Get a CD / DVD video album – available at every home and nearby shops in Manipur. Insert and play the video - the pictures along with a song coming on to the screen of the television, it was awesome. One wonders “made in Manipur ?” were those beautiful background scene our home towns ? villages? Are those performers our own “actors and actress”? Street corners and residential lanes, shopping lines in Manipur are filled with pop, rock – slow to heavy, reggae, “local” and songs of yesteryears – remixed. Every home (almost) had either a copy or more of these “collections” and every weekend sees a new album release. There is no denying and no condemnation in the work. No doubt the characters enactments were remarkable. The background scenes were superb. The technology and its “trick” neither lack behind.
Looking back, televisions came to Manipur in early 80s, which did not take long for the cable and satellite network to supply channels to every household. Also it did not take long for the highly and easily adaptive Manipuris to inculcate whatever the ‘entertainment industry’ brought along with it. A language based ‘ video album’ was produced by every community from the Meiteis in the valley to the hill communities, a playback music with picturization of romantic songs, gospel / religious songs, patriotic songs and many more. In fact, in most of the CDs / DVD we can see a harmonious diversity, where one video album production has a list of ‘artist and technicians’ from various communities involved. The singer, the enactors, the cameraman, the editor, the studio, though the albums were ‘communally or rather linguistically’ based.
In the field of films and entertainment, Meitei communities have received national and international recognitions. Over 50 celluloid films have been produced till now. As early as in 1972 the film “Matamgi Manipur’ bagged the Presidents’ medal in the 20th national film festival. In theatre, Ratan Thiyam is a household name and internationally renowned figure. As far as the others are concern, mentioned may be made of “I Hithaim” a Tangkhul film produced by RR Ama Shom in 2007. A dramatization of the Paite legendary love story “Khupching leh Ngambawm” in the late 70s in black and white celluloid can be vaguely recalled.
Music videos and films – local to international, have flooded almost all of the entertainment spaces in Manipur. While the technology associated with it was one attraction for the younger generation. One of the main arguments was the market and the commercial aspects. The maximum budget for a “ Mollywood” a Manipuri feature film would be approximately 15 lakhs, a small sum in comparison to the multi crore Bollywood or Hollywood films. It would be naive to compare though, a Manipuri film with a Bolly or Holly wood. Further films are being formatted into cheaper CD/DVD. With its easy accessibility and availability , where one can copy and paste a CD / DVD which cost a maximum of Rs 10 – 20 at the “Paona International Market” producers of the music videos and films does not seems to make much money out of it.
The productions have varieties to show and were eyes catching. There are many choices as well, pressing the remote control one can switch on from one playback to another passing the eye without leaving much of an impression. But one cannot be judgemental; it may make good stuffs for some. Definitely stuffy or rather crowded, one music production or a film accommodates as much as it can take. Hollywood stuffs like the costumes, Bollywood stuffs like running around trees, a touch of Korean hairstyle, rocking like the Backstreet boys or the spice gals, the oomphs.. ! Traditional stuffs and cultural enactments too get their part in the background, in the storylines or scripts. It is rather a combination – a mixture of all. But in its overall production one does not see much of a gel between these stuffs. And a difficult one to grasp the feel of its aesthetics or the art or its connection with culture and most of all the emotions it desperately attempts to exhilarate.
Music and songs have been an integral part of life in the valley as well as among the hill communities. In his article “Folk music of the ethnic communities of Manipur” Indian Folklife, August 2008, L. Birendrakumar Singh wrote “ The music of the ethnic communities of Manipur is rhythmic rather than melodious. In the music one finds their hopes, aspiration and frustration .The ups and downs of their voice and their tonal variations draw in the listeners’ mind the beautiful landscape and the hilly terrain, they also reflect the hardships of their agricultural activities .Music does not stand on its own. It accompanies dance movements or physical movements they perform while engaging in cultivation....It reveals the harmonious confluence in the culture of their musical instrument and the music itself” In the same publication, N. Premchand in his “Laiharaoba – a theatre in liminality” explained the connection of the performers , the music, beliefs in relation to the individuals with the society and their everyday life.
This sudden jump to modify the “ancient and unrefined traditional” arts and entertainment to a new transformation in the form of video albums and films would probably be to keep business going or to cater to the consumers. Nevertheless, in terms of its connections with the audience, the listener, the viewer, this productions will find it hard to replace the “Shumang Leelas ” that bring your tears down or gives you a rib tickling laugh. The plays produced by Guruaribam Yaimabi Devi that still touched you deep if one tuned on to the “old fashion” All India Radio - Imphal. The husky voice of Muana Ngaihte with his “ lailung zuangin ” and the rhythm of his classic guitar can still make your eyes moist. While S.Chingnu’s numbers takes you through a nostalgic sentiment.