50 years of Manipuri Cinema 1972-2022

Author with legendary actor Yengkhom Roma.
  • This article tells you about the evolution and success of Manipuri cinema with names of key contributors.

Manipur has a rich tradition of arts and culture i.e. more than 2,000 years old and is not behind others in the field of Cinema. The contribution of Manipuri Cinema during the last five decades in Indian cinema needs no introduction.  Despite the lack of facilities and without any well-equipped studios, modern equipment and theatre Manipuri cinema excelled at home and abroad. 


The journey of Manipuri cinema began in the year 1972 with the public screening of the first ever Manipuri feature film Matamgi Manipur produced by the K T (Karam Tomal) Films, one of the pioneers of Manipuri cinema. Shri Karam Amumacha was the producer. Karam Tomal is the father of Karam Amumacha. The   script was penned by renowned writer Arambam Samarendra, Sahitya Academy Award winner.  Aribam Shyam Sharma, one of the most outstanding film makers of the country was music director and actor. The movie was directed by Dev Kumar Bose from Kolkata. After the successfully screening of Matamgi Manipur, Manipuri cinema has not looked back and produced nationally and internationally acclaimed films in feature film and documentary formats.


After Matamgi Manipur there was gap of twelve years before Manipur produced its first ever colour film Langlen Thadoi in 1984. It was directed by MA Singh, one of the pioneers of film-making in Manipur who received training from outside the state. Paokhuma Ama, directed by A Syam Sharma, was the first short colour film of Manipur and produced in 1983. 


Maipak Son of Manipur, based on body builder N. Maipak Singh was a 35 mm black and white 10 minutes first ever Manipuri documentary film.


This year, for a period of twelve months starting April 2021, Manipur State Film Development Society (MSFDS) is celebrating 50 years of Manipur Cinema.  The celebrations involve screening of films, workshops and Talks on cinema.


A three day workshop on film archives, starting April 10, was conducted by the experts from the Film Heritage Foundation, Mumbai as part of the first phase of the celebrations. The workshop was a major attraction. An organising committee, headed by Commissioner of Art and Culture Department which includes the Director of Art and Culture and other eminent film personalities and media personalities, was also formed. The Chief Minister, who is also the Chairperson of MSFDS, attended the inaugural session of the 50 years celebrations that was held at the MSFDS auditorium that is the only well-equipped theatre in the state.

Even though the first screening of full length Manipuri feature film took place on April 9, 1972 the movement for cinema started in 1966 with the opening of the Film Society and Cine Club. The screening of Hindi and English movies also started in Manipur with the opening of Film society. From the late nineties talented Manipuri youth received quality training on movie making and post production facilities here at Imphal and at Kolkata.


Maharajkumar Priyobrata, first Chief Minister of Manipur was a film enthusiast. As a hobby he filmed quality documentary films in 1936 but they were not widely shown.  He is also remembered as one of the pioneer film maker of Manipur.


Though the first Manipuri film screening took place on April 9, 1972 it was opposed by Rajkumar Bidur Singh, a 2008 recipient of the prestigious Swarna Kamal award for the best critic. The reason for opposing release of Matamgi Manipuri, the first Manipuri film was because over 90% of the movie was shot outside Manipur (in Kolkata Studios). Also the important roles in movie were played by non-Manipuris as were the screen play, make-up, dressers, still photographer, art director, chief production controller etc (no Manipuri hands/technicians).


The screening of Meipak Son of Manipur, a 35 mm black and white 10 minutes film, based on the legendary body builder N Meipak, at Pratap Talkies Imphal in 1971 can be treated as the first screening of a Manipur film.


Rajkumar Bidur said that Brojendrogee Luhongba, another Manipuri feature film produced and directed by Salam Nodiachand popularly known as SN Chand some months later after releasing Matamgi Manipur can also treated as first Manipuri film screened before the public. S N Chand, besides producing and directing the film also handled the screenplay, acted as protagonist, sang songs and worked as music director of the film.


Without any proper film policy and workable financial support from the government the talented Manipuri Film makers still came out with a number of successful films.  The year 1981 is one of the memorable year in the history of Manipuri Cinema. Imagi Ningthem the first directorial venture of Aribam Syam Sharma went on to win National Award followed by entry in various international festivals abroad. It also won the prestigious Grand Prix at Nantes, France. K Ibohal Sharma was the producer and cameraman of the film.


Ollangthagi Wangmadasu (Beyond the pale of summer) released in January 1980 is a hit film of that time which was screened parallel with Sholay, running 30 weeks. It broke the Imphal box office record held by Sholay. The film was produced by G Narayan Sharma, script by Maharaj kumari Binodini Devi. Meichak Meichak created history with the involvement of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar and other well-known singers like Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik. Sadhana Sargam also rendered songs in other Manipuri feature films.


A good number of Manipuri feature film find place at the prestigious Indian Panorama and many of them bagged Best Regional Film Awards.


Besides the feature films Manipuri cinema also captured a prominent place in the documentary and short film genre also. The Dancing Deer of Manipur was declared as outstanding film of the year 1989 by the British Film Institute. Doordarshan, Films Division and the Audio Visual Research Centre of Manipur University are supporting talented film makers of Manipur in a big way by providing a platform for making tele and digital films.


Over and above film production Manipuris also won three national awards. Best Film Critic/Writer was awarded to Rajkumar Bidur in 2010, Meghachandra Kongbam in 2017 and Wahengbam Bobby in 2018. These three Manipuri film enthusiasts were honored by the nation with the Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) Award.


Rajkumar Bidur and Meghachandra Kongbam won the national for writing on cinema while Bobby won the Golden Lotus for his book “ Matamgi Manipur: the First Manipuri Feature Film which deals about the journey of Manipuri cinema.  Makhomani Mongsaba celebrated actor and director, who is the publisher of book, was also awarded the Golden Lotus award.


Rajkumar Bidur Singh, after receiving the Golden Lotus award in 2010, was appointed as jury member for Best Writing Section of the 57th National Film Award 2011 where eminent art critic Samik Bandyopadhyay was the Chairman of the Committee.


Irom Maipak, one of the talented cinematographers of A Syam Sharma also one of the rare film personalities of Manipur. He handled camera in almost all the films of Syam Sharma, Sanzu Sharma, Haobam Pabankumar. He was awarded the prestigious Rajat Kamal for Best Cinematographer at the 49th National Film Festival 2001 for the documentary film The Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh directed by A Syam Sharma. Saikhom Ratan is another big name in cinematography who worked with Syam Sharm and many other film makers of Manipur.


Maibam Amuthoi Singh popularly known as M A Singh was the first Manipuri who received the full knowledge of Film Editing and Camera by completing three years graduate course from the prestigious Film and Television Institute (FTI) Pune. On returning from Pune he imparted training to young Manipuri students in his Film Institute. His contribution to Manipuri cinema is also commendable.  


In the acting front too, Manipuri actors excelled since 1981. Three actors bagged national awards namely Master Leikhendra the child artiste of Imagi Ningthem, Kiranmala (special mentioned award), the lead actor of  Ishanou  in 1990 both directed by Aribam Syam Sharma. The latest title was won by Leishangthem Tonthoi lead actor of the film Phijigi Mani. She received the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 59th National Film Award 2011 for her role of Yaiphabi in the digital film directed by Oinam Goutam.


Manipuri women excel in many fields, films too. There are good number of women film producers and directors for e.g. Sonia Nepram and Meena Longjam. Sonia is a PG in Mass Communications from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia, Delhi. She bagged the Jury’s Choice Award in her debut film “Gun and a God” a film on status of women in Manipur at the Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival 2017. This was followed by “Bloody Phanek” premiered in South Korea during the 9th DMZ International Documentary Film Festival 2017.


Dr Meena, a communication graduate from Madras Christian College won the national award in documentary “Auto Driver”. It is a story of a women Auto Driver that won the Best Social issue film during the 63rd edition of National Film Award in the year 2015. The same film bagged the Best Documentary award in California in the year 2017. In recognition of her work in the field of mass communication the Dalmia Bharat group conferred her with the Young Achiever’s Award in 2016. 


The contribution of Maharajkumari Binodini Devi, daughter of His Highness Churachand Singh to the success of Manipuri Cinema is unparalleled. She was the script writer of many acclaimed Manipuri films namely Imagi Ningthem 1981, Olangthagi Wangmadasu 1983, Paokhum Ama 1983, Ishanou 1990, Mayophigi Macha 1994 and Sanabi 1995.                      


Even though Manipuri cinema celebrates 50 years Manipur's Film Policy was formulated only last year and does not make the Film as an Industry in the State. The only state run Film and Television Institute established some years back is running in name sake only. This deprives the youth of the state. The State Government should think seriously about the problems of Manipuri cinema so that talented youth can carry forward the rich legacy of Manipuri film makers.


Aribam Syam Sharma - Born at Imphal in 1936 Sharma, a product of the Viswa Bharati University, Shantiniketan, is a well-known vocalist. Back from Shantikenketan Syam Sharma became an actor, director of note over and above that started teaching philosophy at the prestigious DM College Imphal.  Sharma started making films in 1974.


Acclaimed as one of the most original film maker of India by the International Critics, Syam Sharma had won the national award a record fifteen times. He is the recipient of Padamashree 2006, V Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award 2008, Kamalkumari Lifetime Achievement Award 2009 and Manipur Film Development Society (MFDC) Lifetime Achievement Award 2010.


The notable non feature film directed by Aribam Syam Sharma includes Sangai Dancing Deer of Manipur 1987-88, Keibul Lamjao National Park 1988, Koro Koshi 1988, The Deer on the Lake 1989, Indigenous Games of Manipur 1990, Meitei Pung 1991, Geet Govinda 1991, Lai Harouba 1991, Orchids of Manipur 1994, Yelhou Jagoi 1995, Loktak the dying Lake of Manipur 1998, The Marams 1999, Thang Ta The Martial Arts of Manipur 1999, The Mompas of Arunachal Pradesh 2001, MK Binodini Devi 2002.


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