‘Western Sankirtan’ at Cinema Paradiso

This age demands us to go back to our roots for identity crisis has affected us severely, exposing us like we are a fish out of water; so compulsorily we got to go back there — this is clearly the message, but the messenger stumbled and forgot the substance in the movie Western Sankirtan

Image courtesy: The Facebook page of the movie 
Cast: Bonny, Gokul, Devita,
Abenao and others
Director: L Prakash

The problem starts from the beginning of the movie because we are not clear about our origin as is evident in its story line. There is a confusion of meaning in Nat Sankirtan, a non-Manipuri term, which this movie is based on. The Manipuri excellence and originality in the various performing arts of the Nat Sankirtan are irrefutable, though in the movie, the journey back to our roots ends abruptly, at one juncture of our civilisation, when Hindu missionaries from Bangladesh and Bengal turned our history upside down, some three centuries ago. This sudden ending is obvious from the very title of the movie. Thence, its gist is built on a fallacious premise.

The real villain in Western Sankirtan is rock music. Bonny, the antihero and a town-boy played the role of a Manipuri rock musician, who blindly follows the Western culture; though he reasoned he was only flowing with the tide of our time. His taste of music and apparent disregard for tradition even pissed off his culturally-disposed girlfriend, Devita. Bonny looks like a shumang-leela artist with his gaudy makeup and Devita has a diction that only a C-grade actress can aspire to follow. In short, it was very cheap and these two protagonists reminded the audience why so many Manipuri movies sink without a trace from the box office.

In fact, we can listen to this movie as a radio drama without losing track of any sequence, because the visuals throughout the two-hour show time add very little to the content, while the excessive melodramatic presentation further spoils the narrative in a manner, worse than the jejune visual.

The background score of the movie, which resembles to those of the Hindi serials and is sporadically punctuated by western melodic lines, is equally distasteful. Where has the essence of identity formation and cultural awakening vanished from the music composition? The film director and the music director have a lot of questions to answer.

On the other side of the story is a struggling Nat Sankirtan artist, Gokul, the hero of the movie who belongs to a village, but circumstances drove him to Imphal town. Interestingly, his amiable landlord is the father of Devita. He also has a girlfriend, Abenao, whose parents are forcing her to get married to the son of a family friend who lives in the town.

The movie, despite its ambiguities, is solid in one aspect. The narration depicts a Manipuri idiosyncrasy in a realistic manner, when the people started hiring western sankirtan artists for the several rites and rituals. This is true because we are a superficial society and are so fond of imitating others. Some people also say we live in a world of religious rites, which starts from the first day we are born and ends with the last breath of our life. The movie shows a current of imitation and dereliction that every Manipuri can easily relate to, as we can see in the changing trends of our socio-cultural lives.

The climax of the movie was the playing of a western sankirtan track on the tape for a shorad (death rituals) ceremony, while Bonny and his gang got the thrashing of their lives for their carelessness. In the denouement, Nat Sankirtan triumphs over Western Sankirtan, while Bonny accompanied by Devita eventually visit Gokul to learn Nat Sankirtan.

But as mentioned earlier, the movie is very weak in addressing its message because the victory of truth is gained from the idea of a ‘falsehood’ — for Nat Sankirtan can never offer us a path to our true identity. Perhaps a new name for this art form and a deeper analysis of our cultural history would have made this movie easier on the eyes and ears of the audience. Lastly, it is unfortunate that such a shallow movie has been passed off as an entertaining messenger to make us culturally conscious. It has a huge chance, though not at the box office, but to further mislead us to accept the Hindu mores as our own. This will only create more crisis.

If you have nothing to do during a load-shedding evening, this is just the right movie to kill your time. At the Cinema Paradiso in Thangal Keithel, the ticket is lupa 50 per head (and is lupa 30 for English and Tamil movies). This first-floor movie parlour has a seating capacity of nearly 50 people; is equipped with two ACs, which don’t chill the room but do get the people away from suffocation; and includes a cosy café, at the entrance, with a nice ambience and a contemporary interior.

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