Tuesday, May 8, 2007

No sex please, we are Manipuris

Manipuri films are often close imitations of the Bollywood flicks in form, if not the content. Song, music and dance are one of the most important ingredients in a Manipuri film. Like some of the Mumbai’s potboilers, Manipuri heroes woo their love-interests in the sky, mountains, snow and the oceans. Hero-laden helicopters fly into a song sequence out of nowhere, even if the hero is an unemployed chap in the film. Shoots are done in foreign locations like Singapore as a trick to draw audience. Actors change their clothes many times in a span of five minutes. Even the music scores are adapted from the South Indians. Almost all the usual ‘aesthetics of attractions’ of Mumbai cinema are employed to gain eyeballs as Manipuri filmmakers struggle to recover their production cost in a highly competitive market that is confined to the Imphal valley. (Picture: Mami Numit being celebrated on April 9, 2007 at MDU hall).

So you might ask what is Manipuri about Manipuri films. Despite the cosmetic similarities with other regional cinemas, Manipuri cinema has begun to come on its own. This is largely a result of self-regulation of the Manipuri film industry and in part because of a sort of cultural regimentation imposed on the filmmakers by the underground organisations.

Take for example, the song and dance sequence. Manipuri songs are done very tastefully without any display of tits and bums and that makes it eminently fit to be watched together in a family of three generations without any awkwardness and embarrassments. Elements of sexual titillation are completely absent from the Manipuri cinema, that compared to it, a typical item number of Mallika Sherawat would look like a soft porn stuff. No rain-soaked blouses for the Manipuris.

The Manipuris are a very conservative people. It’s an article of faith among the Manipuris that women should not drink wine, not reveal too much cleavage, not go out late in the night, not laugh too loud, not have food before their husbands do and so on.

These values get reflected in the Manipuri cinema.

The Imphalwood filmmakers are aware of the consequences if they cross the line of decency and fantasy. The community has a powerful impact on what one can do in Manipur—not only in the films but also in other walks of life. If a filmmaker ignores the sensitivities of the Manipuri populace, she is in for a sure trouble. That trouble can also come from the insurgents who considers Manipuri cinema to be a nationalistic product and a cultural ambassador. This notion has led to some actors being prohibited from working together in films because of their too ‘inappropriate’ on-screen and off-screen chemistry. In an extreme case, a female actor was shot at her legs because she acted in an erotic scene. Some of her male colleagues have paid a direr price: they have been executed while others fled to neighbouring states. This happened about a decade ago.

Many rounds of parleys have taken place between the Film Forum, Manipuri, the apex body of the Imphalwood and the underground organisations on censorship issues. While the Film Forum, Manipur has been zealous about guarding its artistic freedom, the UGs have been insisting on enforcing a code of conventions that purport to uphold the dignity of the Manipuri culture and society. A middle ground has been struck which seeks to satisfy both the filmmakers and the UGs.
This mutually agreed code is enforced by the preview committee of the Film Forum, Manipur. From now on, a director must submit his print and screen it before the said committee for clearance. The committee approves the film on the basis of some criteria, most of which to determine whether the film transgresses the line of decency, misrepresents the culture of the Manipuris or imitates too profusely from Bollywood. The members of this committee are known to show their utmost displeasure at the sight of sarees, sindur, mangal sutra, heavy make-up, exposed ribs and ‘vulgar scenes’. A director has to comply if cuts are recommended in any portion of the film. Only then can it be submitted formally to the Central Board of Film Censorship at Guwahati for censorship certificate.

Such a system does generate lots of bad feelings between the committee and the filmmakers. It also doesn’t help that most Manipuri filmmakers have grown up on a diet of Bollywood movies—their filmmaking approaches and techniques are uncannily similar to those of the Mumbai’s films. It appears to be quite a temptation for a Manipuri director to make use of alien cultural symbols, often subconsciously, like a mangal sutra, a North Indian usage which does not exist in the Manipuri society. The preview committee acts as a filter to sift through such kind of disconnect between the reality and the cinematic representations.
Film activists mindful of the anomalies in the Manipuri films exhort the filmmakers to look elsewhere for inspiration if Manipuri film has to carve out its own destiny. Korean films are being promoted as alternative films that Manipuris can emulate. The realist feel of the Korean films with their simplicity, brevity of emotions and subtlety are a model for a new breed of young filmmakers. The vice like grip of Bollywood is slowly but surely loosening as Korean and Latin American movies make their foray into Manipur, via the international market at Moreh, a border town straddling Manipur and Myanmar.
There are merits and demerits of extra-institutional/official censorship. On the brighter side, Manipuri films are becoming more realistic and distinct from the homogenous commodity of Bollywood. Liberals are however worried that it is a form of cultural regimentation that restricts freedom of artistic expression and experimentation. The line between vulgarity and art is a thin line and it is a difficult task differentiating between the two. In Manipur, it is the insurgents and the like-minded members in the Film Forum, Manipur that is shouldering this tricky task.


joseph said...

A well written opinion. Congratulations, hope we get more comments like this. You hit the nail by, Whats manipuri in Manipuri films? This is a very good question and i hope our film-makers take a note of this. Afterall, a small film industry like ours should cater to need of the people as well as films as a means of communication should portray the rich cultural heritage of our land. Imitating the "bollywood" themes are ok but not in such a way that our culture and other sentiments are affected.

Nothingman said...
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bom......... said...
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bom......... said...

Well,am kinda late at reading your blog!!!
but there are things which you cannot impose on the whole society!!!
I will like to ask.."does the film director and producer have no right to live and make money??"
If you so insist,why don't you go and make a nice film with full of manipuri theme and dress???
who cares whether one is watching a bollywood or manipuri...it is about the satisfaction u get!!!
And Manipur people being conservative!
that was sometimes ago when the grass was green!!!!
If Manipur has to developed,then this kind of maniac thoughts concerning manipuri identity must be abandon!!!
I am not saying we have to do away with our identity.And there is no rigidity in Identity.If we were that rigid,will we have our ras-lila and other known dance form???

nanao said...

Well,interesting take but don't you think Manipuri Cinema has gone to the dock?Minting money...let them do it.
But some authenticity please... There is no denying fact that to grow one needs to adapt and assimilate but can we have some creative minds at work please?
Being a very powerful media, cinema has a lot of responsibility in forming the public opinion and attitude.Nowadays our kids seem to only think of what Sonia/Kamala wore in the latest flick or whether the new hero on the block could dance like Hrithik Roshan or better.Also 'Clean' songs and dance sequence does not qualify cinema as a 'tastefully' done art.Oh please, give me a break.
Finally,let's not make it a child's play; the 'only for your eyes types'.

name doesnt matter said...

No sex because we are manipuris! I think the title is misleading. Is it because we are manipuris that sex or pornography should not promoted in imphal film industry? Cant get how "being manipuri" is related with "No sex".

.. anyway good issue to bring.

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Abhinandan said...

I have been in Manipur for long...and from whatever i have learnt i have only one thing to say to the author... no industry can make itself look brighter by demeaning others...in this world of 21st century lets not compartmentalise ourself to mere regionalism...as for what the people of Manipur or rather the whole country likes to watch i feel the author should go and take a peek into the minds of the people...remember lastly Manipur is not a part of TALIBAN led Afghanistan but of great and liberal INDIA...Jai Hind

ranjanchabs said...

Title is a bit misleading but content is good. It is good that manipuri cinema has made a good mark among all hurdles. Complying to the norms of FF, low budget, inferior techs, almost all of the manipuri films are entertaining. Why the need to show cleavages when we are entertained by the story line???? We can always go for a porn movie if sex is the need.
Manipuri digital films are unique as in most, there is always a way to expose our cultural identity. Imitation, bollywood, blah blah.....who cares??? if we get a few minutes of entertainment with our families.

curiositas said...

Hi, I am shubhendu, and am a cinema-enthusiast at a very amateur level. I blog about cinema at http://motile-frames.blogspot.com/
Few things i wanted to comment and probably discuss about:
1) As far as Sexual-themes, -scenes, -activities, -sensibilities are concerned, all i want to say, is that we must grow up, we just must!! And, it totally beats me, as to why is all kind of Sexism restricted to women? what gives the right to half the humanity to oppress the other half so brutally?! In a land which gave us Irom sharmila to look upto for hope and rebellion, I am ashamed that a woman was hit on her leg for showing her body; which Sharmila says is her only true-weapon!!....when there are bigger issues- Irom sharmilas, Himanshu kumars, tribal-deaths, militarisation, forced-displacements....how can we be so counter-revolutionary in Cinema?

2) i find the usage of the term "Bollywood" to signify Hindi-lang. cinema very demeaning, senseless and pro-imperialism. Indian-cinema (most of the regional cine-industries are all -"woods" -Sandalwood, Tollywood etc.) has borrowed very little from Western cinema and is definetely not Hollywood-ish in philosophy, taste, ideas or execution. I impress on this, since it may not be long before Manipuri-cinema could well have a ill-deserved "wood"-y tag to itself (probably Mani-wood...ha!).

3)i fully agree with you that there should be cinematic-freedom for the directors etc. One cannot dictate which 'kind' of movies are to be made, and as far as i am concerned, there can be no role for a 'censor'-board in a responsible, progressive society. Though i agree that cinema perhaps gives a feel of the state of the society or the undercurrents it thrives in per se (the neo-realist genre), but that should not be an impediment to a director's thought or expression.

4) i also believe that Cinema is the agent of change. for eg. The French new-wave of cinema, led by such geniuses as Godard and Truffaut, fed and nurtured the great students' Revolution in France in the 70's. Hindi and some other regional cinema is seeing slow-changes, i hope it comes to Manipuri-cinema too.
Why can't Manipuri-cinema have it's own 'G' or 'T'?