Friday, April 8, 2011

Manipuri Film History:History of Manipuri Films

A unique composite heritage of socio-cultural ethos prevails across the blue hills and green valleys of Manipur. Film enthusiasts of Manipur had perceived in this heritage, a teeming potential for good cinema since the mid 1930s. A serious attempt was made towards this end by the mid 1940s but it took about a decade to bear fruit.
The first ever Manipuri feature film hit the screen on April 9, 1972 and the film was “Matamgi Manipur” and was simultaneously at three Cinema Hall in Manipur they are Usha Hall, Friends Talkies and Azad Cinema at Kakching. This maiden venture bagged the President’s Medal in the 20th National Film Festival.
Equipped with an iron will, shoe-string budgets, sound back grounds of theatre, and a clear vision of humane values ingrained in our social-fabric, our pioneer filmmakers set about their tasks. They had successfully tackled the want of facility and technical know-how, and the limitations of financial constraint. They had joined the race of world cinema three quarters of a century too late. Yet our cinema forged ahead to cut out a niche in the world scenario. The nascent Manipuri Cinema reckons a tally of thirty one feature films and twenty-nine awards at the National and another nine at the International arena. These are no mean achievements as our film lovers toiled under impossible circumstances.
A tiny market, with a limited screening schedule at the instance of big-time distributors, and the consequent small returns snowballed into formidable financial hazards. This, compounded with the want of laboratory facilities, unreliable government subsidies and long queues at booking film equipments, rendered filmmaking in the state a dangerous venture.
Filmmaking involves ample exploitation of the most effective medium of mass communication, cinema for financial gains, through entertainment with educative information. The same is not true with Manipuri cinema, which on the other hand, gains additional dimension in this frontier state. It becomes more of a medium of creative expression than an effective means of making big money.
The global film movement has now recognized the Manipuri cinema, a late arrival in the family of Indian Cinema, as a bright and promising star of the movement that has appeared a rich cultural heritage, yet to be fully discovered. The Indian Cinema which caught up with the west in the first quarter of the present century had already made long strides in the global race while the Manipur film chapter saw the light of the day after the Second World War thanks to the enterprising and committed band of forerunners of the movement in this State whose first venture was almost still-born. They could not cross the Himalayan hurdles which included the absence of a market and infrastructure, paucity of funds and technical expertise and several essential ingredients inspite of the abundant cultural and artistic potential. Yet, the pioneers in the field did not lose heart. The result was that the sixties saw them active and the first Manipuri feature film “Matamgi Manipur” that was produced in 1972 bagged the National Award.
Manipur audience witnessed silent Indian movies in the 1920s through touring Cinema. Rudimentary and makeshift film show houses were established in Manipur a few years before the Second World War. Kasturichand Jain and Ramkumar were the pioneer film exhibitors who ran show houses in Manipur in the pre-war period. Kasturi’s show house Manipur Talkies and Ramkumar’s show house in Imphal had regular film shows. Towards the end of the War, better organized cinema halls came up, prominent among them were the MNB Talkies, Victory Cinema and Friends Talkies.
The simultaneous release of Matamgi Manipur at Usha Cinema and Friends Talkies in Imphal and at Azad Cinema in Kakching on April 9 in 1972 marked the beginning of an epoch in the history of Manipuri cinema awakening the Manipuri film goers into the reality of a Manipuri feature film for the first time. It was a black and white feature film.To make the film, equipments and technicians were engaged from outside Manipur including the film director Debkumar Bose. Thanks should be accorded to the bold producer Karam Monomohan who never looked back in pioneering the filmmaking without visualizing any loss or gain from his films. The colour era came only in 1984 when the first colour feature film Langlen Thadoi directed by M.A. Singh was released.
The Manipuri film industry has not been able to produce even an average of two feature films a year which brings up the question of whether there is such a thing as a Manipuri film industry. No one has come out as producer accepting the filmmaking as business and profession. Only a few who luckily got nominal returns from their films are making further ventures. Manipur has so far 18 film producers. Of them, only a few like, K. Ibohal Sharma, M. Nilamani, Thouyangba Thoungamba are still in the field, gain or no gain.
Manipuri cinema though it was born late, sprang up like a brilliant upstart achieving flying colours overnight. It was the result of the film society movement which inspired the idea of good cinema to Manipuri filmmakers and artistes. The first film society of Manipur, Film Society Manipur, was established in 1966. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the first Manipuri feature film Matamgi Manipur which bagged the President’s Gold Medal in the National Film Festival, was the good outcome of the film society movement. In 1979 another film society, Imphal Cine Club was set up and it played an active role in the promotion of good film through regular screening of good films and holding film festivals, seminars and appreciation courses.
Aribam Syam Sharma’s “Imagi Ningthem” bagged the prestigious Grand Prix in the Nantes International Film Festival in France in 1982. Infcat, here are four areas that introduces Manipur in the international arena: Manipuri dance, Manipuri theatre, Sports and Manipuri cinema. Out of these, the only area which introduces the vivid pictures of the identity and life styles of Manipuri community to the outsiders is the Manipuri cinema. The whole of France got the opportunity to know about Manipur through a nationwide telecast of Imagi Ningthem in the France Television. And after watching “Ishanou” ( a world acclaimed cinema of Manipuri film directed by Aribam Syam Sharma), westerners were aroused to take up research on Lai Haraoba and Manipur’s rich folklore. As such, Manipuri cinema deserves emphatic priority treatment. More patronage should come forward from the Government and other philanthropic agencies since commercial viability of the movement is still a remote dream. With the development of film, other fields like tourism and culture will flourish; better employment avenues can be opened directly or indirectly. However, the condition of Manipur cinema has been at its worst when one looks at the panoramic view of Indian cinema. Though the industry has a number of promising filmmakers, their talents could not be exposed due to want of film producers or financiers.
But, the Manipur Government had been doing something for the promotion and development of films in Manipur. The Manipur Film Development Council was set up in 1980 and it was converted into a Corporation in 1987. It has now indispensable pre-production equipments and the facilities of these equipments have been made available to the film producers since 1990. Rupees one lakh is being given to the film producers as subsidy for a colour feature film while a new theatre is being constructed for exhibition of good films.
One of the chief reasons responsible for the present state of affairs in our film industry is the lack of an avowed policy of the government on the film industry. When other states of the country have put up State Film Policies by the Government, Manipur has no such support. The domination of digital cinema in Manipur presently who has also led to the demise of celluloid feature films in the state. However, the state government has taken up some initiative for development of celluloid movies but due to lack in market none of the production house as well as Director are unable to produce any celluloid picture in the state.
Therefore, in order to make it revive feature films, the Film Societies in Manipur have to be reactivated and film festivals, discussions, appreciation courses, workshops have to be organized very often. Manipuri cultural heritage having stood on own as a distinct personality in the global cultural context, the Manipur film movement as the mouth piece of the heritage is poised to appear in the competitive arena .
History of Short and Documentary Films in Manipur.
Short and documentary films in Manipur do have a place in the Manipuri social progress, having recorded valuable information on contemporary and current events on the one hand and on the other, as having had documented important aspects of the cultural and customary life, tradition and heritage of the Meiteis in the Imphal valley and of the tribal communities in the hills of Manipur.
Progressing from black and white to colour, with formats in 16mm and 35mm, the non-feature films has edged in to win recognition in the national and international for a for their contribution in projecting as well as popularizing the different facets of the Manipuri life and the hitherto unknown facts of Manipur’s rich heritage.
1.    Maipak, Son of Manipur ( The first Manipuri documentary film), in the year 1971 and was released on November 9. The film was shown in 35mm black and white, produced by K.T. Films Private Limited and directed by Debkumar Bose from Calcutta. The duration of the film is 10 minutes and the medium is in both Manipuri and English.
2.    K.T. Films Private Limited produced three short 35mm Black and White documentaries in 1972 and these were mainly recordings of Government sponsored state functions in connection with particular events. The films include (a) Statehood Day Celebration on January 21 in 1972 (b) Plan Exhibition of 1972 and (c) Republic Day Celebration of January 26 in 1972.  The duration of the films are 10 minutes each.
3.    The Department of Information and Public Relations, Government of Manipur produced two short documentary films (a) Towards A Better Life and (b) 20-Point Economic Programme, both directed by Aribam Syam Sharma, having duration of 10 minutes each, the films are shot in 35mm Black and White.
4.    The film Sanaleibak Manipur was produced in the year 1980 by Directorate of Information and Public Relation, Government of Manipur. Directed by Aribam Syam Sharma, it was shot in 35mm colour, having the duration of 30 minutes. The film bagged the State Award for the Best Documentary film in the non-feature category of the first Manipur State Film Festival in 1984. The same year the Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Government of Manipur also produced two other short documentary films (i) Manipur News ’79 and (ii) Manipur News ’80-81. The films were recordings of current events in the particular years, directed by M.A. Singh, having duration of 10 minutes each and shot in 35mm in Black and White.
5.    In 1984, Heisnam Kanhailal, well-known theatre director of the Kalakshetra Manipur produced on celluloid the film PEBET which is based on his play by the same name. The story of the play is based on a popular Manipuri folktale with the film version being directed by Lokendra Arambam, another well-known theatre personality. The film is in 35mm colour with duration of 35 minutes. A second film produced in this year wass TALES of Courage, produced by the Films Division of India, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and having a duration of 30 minutes, the medium of the film is English and it was shot in 35mm colour.
6.    In 1988 the film Sangai-Dancing Deer of Manipur, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi came out, based on the ballet Keibul Lamjao written by M.K. Binodini Devi and performed by the ballet unit of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal. A second film produced in this year is the Keibul Lamjao National Park, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for the Forest Department, Government of Manipur. A third film was Koro Kosil, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for the Manipur Film Development Corporation Limited.
7.    In 1989 the film THE DEER ON THE LAKE, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi took up theme on the endangered brow-antlered deer Sangai. The same year, the film TOTANGKAM, directed by Sanakhya Ibotombi and produced by the Avant Garde, a theatrical society based in Imphal, took up the theme on the ritualistic festival of a particular tribe in Manipur in a 16mm colour film with commentary in English, having the duration of 72 minutes.
8.    In 1990 the film INDIGENOUS GAMES OF MANIPUR, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for Doordarshan, highlighted the several indigenous games played in Manipur.
9.    In 1991, the film MEITEI PUNG, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for Doordarshan, dwelled into mysticism and the aestheticism of the indigenous percussion music of the Meiteis in Manipur. The same year, a film namely GORKHA OF MANIPUR, directed by Sanakhya Ibotombi and produced by B.R. Chhetri for the Avant Garde, Imphal took up the thread of Gorkhas in service and in daily life as observed in the state in a16mm colour film of 20 minutes. The film YAOSANG, directed by Sanakhya Ibotombi and produced by R.K. Binoy for the Avant Garde, records the event of the annual festival Yaoshang in Manipur in 16 mm colour format with English and Manipuri.
10.    In 1993, the film MOIRANG PARVA, a joint production of the Directorate of Art and Culture, Government of Manipur and the East Zone Cultural Centre, Calcutta dealt with the aesthetics of the Moirang Parva, the traditional folk oral recital that narrates stories from the lives of the legendary characters Khamba and Thoibi of Moirang. The film is in 35 mm colour, having the duration of 28 minutes.
11.    In 1994, the film ORCHIDS OF MANIPUR, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for the Forest Department, Government of Manipur, drew as its theme a picture of the beautiful, lovely orchid flowers of Manipur, in their assorted varieties and environment. In the same year, the film, PENA, directed by Makhon Mani Mongshaba explored the philosophy and aesthetics of the traditional Pena music that has encaptured people of the all walks of life and communities by its mystic luring renderings. The films also highlights Pena performance in ritualistic performances. With a duration of 18 minutes, the film is in 35 mm colour.
12.     In 1995, the film YELHOU JAGOI ( The Dances of Lai Haraoba), directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, based on the creation myth narrated and enacted in the Lai Haraoba (festivities of the Gods), having a duration of 30 minutes, the film is in 35 mm colour.
13.    In 1997, the film LAA (The Banana Leaf), a film by Thouyangba and Thoungamba for P.K. Films Manipur, has as its subject the different uses of the banana leaf in the daily and the customary life of the Meiteis in the Manipur valley. The duration of the film is 26 minutes and the film has commentary in English with the script written by M.K. Binodini Devi.
Short features.
1.    In 1984, the film PAOKHUM AMA, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma and produced for Films Division of India, takes up the theme on the problems of unemployment and the frustration of the youths in failing to secure monetary and social security, while on another plane it dwells on the interrelationship of two major communities in Manipur. The film is shot in 18 mm colour with the duration of 70 minutes and the film went on to participate in the Tyneside International Film Festival, United Kingdoms in 1984. In the same year another short movie namely THABA, directed by Kongbrailatpam Ibohal Sharma and produced by Kh. Pramodini Devi for the Department of Women and Child Programme (now renamed Department of Social Welfare), Government of Manipur, was shot in 16mm colour.
2.    In 1986 the film TREE OF LIFE, directed by L.K. Shimray and produced by K. Nongbam Singh for the Film Production Centre, Kwakeithel. Having duration of 10 minutes, the medium of film is in Manipuri.

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