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EXCLUSIVE: A rendezvous with film critic Meghachandra (Part 1)

Meghachandra Kongbam (first row - first from right) receiving the award

In an exclusive interview with TFM, the ace yet humble film critic of Manipur Meghachandra Kongbam not only exhibits his immense knowledge of the world of films in Manipur but also throws amazing insights into the history and dynamics of filmmaking in the state.

TFM Exclusive

Meghachandra Kongbam needs no introduction for serious cine-lovers in Manipur. One often gets to see his name on the pages of local dailies skillfully reviewing or critiquing significant Manipuri films since the early 1980’s.

Meghachandra has been a film critic for the Poknapham daily and an alumnus of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Benaras Hindu University. He bagged the Best Film Critic Award at the 63rd National Film Awards 2015. He was selected among 22 entries for the Best Writing on Cinema category. Advaita Kala was the chairperson of the Jury with two members. 

The citation of the award says, “Meghachandra Kongbam interprets the world of Indian cinema for his readers in Manipuri. His lucid understanding and love for cinema makes him the ideal “Film Whisperer” in Manipur, where access to Indian films is often limited.” The award carried Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus award) with Rs 75,000/- was distributed on May 3, 2016 at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi by the President of India.

Born on December 23, 1957 at Wangkhei Ningthem Pukhri Mapal in Imphal, Meghachandra Kongbam is the eldest son of Late Kongbam Iboyaima who had credited writing of three Manipuri books namely Thoudang (Duty), Ningthem Pukhri Amasung Maree Leinaba Waree(Ningthem Pukhri and its related stories) and Pakhangphal Leishaphal(House of unmarried boys and House of unmarried girls) and Ngathem Ningol Kongbam Ongbi Ibeyaima who received the Bal Sahitya Puraskar award in 2008 from the Sahitya Akademi New Delhi for her children book in Manipuri – Sorarengi Machanupi Atonbee Leimashang Amasung Atei Phunga Wareesing (Leimashang, the Daughter of Soraren and other folk tales) and also wrote another two children books-Umaibee Amasung Atei Phunga Wareesing (Eagle and other folk tales) and Uchek Langmeitol Amasung Atei Phunga Wareesing (Hornbill and other folk tales).

Armed with skills of writing after obtaining Post Graduate Bachelor Degree in Journalism from Benaras Hindu University, Vanarasi in 1979 and knowledge of cinema after attending Film Appreciation Course in FTII in 1985; Meghachandra Kongbam plunged into writing on cinema as film columnist in leading newspapers and journals of Manipur including Poknapham since 1985, and contributed towards the development of Manipuri cinema for Indian Cinema. He started coverage of IFFI held in Bangalore 1992; Kolkata 1994, Delhi 1998 and so on. He is now a regular film columnist of the leading Manipuri newspaper-Poknapham Daily He was the founder member of Cine Artistes and Technicians Association, Manipur – an apex body of film scholars, critics, film makers, artistes and technicians, established in 1998 in the capacity of vice-president and was the president of the Association for two terms (2000-2004). He is currently member of International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) – India and has been contributing articles regularly in its journal- E-CineIndia. He served as FIPRESCI Jury chairman in the 23rd International Film Festival of Kerala 2018 and FIPRESCI Jury member in 16th International Film Festival of Thrissur 2021. . He is also a member of the Film Critics Circle of India and served as FCCI Jury chairman of the 3rd Kautik International Film Festival 2020.  At present, he is the President of the Film Society of India, the 3rd oldest film society in North East India which was established in 1966. He is currently the adviser of the Manipur Film Journalists and Critics Association.

A multi-faceted personality, Meghachandra Kongbam was a theatre artiste and played the role of Matul in the Manipuri play- Nongma Ingada (Ashad Ka Ek Din) written by Mohan Rakesh and directed by Ratan Thiyam of Chorus Repertory Theatre in 1977. An approved artiste of All India Radio, Imphal, he enacted the role of Bheema in the full-length radio play- Krishnada Gandharigi Shap written by the Sahitya Akademi awardee Ningombam Ibobi broadcast in 1981. At present, he is the Chairman of the Banian Repertoty Theatre, Imphal. A media professional, he joined in the Department of Information and Public Relations, Government of Manipur as District Information Officer in 1981and served for 36 and half years in different capacities and retired as Director in 2018.

The Interview

TFM: When you received the ‘Best Film Critic’ award, what were your reactions?

Meghachandra: Really, I was overjoyed when I was unexpectedly informed by the legendary filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma over phone that I received the prestigious award, on the day the awards were announced in New Delhi. I assume that it is an honour to Manipuri cinema as well as it has encouraged me to keep the writing on cinema up and up. I don’t know much about the criteria of selection. The selection was made by a three-member jury- one from literature, one from film criticism and one from filmmaking. My articles were all in-depth writing on a particular subject on cinema. The jury might have been satisfied with my works. The jury, when I met them in the evening dinner after the award ceremony, told me that the they had unanimously picked me up for the award.

TFM: “Meghachandra Kongbam interprets the world of Indian cinema for his readers in Manipuri. His lucid understanding and love for cinema makes him the ideal ‘Film Whisperer’ in Manipur, where access to Indian films is often limited,” said the jury in its citation. Please elaborate.

Meghachandra: It would be more justified to get the right answer on it from the jury.  The jury Chairperson Advaita Kala at the award distribution ceremony said. “It was an honour to serve on this writing jury this year and read some of the exceptional writing on and about films. It was a difficult choice to make and the one we arrived at after many deliberations guided by the one principle that serves as the common factor in our selections- A passion for cinema and for those who thrived and for those who were lost down the ages”.

“Our final selection for the Best Film Critic is Meghachandra Kongbam, a writer we like to call ‘The Film Whisperer’ because he interprets Indian Cinema for his audience in Manipur where the access to Indian Films is often limited. Mr. Kongbam writes for passion and is an example of how the language of cinema needs little translation. Manipur has an audience of passionate cinema lovers and a vibrant film making environment. Mr. Kongbam’s writing bridges the spaces between”.

“His writing on cinema goes beyond film criticism and enters the realm of finding common ground. His contribution is manifold and sets an example of how meaningful writing can transcend the limits, the time limits indeed enforced on it by the release of the film”.

I am reluctant to claim myself as a film critic. It is impossible to cross the vast ocean of film medium in one’s life time. I just put the information to appreciate one’s work and I never critically analyse any area of the film, The Film Whisperer is the appropriate name for me. I like it. I always hold the title ‘Film Whisperer’ in a warm embrace.

TFM: Do you critique Manipuri films as well? When or how long have you been writing on films?

Meghachandra: I used to write varieties of articles on cinema which I feel it relevant to Manipuri cinema and regional cinema for local readers and appeal them to bring about thoughtful change in regional cinema. I also used to write articles on regional cinema for the international readers so that they can understand on what the values of regional cinema is about. If a film whether it may be an Indian or a foreign film that showcase some uniqueness. Being a film activist for the growth of Manipuri cinema, I usually keep on writing the problems of Manipuri film industry. I have been seriously writing on cinema since 1985.

TFM: Do you see a trend of similarity in Manipur films and Bollywood? What are the differences?

Meghachandra: Manipuri cinema developed following the trend of Bollywood with dance and songs. The audience in Manipur also grew up with the Bollywood cinema since 1920s, the touring cinema arrived in Manipur. Cinema in Manipur lived in the hearts and minds of a generation. Apart from ten cinema halls in Imphal, there were around sixty cinema halls scattered in other major towns of the state with a regular feature of three shows daily and four shows on Sundays. Bollywood films, to name a few, Baiju Bawra, Guide, Ek Phool Do Mali, Arzoo, Milan, Geet, Aradhana, Amar Prem, Pakeezah, Sholay, Bobby, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Saajan and Dil To Pagal Hain are vividly alive as fond memories associated with different generations. Many of them ran full houses for weeks. In those days, the handkerchiefs and pillow covers embroidered with the titles of romantic films like Geet, Milan, Aradhana, Amar Prem were used as gift items among the teenagers.

The birth of Manipuri cinema with Debkumar Bose’s Matamgi Manipur with songs and dancwhich was simultaneously released at Usha Cinema, Friends Talkies in Imphal and at Azad Talkies in Kakching on April 9, 1972 supplemented a new taste of regional flavor to the audience.  Like, in the Bollywood factory, where the producers have manufactured a hero, a heroine and a villain in most of the stories; the Manipuri films do the same structure. The differences are that Bollywood films target to national audience and the Manipuri films to the regional audience. Bollywood films do emphasizing on more entertainment elements, whether the contents are justified or not, to attract the diversified audience and even go beyond Indian Territory. Like other regional films, Manipuri films reflect more on culture and identity of its people and attempt to deliver a true account of the contemporary issues of the region.

TFM: What is so unique about Manipuri films?Meghachandra: Blessed with fertile soil of rich culture having different forms of elegant dances, enchanting songs and colourful performing arts; Manipuri cinema has emerged possessing own identity at the national level. Costume is quite different from that of other Indian states. Due to ethnic and racial difference, the nature and gesture of the people are also different from the rest of India. Manipuri language, being one of the recognised languages in India under the Eighth Schedule of Indian Constitution, belongs to Tibeto-Burman language having its own script.

(To be continued)

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