Hangover of the night of Mami Sami

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By Jyaneswar LaishramNostalgia of my far and away home state Manipur has always been a susceptible apprehension over my 15 years of stay in Delhi. Arrived in the mid-1990s as an educational tourist, it’s been really hard for me to get smitten by the catchphrase Dilli Dilwalon ki, which is loosely translated as ‘Delhi for the bighearted people’. Mixed cultures, broad roads, digital cineplexes, cocktail hotel dinners, bangra music… I wonder why all these much loved nature and culture of this capital city are quite alien to me. You may think I am still confined too much in my local sentiment of green mountain environment while many other North easterners have accustomed to the life in Delhi NCR’s urban jungle of concrete high risers.   
It’s quite natural to be envious about our younger years as everybody has the desire to bring those days back again if we are given a chance to go back to the past. GC Tongbra’s short story Ningsinglaga Eeba is a precise reference to exemplify what I am trying to articulate. The story is a plain but perfect portrayal of all that nasty things happened with the author during his childhood/boyhood, which he eventually termed the happiest period of his life. Who knows I would whimper someday in memories of my Delhi days of the 1990s and 2000s! But today this capital city is merely a hollow ‘present’ as my ‘past’ is fully filled with the memories of those days I spent in Manipur when I was young and free. So, it’s the sound of Thabal Chongba or any other traditional executions occasionally organised in Delhi that reminds me of my bygone younger years.   Around a couple of months ago, one fine evening at a Manipuri film festival held at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi, I found myself drowning in a very Manipuri ambience of the occasion. I, with my daughter Jo, decided to visit the closing day of the film festival where her favourite movie Mami Sami was screening. It was quite a pleasant Sunday evening of March in Delhi. The sun slowly dipped behind the orange layers of the city’s hazy western horizon when we set off to hit the empty roads leading to JNU campus, which was one of the five venues of the first ever Manipuri film festival titled ‘Nongpokthong’ held in the capital city.
A momentary hangout around JNU campus during sundown hours is my favourite retreat that never fails to thrill me. But the campus on that evening of Mami Sami was something more than the usual delight I normally felt on other ordinary days. It was not just me but every Manipuri hanging out around the festival venue, an open air theatre, was found to be gleeful for many reasons. It was such a meeting point where I saw many people greeting one another so excitedly as though they are siblings reunited after being lost at a Kumb Mela during their childhood. Such a typical Hindi movie scene happened with me too as my friend Dimpu for whom I would apologise first for failing to attain his marriage; second, on the baby shower occasion of his daughter; third, his housewarming at Dwarka; and lots more apologies. 
Our meeting after years of (Kumb Mela) separation was celebrated with a cocktail of coke and rum followed by a mouthful munch of komkwa (fresh betel nut) bought from the stalls selling quite a wide range of indigenous items including a pretty good collection of kitchen stuffs like mukaanga (dried fish), hawaichar (fermented soya), among others. I bought at least a pouch of each item to impress my wife who stayed at home to nurture our four-month-old second daughter Mei while we enjoyed the night of Mami Sami. My wife has the cutest smile I ever seen in my life, which was unbeaten until the release of Bollywood blockbuster Gulaam in which Rani Mukherkji did slightly better. However, unlike the Bollywood actress, my wife does not grin more often than necessary. It’s really hard to bring the cute curve on her lips. But those indigenous kitchen stuffs were sufficient enough to make my wife smile.       
My wife is also part of Jo’s league of movie worms who keep Mami Sami in top slot when it comes to rating their favourite Manipuri films. In the meantime when the movie projector was not yet set for Mami Sami, I introduced my daughter to a photo gallery showcasing a timeless collection of photographs and posters of eminent filmmakers, musicians and others of Manipuri cinema. A six-year-old girl with no or less knowledge of the gallery’s content, Jo just browsed the displays blindly to my instructions. She started taking interest in my lecture on ‘who is who’ of the then golden era of Manipuri cinema only when I pointed to a black and white poster of Saphabee to tell her that most parts of the movie were shot at Loukoi Pat (Lake) area of our hometown Bishenpur in Manipur. She dropped her jaw in surprise to the fact that I was just a few months old when the film shooting took place.
The five-day festival brought on screen some classic Manipuri movies like Aribam Shyam Sharma’s Imagee Ningthem and other priceless short-documentaries by contemporary filmmakers like Oinam Doren, Menaka Thiyam, among others who bring a new standard to Manipuri cinema. Presence of a galaxy of stars including veteran actors like Yenkhom Roma and others from the Manipuri film world made the occasion quite eventful. Splendid folk songs and dances marked the opening of the closing ceremony of the festival, where executed subsequent performances of Lai Haraoba Thougal Jagoi (Meitei folk dance), Kabui-Nagalam Dance (folk dance of Kabui tribe), Dhon-Dholok Cholom (traditional drums performance) and Radha Nartan.
After all that cultural song and dance sessions, eerie of the night engulfed the surrounding area of the open air theatre where people settled down in group to watch Mami Sami soon after the light bulbs around were slowly turned off. Mami Sami is considered to be the best ever Manipuri film till date, which has been acclaimed critically for its direction, casting, cinematography, music, etc. A review of the movie published in Imphal Free Press around four years ago had already predicted how it would make a difference in the realm of contemporary Manipuri cinema. The review described the music score of Mami Sami is being somewhat edged with that of John Coltrane’s compositions. Whereas the Hindustani-based theme track of the movie is composed in such a way that it multiplies emotion in the storyline.
There were reasons why Mami Sami at JNU campus was livelier than what it usually appears in theatres. If it was screened indoor, I bet the movie couldn’t have turned out to be in that comportment. Finishing off the remaining pegs of the rum cocktail which I shared with Dimpu, who fled away immediately before the movie started as he had to attend office next day, I also thought of leaving soon. But a kind of temptation of the night imprisoned me, blowing every thought of Monday morning blues out of my mind.
The movie started, talks in the crowd faded away, sound of Mami Sami echoed upon the dense groove of trees standing still behind the brick walls where the giant movie screen was nailed. The bushy treetops appearing on the skyline were silhouetted attractively against the backdrop of the misty starry sky where the moon shined so bright overhead. Moreover, what it made the audience turn on was the storyline of Mami Sami—a tumultuous romance of a poor village girl who fell in love with a rich city boy, but she could never able to express it. So was the reason why every object of nature around the open air theatre turned out to be a charming sight! Then the reminiscence of the night is still lingering in my mind.

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