting with Aribam Shyam and his World: FILM, NORTHEAST 2016

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By Millo Dinsung

A young tom-boy with long loose locks hitting birds with a catapult in the jungle, the simple gesture of a single mother tucking a flower behind her ear in anticipation of her long-lost love, children running after monkeys in the forest and trying to catch one, young women doing each other’s hair for a family function, marriage procession of a young bride with sad eyes lit up by hand-held fire torches; all these form part of a world long gone, a world that one today would reminisce about, a world that Aribam Shyam Sharma brings so effortlessly to the screen.

The four days festival FILM,NORTHEAST held during 17-20 February, 2016 in Itanagar was an opportunity to witness the genius that is AribamSyam Sharma and his works of art. It was truly an eye-opener that we have a quality of talent like his esteemed self from the mountains and valleys of Northeast India, Manipur to be precise. Having been awarded 17 national awards and a Padmashree amongst others, his talent has not gone unnoticed. An octogenarian with sparkling eyes full of mischief and a supple mind still curious and engaging, Aribam is a delight to be around. The energy he radiates is still of vitality and restless enthusiasm. To be that passionate even after one has spent so many decades fuelling that passion is something we need to emulate and hope for.

Manipur That Is:In a time and date when all we hear and know of Manipur is that of a state under turmoil with frequent clashes between the public and the armed forces; a different Manipur now exists.A Manipur as depicted by Aribam; of women of silent strength, of folklore and orchids, a world that is untouched by the crassness of modernity. Perhaps this is Aribam’s way of showing the side that many have forgotten today, wishing for things to be as it was before. Perhaps this is the true essence of Manipur and not the one we see today on TV screens and newspapers. A peaceful Manipur one falls in love with, not one that is terrorized and scarred.

Three movies of his were screened namely ,Leipaklei, and ImagiNinthem. All three deal with women and their relationships with their fates. Imagi Ninthem portrays the delicate relationship between a step mother and her son and how she is willing to take him under her shelter though the husband is apprehensive. Ishanou speaks about the journey of a young mother and wife from an obedient house-wife to a priestess and her competing interests for her family and her destiny. Leipaklei has a woman who along with her daughter,was abandoned by her husband and finds herself in a tumultuous emotional rollercoaster when her first love returns to her.

Women That Raise: It is the sensitivity with which Aribam has dealt with such complicated relationships and women that truly raises him above the rest. The strength of his female protagonists is delicate and beautiful like tendrils that hold the whole family upright. Their silence speaks as much as their words, if not more. Though they go through the worst of situations, they are neither bitter, nor hardened. One does tend to question the lack of hard edges to his characters. Aribam, while giving credit to his writer of someof his films M.K. Binodini, puts one at ease by explaining that it is the circumstance which makes one bad and that people are not bad per se. His films reflect this wonderful thought beautifully, without preaching. This is refreshing to see and hear after years of watching movies of bollywood sensibilities which tend to glamorize violence or violent behavior. Maybe it takes someone living in burning times like Manipur of today to understand and appreciate that fire should not be blamed for burning,for after all, it didn’t start on its own.

Weaving Music with Pictures: Aribam’s love for music is evident as he weaves songs throughout his movies to depict the inner turmoil or the exuberant joy of his protagonists. Without a true appreciation of his musical choices, a review of his movies would be incomplete. Each movie like a song starts out slow with ample music to set the tone and a refrain that vibrates throughout holding one’s attention like a woman with her charms.A special mention here is his documentary Orchids of Manipur. Traditional songs of folklore, pictures of orchids and of Manipurirituals wherein the orchids form vital functions blend so seamlessly that one would be forgiven for having lost the disconnect between the three, for there is none.

The disconnect that one feels is that with the real world after coming out of Aribam’s movie because the immersion was complete. Like the king who while on a hunt is enamoured of a golden orchid, one falls in love with the craftsmanship of Aribam and cannot fully detach herself/himself from his world. The high-pitched songs and silences stay with one long after the reel has stopped turning.Thank you for a trip to your beautiful world Sir. It was a privilege and an honour.

(Millo Dinsung is a law graduate from NLSIU, Bangalore. She currently resides in Naharlagun, Arunachal Pradesh with her siblings, three dogs, three ducks and a hen. With a keen interest in films, jazz music, and ghazals, she is mostly seen lost with a song in her head.)

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