Behind the Scenes: All Manipur Cameramen Association
I’m going to tell you something really outrageous. I’m going to tell you the truth.
— Primary Colors (1998)
In my native language there is a saying: Teek houdaba mafamda kegena yoombi oi, or loosely, in places where there is no teak, kege (castor bean plant) is used as building pillars, or more specifically, in a place where there is no bankable star, Abhishek Bachchan always plays the lead role.
This is exactly how the film community exists in Manipur. Filmmakers are no different from wedding cameramen. So far the best they have done is to copy ideas from the Eighties’ Bollywood, which is annoyingly melodramatic, musical and plain wishful. Then they would pass off their garbage as a film, which in most cases are B- and C-grade movies. It is even more ridiculous because 16 years ago, rebel organisations in the Manipur valley had imposed a blanket ban on Bollywood movies on the ground of polluting indigenous culture but its form and content have been meticulously maintained by a group of experienced and powerful cameramen.
This helpless community is not aware of the kind of disservice it is doing to film enthusiasts. Somehow the contemporary mess of our society might explain the confusion as the ‘filmmakers are lost in wasteful indulgence as much as a delusional mind would live in its own constructed reality’. But that cannot be an excuse because there is, in the front and quite visibly, an audience.
In the brouhaha, however, a group of conscious filmmakers have arrived on the scene and started making seminal films. Most of them are well-travelled, English speaking (never mind that all the time they are confused with ‘stallholders’ for ‘stakeholders’, ‘restrain’ for ‘refrain’ and ‘fine’ for ‘file’ and so on), who are also technically sound, experienced professionals but again, they will make films on issues like AFSPA and will not hesitate to receive awards from the Indian president, who is the ringmaster of the Indian armed forces. Now in their latest monkey antics, they are collaborating with the police. It’s like the a few stray dogs have found someone who can adopt them, though it is obscure who the dogs and the adopter are in this context.
I wish the cameramen—sorry, I cannot help it and I always make a mistake identifying them—wish the filmmakers get some good projects. I also wish the police department will contact them first when the department plans for any future video shooting, because these filmmakers are no different from cameramen. Maybe they should as well cover more wedding shooting for experience. More significantly, without such certainty of funding and financial support, it is rather a difficult world for the artistic filmmakers so it means a lot, regardless of their artistic medium whether it be utilised in a social ad campaign or a wedding videography.
Perhaps they are delightfully ignorant but ignorance is not always bliss if we consider we are living in an armed-conflict zone that has destroyed all decency of living a life of dignity. The Indian government that is taking every minute step to foment the Indian nation-building process is no stranger to this farce playing out in a place like Manipur. So, under the grand project of fart and culture and information broadcasting they choose some films from each province annually and this is what the filmmakers, the supreme winners, in our neighbourhoods are so proud of.
Even film festivals are held every year in the capital city, honouring them, appreciating them how their creative work is so essential in building India while a majority of the films are hopelessly pan-Indian without necessarily being political; and the filmmakers cannot afford to ignore it. For an idea, sample these couple of non-Manipuri films that were screened two years ago in a special Northeast festival: Pradip Kurbah’s Ri – A Homeland of Uncertainty (Khasi) which is about an insurgent who comes into the mainstream after surrendering himself to the authority; or Jahnu Barua’s Ajeyo (Assamese) set around the days of the Indian independence struggle in a Bangla backyard called Assam. Even the greatest filmmaker J Barua makes this kind of moronic films; so anybody can make whatever s/he wants.
Apparently, these filmmakers in our localities are also little slow in understanding that people are picking apart their work because of blatant hollowness and that we are offering them ideas to make amends. I realised the slowness when one of the hopeless film organisations replied to me recently. Showing off its hopeless ideas, an expert representative told me: ‘Most of us have to work with the system and explore ways to improve it and even highlight misgivings’.
So when they are asked to kiss ass, they have to kiss ass because most of them have to work with the system and keep producing third-class films as long as those are helping them bring national awards from the mainland or wherever they do. No wonder, repeatedly we have been coming across super-hit movies like Western Sankirtan and Delhi Mellei that are full of nothingness.
When I criticise them recently, they consider it as an argument. But my intentions were very different. It was not an argument—but rather just stating the fact that their great artistic endeavour is a huge pile of shit. Well, people would not mind as they kiss each other’s ass ‘behind the scenes’ but it is gross when they come out in public forums and they do it all the time. At least, blow rather than merely kissing.
And the fact is that they cannot see the farce what other people can do so clearly. If it was an argument they would have allowed me to explain—explain, not argue—but they have the IQ of Albert Einstein and cannot see further than what their we-have-to-be-in-the-system servile mentality allows them to. (Marup khitta sanajage yabigadro? Ei yamna tinnajaninge noiga). Overall it is no surprise, though, because we have evolved from monkeys much later than other people.
Are these views mere generalisations? I’m afraid not. The history of Manipuri cinema started from 1972 ‘officially’ but till today there are only a handful of films that we can recommend others to watch them; and a majority of these are also the monopolistic works of Aribam Syam. Apparently other filmmakers, rather than putting efforts into their works of art, are busy kissing asses to fit into the system that holds nothing for them except for providing some half-baked ideas of state terrorism and gun culture and the likes. An exception like Mami Sami—that shows how an ‘observer’ can become an ‘observed’—only proves the rule. But in the same breadth, this kind of film has no award-winning material so why bother.
Going by the trend, expect three to five films, at most, which you can watch in the next five decades of Manipuri cinema though the industry produces 30–50 films a year. This is not even a wild speculation but a practical suggestion out of two decades of terrible film watching. And finally, if we have no teak, yes, kege is good enough. Even the slowest kid will understand this statement; but you cannot simply wildly expect that you will start making meaningful films as soon as you start kissing asses. Experts from other parts of the globe suggest that filmmakers need experience in filmmaking and not in keeping a record on the number of asses they kiss. Sad but true.