What Is Ailing Manipuri Cinema? Mediocrity?


By Joshy Joseph

The 8th Manipur State Film Festival awards were conferred on to `YaishkulPakhangAngaoba` directed by Home D`wai and `Manipuri Pony` directedby AribamShyam Sharma. The first one is a fiction film and the other one a non-fiction film. This news would have reached me almost a month after the event during the pre-internet days of Imphal newspapers. I do read and update myself about three States through the daily newspapers and through the net – Kerala, Manipur and West Bengal – almost in that order.

RatanThiyam`s comments on the quality of Manipuri films reiterated the general impression in the air. “Most of the films produced in the State are mediocre and need improvement”, he said.

Being a musician himself, RatanThiyam`s comments on the usage of music in Manipuri films, stirred me further. He said, “Most of the music of the films too are mediocre. To make a masterpiece, one need to instil creativity into the music which can be extracted from folk music, culture and tradition.”

Contrasted with the quality in the theatre productions of Manipur, cinema definitely pales and the repetition of the word `mediocrity` from a theatre-veteran like Thiyam, should provoke a much needed debate on cinema. But where is the forum for debates in Manipur, especially on cinema without the patronage of State? Is state patronage a non-starter for discourse? As a part and parcel of the biannual State run film festival at Mumbai – MIFF – I should straight away stare into the eyes of the truth. Yes, it is a non-starter as long as your filmmakers are statusquoists themselves.

Having said that, I should elaborate on why do I categorise filmmakers either as part of the status quo or disturbing that status quo through films and the thoughts they percolate through their films. Most of the names established in the serious Manipuri cinema today are getting finances from the commissioned programmes of Doordarshan for fiction and from Films Division for non-fiction films. All those films produced through these government agencies are definitely not muck. On the other hand, the best piece of cinema I had enjoyed recently from Manipur, is a non-fiction film entitled `My Grandpa`s Home` directed by Alexander Leo Pou. Unfortunately as things stand in India today, classic expressions like this never get noticed amidst the glitz and glamour of commercial ventures. That too if it falls into the genre of non-fiction, it`s always a case of gone with the wind without a trace. And if you are lucky or persistent enough or may win a National Award, it may be viewed by film enthusiasts outside Manipur too.  Alexander Leo Pou`s film `My Grandpa`s Home` falls into the eclipsed jewel or `Mani` from Manipur. I should also mention two other important fiction films I got to see – Lancha`s `Mami Sami` and Tomba`s `Nobap`. Readers may kindly bear with my ignorance if I am leaving out on any other important films from the recent past. Though, the point I want to raise here will still be valid.

A nation state operates more in a Kafkaesque fashion. Or in other words, that`s how Kafka happened. If you really want to experience an eternal re-run of Kafka, then make a film with an animal or reptile seen within your frame by design or default, then approach the Central Board of Film Certification for a clearanceand you had it! Recently, a filmmaker was asked to present an affidavit that no cruelty was performed against the animated goat in his Bengali fiction film! Is cruelty involved against an animated goat? Yes, the goat looked more real to the censor board members, hence the affidavit route. On a daily basis they are constructing and deconstructing Kafka through these absurd exercises. So, when you get a censor certificate for your film, the first thing you do is to exhibit it before the film like a cultural clearance passport or the `patta` (the deed document) of your land. And what about Manipur?

I am going to be blunt and impolite. There is a censor within the censor for a Manipuri filmmaker, named Film Forum. I had met and interviewed Film Forum`s good-looking, well-mannered, technically skilled filmmaker Suryakanta. They seemed very happy with the fact that Film Forum is recognised by the central censor board and appeared contented with the power of making or marring filmmakers. Film Forum is doing a commendable job in nailing the piracy business, I understand. But what about doing their bit in addressing the mediocrity issue raised by RatanThiyam during the 8th Manipur State Film Festival? Are they going to rubbish RatanThiyam as just another theatre person with no locusstandi in films? I do not know whether they consider debates and discourses as prerequisites for any meaningful human endeavour including filmmaking.

Manipuri filmmakers have to be very careful about the wandering Manipuri Ponies in Imphal streets while shooting, to escape the traumas or Kafka doses from the central censor board. He will also have to adhere to the atmospheric pressures of the powerful directives from the Film Forum. Poor fellow is jammed like the common man in Manipur, who is caught between the State and non-State actors. As such, he has to charge his batteries and burn the studio lights in a State which is in darkness for almost twenty hours a day. Unless and until you become a VIP and rub the shoulders with the powers that be, you can`t get a constant power supply. They call it `VIP line`.

Here lies the trap. Even without you realising the dangers of the trap, you are in it. Slowly you toe the official line, to get the `VIP line`, for you to survive in the first place as a filmmaker. Poet RajkumarBhobonasana in his famous poem `Mei MamgeraBudhiMamgera`, has metaphorically mirrored the times and dilemmas of Manipur today. The choice is all about either of the two evils. “The ruler asks the people to choose one: no electricity or no knowledge. The poet chooses `no knowledge` in his poem. He thinks of electricity and its ramifications. If you have electricity, you will read more and more books. You will be exposed to more channels of knowledge. More knowledge means more agitating mind because you will understand the dark politics of the State”. (M C Arun)

To enable yourself to understand the dark politics of the State and smuggle it in your work is the possibility which is thrown open through digital technology. Well before the rest of the country switched over to the digital platform, Manipuri cinema out of its existential compulsions, crossed over to a primitive digital platform. You have improved and improvised on it over the years. `Mami Sami`, `Nobap` and `My Grandpa`s Home` are the brighter sides of your independence. But how many more names can you drop from the swelling mob of mediocrity?

MFDC has a state-of-the-art auditorium at Imphal. Film Forum is almighty and powerful. The apparatus of State did not originate to be evil. Nor the role of the non-State actors. They are actually a reaction shot of the `state of the State` today. MFDC and Film Forum are meant to be the facilitators for a conducive atmosphere for making films. It is for the creative genius of the filmmaker to be cunning in his creations and thus turn around the moribund conditions of prevailing mediocrity. Filmmakers have to push the borders of their medium. Had the poet lacked vision he wouldn`t have opted for `electricity` and also accessed the `knowledge`.

`Tehelka` which was a great supporter of the people and their struggle in Manipur is almost done with by the establishment vested interests, although the editorial policy was of an anti-establishment one. Likewise, how much film related activities are happening in the state-of-the-art MFDC theatre? How many free-wheeling interactive sessions are in the agenda of the Film Forum for the year 2014?

Throbbing nature of institutions which are originally designed for human welfare, is always due to the throbbing hearts within those structures. Cities are pulsating because of the people living within them. Unfortunately, Imphal lost its nightlife long ago…who will then people its streets once again? Who will unwind its tense nerves? When will a poet RajkumarBhubonasana happen in Manipuri cinema?


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