With a full-length narrative film from Manipur being showcased at the 38th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) after more than a decade, and two non-feature films to go along with it, the strife-torn northeastern state is making its presence felt at the event in Goa.
Representing Manipur in the latest edition of India's annual celebration of cinema are multiple award-winning filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma, theatre actor-turned-filmmaker Makhonmoni Mongsaba and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute graduate Haobam Paban Kumar.
Rajarshee Bhagyachandra of Manipur, an hour-long documentary by Aribam on one of the greatest Vaishnava kings of the region, is being showcased in the non-feature section of Indian Panorama.
It was Aribam's feature Sanabi that was the last Manipuri entry in the Indian Panorama segment in 1994. The seasoned director's first film, Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious), made in the early 1980s, won the top prize at the Nantes Festival of Three Continents, while his Ishanou (The Chosen One) made the cut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991.
At the other end of the IFFI spectrum this year is the budding Haobam Paban Kumar whose short fiction film Ngaihak Lambida (Along the Way) has made the Panorama cut. It narrates the tale of an ordinary woman caught between social obligations and personal aspirations.
In the director's note on Ngaihak Lambida, Paban Kumar says: "Manipuri society has been thrown into disarray by decades of insurgency. The people have retreated into a cocooned existence, devoid of any space for self-expression. The worst affected are women and children. My film is about a woman who decides to come out of her cocooned existence."
Haobam burst on the global scene last year with the hard-hitting AFSPA 1958: A Cry in the Dark, a film about the Manipuri struggle against the atrocities of armed forces. The film made it to the official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006.
The Manipuri feature film on show in Goa is Mongsaba's Yenning Amadi Likla (Spring and Dew), produced by an all-women collective, Survi. The director is a stage and film actor who has worked with theatre legend Ratan Thiyam. The film is about a 10-year-old boy who finds himself up against an alcoholic father and an abused mother.
Violence, direct and indirect, is indeed central to contemporary films from the northeast. Another Panorama film from the northeast, the Assamese-language Jaatinga Ityadi, directed by Sanjeeb Sabhapandit, is a complex love story set against the backdrop of extremism.
In Manipur, filmmaking seems to be steadily emerging as a tool for exorcising societal demons, as it probably does in the case of National Institute of Design (NID)-trained animation designer Meren Imchen, the first-ever Naga filmmaker to break into the Indian Panorama. His 10-minute animation short film, Nokpokliba, is based on a folk tale about an eponymous magician who uses his talent to help his people.
Imchen's singular vision stems from the culture he is steeped in. Says the filmmaker: "The idea was to capture the local flavour of the setting through sound and visuals. So all the musical sounds in the film were recorded live in Nagaland during the Hornbill Festival."