Manipuri Cinema: Its Journey And Problems

Part 1

By: Meghachandra Kongbam *

The global film movement has now recognised the Manipuri Cinemn, a late arrival in the family of Indian Cinema, as a bright and promising star of the movement that has appeared from a zone of the Indian sub-continent rich in 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, absence of Market and infrastructure, paucity of funds and technical expertise and several essential ingredients inspite of the abundant cultural and artistic potential. The pioneers in the field did not lose heart. The result was that the sixties saw them active and the first Manipuri feature film MATAMGl MANIPUR produced in 1972 bagged the National Award.

After making maiden film show on the surface of the earth on December 28, 1895 in Paris, Lummier Brothers' Kinemtograph reached in India and the first public show in the Country was held at Watson Hotel in Bombay on July 07, 1896. The magical influence of the show struck the Indians and the Indian Cinema was boom in 1919.

With the release of Ardeshir Irani's ALAM ARA on March 14, 1931 at Majestic Hall in Bombay, the talkie era of Indian Cinema was faded in from the silent era. During the year 1931, India produced 27 talkie films including three Bengali films, one each of Tamil and Telegu films. In the neighbouring state of Assam, Jyoti Prasad Agarwal's JOYMOTI was produced and screened in 1935 as the first Assamese film.

Manipuri 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 organised cinema halls came up. The prominent among them were the MNB Talkies, Victory Cinema and Friends Talkies.

In the beginning of the Indian Cinema, exhibitors were the main patrons in making films. Likewise, the exhibitors in Manipur made their contribution to the film movement. Ayekpam Biramangal, proprietor of Victory Cinema had the dream to produce Manipuri film targeting the Manipuri audience. He along with eleven other shareholders set up Shri Govindajee Film Company in 1946-47 to make the popular play MAINU PEMCHA into film.

Later on, they switched over to making the first venture in Hindi as they were pessimistic about a viable market for Manipuri films. Imphal then had only three cinema halls. The maiden venture met with rough weather from all sides despite spending around rupees one and a half lakhs, and crashed midway. Selected pieces about nine reels of the fourteen reels completed were released uncensored and un-edited in the few cinema halls in Imphal. The tempo naturally died down to a low ebb for many years before a fresh enthusiasm was born long afterwards.

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, which may be an outdated one, where the colour films dominated the Indian cinema.

To make the film, the equipments and technicians where engaged from outside Manipur. Even the film director, Debkumar Bose, too. Thanks should be accorded to the bold producer Karam Monomohan who never looked back in pioneering the filmmaking without visualising any loss or gain onto the film. The colour era came only in 1984 when the first coloured feature film Langlen Thadoi directed by M.A. Singh was released.

During the short span of 25 years, Manipur had produced 28 feature films. Our film industry has not been able to pro duce even an average of two films a year. One, as such, should rightly wonder whether it should be called an industry at all though it has received many international acclaims. No one has come out as producer accepting the filmmaking as business, and profession. Most of the producers having failed to see any commercial prospect like to forget about the loss and gain side consoling themselves with commendable patriotic zeal.

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 G. Narayan Sharma, K. Ibohal Sharma, M. Nilamani, Thouyangba Thoungamba are still in the field, gain or no gain.

Manipuri cinema though it was bom 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 organised both Indian and foreign film festivals in the State and discussions on films were organised regularly. 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 films 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. Out of 28 feature films produced so far, nine films had won national awards. A statistic view reveals that every third film produced in Manipur has won a national award. By and large, Manipuri films have surpassed other regional films in terms of quality inspite of the low costs and other handicaps.

In the major international film festivals, Syam Sharma's Imagi Ningthem, Paokhum Ama, Ishanou and Sanabi, M.A. Singh's Sanakeithel, K. Ibohal's Sambal Wangma and Oken Amakcham's Khonthang were screened.

Inspite of the many drawbacks in technical and infrastructural shortcomings, the thematic and aesthetic values of Manipuri films available in the fertile cultural soil of Manipur have made up the deficiencies. The Manipuri cinema has come of age and has the pride of place in the world cinema. In the non-feature film section, out of 28 non-feature films produced so far, 7/8 documentary films of Syam Sharma brought laurels to Manipur in national as well as international levels.

To be continued...

* This article is originally written and published as part of MFDC 25 year (1972-1997) celebration. This article was webcasted with due courtesy to MFDC (Manipur Film Development Corporation) on March 16 2010.

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