Friday, April 8, 2011

History of Manipuri films

Manipur is a state which consists of various communities with multiple tradition and culture. Its diverse cultural practices have naturally led to the emergence of innumerable art forms in the realms of music, dance and other performing arts. This has in turn, brought recognition and appreciation to Manipur. The culture of the region is expressed through various art forms, and in turn the distinctive art forms preserve the culture throughout the generations.  The distinctive features of the lifestyle and manner of the people; the economy of the land as well as societal faces of the masses of the region are highly honoured and esteemed by the people of other parts of world and all the more because other similar art forms are found in other parts of the world.
If we trace the origin of the cinematic art it would be worth remembering that the first moving cinema was invented by two brothers in France – Louis and Auguste, popularly known as ‘Loumiere Brothers’. Their first production was named “Cinematographe” and the world is still grateful for their valuable contribution. Slowly the influence of the cinematic art reached our secluded region. And in the 1920s the cinematic art had a small audience of its own in Manipur. However during that time there was not a single cinema hall in the state. In those days screening of cinema took place in open grounds of the locality or in the courtyard of a house. But after a few years two cinema halls were set up in the heart of the Imphal city: the one situated at Paona Bazar was named ‘Manipur Talkies’ while ‘Rajkumar Hall’ was set up at Thangal Bazar. The audiences were indeed enthralled by the vitality of this new art form. The music, the dialogues, and the drama which unfolded before their eyes must have been a very amazing event.
With the passage of’ time some creative minds of Manipur stated to think about making and producing cinemas. The first stalwart to achieve the feat was MaharajKumar Priyobarta Singh who was also the first chief minister of the state. The name of the film, a documentary was “Hiyang Tannaba” which literally means Boat – Race in Manipuri. Armed with only an 8 mm Camera which he had bought from Raipur where he had gone for his higher studies, Priyobrata captured the exciting event of the boat race which was held every year near the royal palace of Manipur. The year was 1936. However, this film was not released and showcased to the people of Manipur. Priyobarta had not sent it to the Censor Board as the movie had some technical flaws. Presently this film is preserved at the archive of the Manipur Film Development Corporation (MFDC).
In 1946, a team of 9 members who were all film lovers set up a film company known as ‘Shree Shree Govindaji Film Company’. The team included well known personalities like Ayekpam Biramangol, Sogaijam Nabakumar, and Sinam Krishna Mohon. Using the name of the company as the banner, a film named ‘Mainu Pemcha’ was produced in Hindi. The team had collaborated with a Bengali Filmmaker, Rathin Sen for the production of this film. The lead female role of ‘Pemcha’ was played by Thambalngoubi, and the role of ‘Borajao’ was played by Bimol Chaterjee who was a Bengali. The other important actors of this film were Laishram Netrajit, Khwairakpam Momon, Kangabam Gojendro. But unfortunately the film was not completed as the company suffered from financial constraints. After this unsuccessful venture, a heroic effort was made by Kongbrailatpam Ibohal Sharma to establish cinematic art in Manipur. Using a 16 mm Bolex Camera he made cinemas and documentaries namely ‘Ningthemcha Ahum’ in 1960; ‘Echel’ in 1961; and ‘Mongpham’ in 1962. He processed all his films and documentaries at his own studio, X-Cine during those days. Some of his works like ‘Cultural Heritage’ and ‘Imphal Diary’ are outstanding documentaries. Besides making movies he took pains to tour many parts of the state to screen his documentaries. So he has a very great contribution in making cinema popular in the state. His documentaries were made like a silent movie and they had no sound recordings. However he compensated this by playing pre-recorded sound especially made for the film simultaneously when the film was screened. It was crude but effective in the sense that people could get the actual feel of a movie as audio was added to the visual.
In 1971, another pioneer filmmaker named Karam Manimohon produced a documentary film with a 20 minute duration called “Maipak – Son of Manipur”. The film was directed by a Bengali film director Debenkumar Bose and it was dubbed both in English and Hindi. The film was based on the life of Nongthombam Maipak who participated and won the ‘Mister India title’ in the ‘International Federation of Body Building Championship’ held at Paris in 1970. However, the following year 1972 can be regarded as an important land mark in the history of Manipuri cinema. On the 9th April of this unforgettable year, the state film industry got their first censor certificate and released its first formal Manipuri cinema “Matamgi Manipur” under the banner of KT film. This movie was also directed by Karam Manimohon. Later, in 1973 another film called as “Brojendagi Luhongba” enthralled the audience of Manipur with S.N. Chand as its producer director as well as the lead actor of this film. Manipuri film makers finally crossed the initial hurdles during this time and after this phase, Manipuri cinema developed with leap and bounds. Various movies were produced and some of them namely Lamja Pasuram’, ‘Olangthagi Wangma’, ‘Saphabi’, ‘Khuthang Lamjen’, ‘Ngak e-Ko Nangse’, ‘Sanakeithel’, ‘Wangma-Wangma’, ‘Yairipok Thambalnu’, ‘Khonjel’, ‘Imagi Ningthem’, ‘Sambal Wangma’, ‘Eche Sakhi’, ‘Khongthang’, ‘Ishanou’, ‘Paokhum Ama’, ‘Kombirei’, ‘Sana Manbi Sanarei’, ‘Meiri’, ‘Laibak’, ‘Amuba Chandal’, ‘Operation Sangai’, ‘Chatledo Eidi’, ‘Maiyophigi Macha’, Meichak Meichak’, ‘Cheina’, ‘Meichak’, ‘Kanaga Hinghouni’, ‘Thawan michakna Kenkhrabada’, Amambasu Anganbani’, ‘Yening Amadi Likla’, etc. got national and international acclaim. Among these films: ‘Imagi Ningthem’ and ’Ishanou’ bagged national and international awards. Apart from these feature films various short and documentaries films has made the Manipuri industry proud by winning many awards and allocates in the national and international level.
However a decisive turn in Manipuri cinema was witnessed in the year 2000 due to the ban imposed on Bollywood movies by a certain armed group of Manipur. The business of movie theatres was drastically affected as they had to stop screening movies. The theatres were pulled down or either converted into shopping complexes or used for other commercial offices. And the void which was created by the disappearance of Hindi movies was occupied by a new form of art which we now  term as digital albums. which gave rise to the emergence of a new mode of films ¬the digital film. Unlike making a celluloid film, to produce a digital movie was technically easier, faster and cheaper.
On 24th May 2002 the first digital format film “Lanmei” was released under the banner of ‘Kangla Films Manipur’. It was released at Pratap Talkies, Paona Bazar Imphal. A second film called “Lallasi Pal” was released under the banner of ‘Treasure Island’. Suddenly with the emergence of these digitally made films, film makers stopped making films in celluloid which was not cost effective in the poor economy of Manipur. In fact celluloid films became extinct in the state. However digital films became immensely popular in the state and thousands of digital films are produced in a year. Today, it has become so popular that many producers and production houses have to wait for a long time to pass the censor board. In 2007 the ‘Film Forum Manipur’ – an organization which has been working with dedication for the development of digital cinemas in Manipur held the ‘First Film Festival’ to encourage actors and other people associated with the digital film industry. But unfortunately the Forum has not been able to organize another Film Festival in the state due to the lack of finances. This is largely due to the fact that the state government and other organizations have not given any support to the Forum. Nevertheless despite the lack of such festivals, innumerable films and video albums are produced in the state in order to cater to the demands of the entertainment loving people of the state. And hopefully the rise and development of these indigenously produced films which showcase the diverse culture and tradition of our state will make the state proud by winning laurels allover the world.

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