Making a film in Manipur was then a distant dream owing to the poor economy, the meagre population and the limited audience. It needed a huge investment, manpower and all the resources, besides engaging crew members and equipments from outside the state. Finding its market was beyond imagination. Bollywood movies had also flooded all the cinema halls numbering less than 15 in the state and the Manipuri audience were already engrossed by the Bollywood movies- its story, stars and songs.
During the latter part of 1960s and the beginning of 1970s – the Indian film industry having flourished to its zenith while the New Indian Cinema emerged- there was a strong feeling and urge among the people of Manipur who were in the field of theatre and allied arts to have their own films.
There was a strong film movement in Manipur created by the Film Society of Manipur established in 1966 and registered in 1969, the lone organisation in the state and the third film society in North East India after Shillong Film Society and Silchar Film Society in Assam. And among the eminent personalities of theatre and allied arts, Sapam Nadiachand (1935-1989) aka S.N. Chand belonged to that era.
A multifaceted personality, S.N. Chand was the first Manipuri film director in Manipuri cinema when he completed his feature film Brojendragee Luhongba (Brojendra’s Marriage) in the year 1972. Armed with the knowledge of Italian neo-realism and the ‘New Wave’ of Indian Cinema, he picked up the short story penned by Dr. Lamabam Kamal (1899-1935), the yesteryear’s great poet of Manipur to make the film. And he sowed the seed of the ‘New Indian Cinema’ in the soil of Manipur.
Like Dhundiraj Govind Phalke in making the first Indian film-Raja Harishchandra in 1913 and Jyoti Prasad Agrawala in making the first Assamese film- Joymati in 1935, S.N. Chand was also one-man army shouldering various important responsibilities of producer, director, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, lyricist, playback singer, music director and the leading actor when there were no basic amenities to make a film.
Born on August 8, 1935 at Singjamei Mayengbam Leikai in Imphal, to Sapam Marei and Sapam Ibemcha, S.N.Chand inherited an abiding interest in music and performing arts from his parents who were in their own right, patrons of Manipuri traditional culture. But music was his first love. He studied classical music at Bhatkhande Music College, Lucknow from where he passed Sangeet Visharad and Sangeet Nipun. His interest in the performing arts led him into association with premiere Manipuri theatre groups like Rupmahal Theatre and Manipur Dramatic Union.
He served as a Hindi Translator at the Imphal Station of the All India Radio in 1965. He wrote lyrics, sang modern songs and composed music for several classical and modern songs, anchored many programmes and rendered background dialogues for AIR, Imphal. He was established as a good anchor in ‘Fouj’ programme in Hindi of the All India Radio, Imphal. In fact, he was a man of many faces and a real artist.
VENTURING INTO FILM
Though engaged in other art forms and involved in the promotion of Manipuri culture, his only dream was to make films. An active member of Film Society of Manipur founded by Hijam Romani in 1966, S.N. Chand learnt filmmaking from great movies, books and visiting film studios in Kolkata and Mumbai. While he was serving at AIR, Imphal, he went to Bombay to do a cosmetic surgery on his face to suit of the leading man in the film.
Screenplay writing is not an easy task. Apart from having a thorough knowledge of film craft, he or she has to know the intricacies to develop characters, create the plot, and come up with dialogues and actions. S.N. Chand took on the challenging task and made an amazing screenplay of Brojendragee Luhongba adapted from the 800-word short story. He added two main characters of maternal uncle and father of the bride in his screenplay, which was not found in the original text of the short story. He developed an important scene of Churachandpur, the place of posting of Brojendra. He established the contemporary situations in his screenplay to suit the audience.
He sold his own saleable properties and even mortgaged his homestead property. He left the Government job. Hijam Romani, President of Film Society of Manipur opposed him for his decision to quit the permanent post of AIR, Imphal. But, he always dreamt of making a Manipuri film. And his only dream was accomplished in 1970 when he launched his film production house – Sajatiya Pictures Private Limited – at his home village, Singjamei Mayengbam Leikai in Imphal. He engaged technicians and hired film equipments from Calcutta for the production.
In the summer of 1971, he along with his crew members took shots for three important sequences of his film at the historic Ningthem Pukhri, the big royal pond dug out during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748). In the whole day shooting, the crews took the panoramic shot of the pond where lotuses were blooming for credit titles. The shot continued with Brojendra’s maternal uncle coming towards Brojendra’s house after meeting an astrologer to fix the suitable date of marriage ceremony. This was the opening scene of the film. The other sequence was Brojendra’s arrival at his home after posting in Churachandpur. There were two shots – a long shot of a lighted jeep coming towards Brojendra’s house and a mid-shot of Brojendra getting down from the jeep. The last sequence at the location was Brojendra’s Point of View shot at a double storied house lighted inside, which revealed place where ‘Bashok’ (a popular form of Nata Sankirtana) performance took place. The last two sequences were captured during the night. People from distant places and nearby areas thronged the place to have a glimpse of the outdoor shooting of the Manipuri film. This writer was also in the audience. ‘The shooting of the film was of the first Manipuri feature film’ and ‘the nose of the hero of the film had a cosmetic surgery’ were the talks of audience during the shooting.
With great difficulties and against all odds, he continued the process of making the film. However, he could not complete his film within the scheduled time due to financial problems. Some of the prominent locations he featured in his film include Churachandpur to depict the hill station and the tribal lifestyle, the old palace of Canchipur, the residence of Khaidem Family at Uripok and other sites of historical significance and cultural importance.
Meanwhile, Karam Monomohan, an exhibitor who owned his theatre house at Moreh and also an entrepreneur in pisciculture produced his Manipuri feature film- Matamgi Manipur engaging Debkumar Bose, son of noted Bengali film maker Devaki Bose from Calcutta as director in a short period and released the film in three cinema houses namely Usha Cinema, Friends Talkies in Imphal and Azad Talkies in Kakching on April 9, 1972 which was marked as the birth of the Manipuri cinema.
With his tireless efforts, S.N. Chand completed his film- Brojendragee Luhongba during the calendar year 1972 and the Censor Board passed his film on December 30, 1972. S.N. Chand scheduled the release the film on Friday, January 26, 1973. And it was released simultaneously at Usha Cinema, Friends Talkies in Imphal and Thoubal Cinema at Thoubal. The Chief Minister of Manipur Md Alimuddin was the Chief Guest of the release of the film at Usha Cinema.
During the premier show, S.N. Chand submitted, “It is not a successful business if we treat the filmmaking in Manipur as a business. However, being a devotee of arts and artistic skills, and with a thought that the rich Manipuri culture would shine in the world through this medium, I have taken the whole responsibility of making this film sacrificing all I have possessed.”
With few shots in Calcutta showing the protagonist as an MBBS student, the film was set at the backdrop of unique historical places, enchanting landscape of plain and hill areas, beautiful tribal dance and typical traditional performing arts- Pena (Narrating the epic of Khamba Thoibi legend with the use of traditional stringed instrument called Pena) and Bashok of Manipur. It was a true Manipuri film made by the first son of the soil.
Based on the short story with the same title of Dr. Kamal’s work, which appeared in a monthly journal ‘Lalita Manjuri Patrika’ in 1933, the 122- minute feature film depicts among other things the religious and cultural life of people dwelling in the hills and plains of Manipur. The thematic concept of this social story seeks to establish that honesty of purpose shall be maintained in every sphere of life to achieve success and honour of life. The film also revolves around a conflict of the modernism and the traditional values and reveals that the traditional values are worthy for one’s identity.
Brojendra (S.N. Chand) returns home with a medical degree from the Calcutta Medical College. When he reaches home, he learns that his marriage has aleady been scheduled. It is the bolt from the blue to a young man with modern outlook like Brojendra. He thinks that marriage shall not be treated so lightly, at least he shall see eye to eye before they are wedded. So, he argues to his mother (Ibemhal). His mother replies as that she herself has been married to his father like this faith in her life. Brojendra’s maternal uncle (Oinam Birmangol) also tries to convince him to fulfil the decision of the elders.
Brojendra dislikes the idea. Being an obedient boy of his parents and of a good nature, he obeys. But he decides not to even look at the face of his would be wife (Romola). He does not spend the wedding night at the bride’s room. He gets a government job with posting at Churachandpur, a hill station and leaves home before Mangani Chakkouba (Marriage feast on the fifth day after marriage). Days pass, the agony of the innocent girl is increasing day by day.
Later on, Brojendra realizes his fault after experiencing a few incidents. In the meantime, his boss calls him at Imphal for some important assignment. He reaches home but cannot enter his house. He takes a turn and visits to a Bashok, a Manipuri Nata music concert in a nearby Mandap. The singer is performing Birha song of Radha – “Vrindaban-gi amuba thadu amuk thoklamkhini” (Black moon of Vrindaban would have appeared). This Sringara Rasa has submitted to Brojendra’s heart. When he glances towards the audience, he catches sight of a very beautiful woman. She is so lovely that Brojendra is fully attracted to her.
His conscience pricks him as he rejects his innocent wife. He makes up his mind to go straight to his wife and apologise for his mistake. But to his great surprise, he finds at his home the very beautiful woman whom he sees at the Mandap. He stands speechless. At this moment, his wife falls at his feet sobbing and beseeching his love. Brojendra takes her in his arm and embraces her with love.
Anil Gupta was the Cinematographer and Rasbehari Sinha was the Editor of the film. Songs were recorded at Technicians Studio, Calcutta. In the film, renowned Bengali playback singer Aarti Mukherjee who later shot her fame in Hindi films such as Geet Gata Chal (1975), Tapasya (1976) and Masoom (1983) sang a Manipuri song- Nil Khonglaba Nonggi Mapei Mapei (Noisy Thunder of Black Clouds) in semi classical style.
S.N. Chand’s multifaceted talents flowered in his production. The film bagged the Best Screenplay Award in the First Manipur State Film Festival, 1984 organised by the Government of Manipur. But the film missed the National Award of the 20th Edition of National Film Festival 1972, because the film scored the same marks with Deb Kumar Bose’s Matamgi Manipur (Present Day Manipur). The President’s Silver Medal for the Best Feature Film in Manipuri was given to Matamgi Manipur being the first ever Manipuri Feature Film. This was revealed by eminent writer and critic Elangbam Nilakanta who was associated with the jury as invitee. However, Elangbam Nilakanta praised the film- Brojendragee Luhongba for its reflection of the vivid identity of Manipur capturing the beautiful ways of lives of the people on the real spots. It was not a studio made film. M.K.Binodini, an eminent writer who was also in the Jury as invitee, opted out from the Jury for being associated with Matamgi Manipur as lyricist. The Regional Jury, Calcutta was headed by Sombhu Mitra.
If we study S.N.Chand’s Brojendragee Luhongba, it may not an exageration to say that the film emerged as a product of the New Indian Cinema wave, which was prevalent from the later part of 1960s to 1980s. S.N. Chand himself was an active member of Film Society of Manipur. The film was a complete departure from the mainstream cinema and made with a realistic approach dissecting the then trends of Manipuri society which was about to be blown away by an alien culture. It was a wake-up call for the masses for identification and realisation of one’s ethos.
It was during the emergence of the new Indian Cinema, many regional films from different parts of the country also found a new premise with striking glory and acheivement. Under the initiatives taken up by the Government of India, such landmark films were produced. The period heralded a shift from the mainstream cinema to a new direction where films were based on social issues with a realistic approach. The films generated a new wave of thinking and discussions amongst the masses.
Funded by the Film Finance Corporation of the Government of India, films like Bhuvan Some of Mrinal Sen (1969), Uski Roti of Mani Kaul (1969), Sara Akash of Basu Chatterjee (1969) were considered as the birth of the movement of the New Indian Cinema.
It was preceded by films considered as Parallel Cinema like Pather Panchali of Satyajit Ray (1955), Ajantrik of Ritwik Ghatak (1958). The films were based on realistic humanism. The New Indian Cinema also focussed on socio-political conciousness. Establishment of Film Institute of India at Pune in 1960, National Film Archives of India in 1964, and Film Finance Corporation in 1960 helped financially and logistically in production of new genre of films. Other films of the New Indian Cinema wave were Kumar Sahani’s Maya Darpan (1972), Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (1973), M.S. Sathyu’s Garam Hawa (1973), Jabbar Patel’s Samna (1974), Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan (1978), Muzafar Ali’s Gaman (1978), Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980), Ketan Mehta’s Bhavani Bhavai (1980), Nirad Mahapatra’s Maya Miriga (1983).
John Abraham’s Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile (1972), Adoor Gopalkrishnan’s Swayambaram (1972) and G. Arabidan’s Uttarayanam (1974) were the Malayalam films emerging out of New Indian Cinema wave. Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s Samskara (1970), B.V.Karanth and Girish Karnad’s Vamsha Vriksha (1971) and Girish Kasaravalli’s Ghatashradha (1977) were Kannada new wave films. Gautam Ghosh, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aparna Sen spearheaded the movement in Bengal. Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Jahnu Barua also emerged in Assam. After S N Chand, Aribam Syam Sharma, M. A. Singh and K. Ibohal Sharma came forth to make new wave films in Manipur.
S.N. Chand wrote the script and directed yet another Manipuri film-Ngak-E-Ko Nangse (What a wonder you are) produced by Wangkhem Basanta Kumar under the banner of Poonam Pictures. It was the fourth Manipuri film made in 1974. The film depicts the impact of fast growing alien culture to the Manipuri society, its crisis and the realization of one’s identity after getting trouble.
The film opens and ends with a traveller (Irom Nabakanta) driving a jeep on the serpentine road in the hills of Manipur. He describes the uncertainty of life through a song-
Oh life! You are amazing
Don’t understand you
Which thread of yours binds us?
We living beings, so tight.
Tell us, are we your toys…..
The film has seven songs- two romantic songs, a ballroom song, a sad song, a traveller’s song, a lullaby and a devotional song. All songs are penned by noted writer and lyricist B. Jayantakumar Sharma and composed by legendary singer Nongmaithem Pahari who himself sang four songs. The film is a trend setter, which depicts the social turmoil in an elite Manipuri family.
A story of joy and tears, the eldest son Binoy (Manish Ningthouja) who is a Forest Officer of a rich family meets a vulnerable girl Shanti (Rajani Yumnam) accidentally and saves her. The traveller picks them up and provides shelter at his place. They fall in love and get married in a temple. The social fall out of the relationship between the two is intense as she is not accepted by her mother-in-law (Binokumari). But her father-in-law (Laishram Netrajit) who is dominated by his wife accepts the simplicity and devotion of Shanti. The film is “A fresh and stimulating family drama of modern family” depicting the story of two girls who dream of “happy life and romance”. The mother-in-law however encourages her daughter Anita (Bobby Bhattacharjee) to be involved with a rich Casanova Ravi (Basanta Kumar) who later exploits both of them. A man breaks in and attempts to molest Shanti and taking it as an opportunity the mother-in-law sends her off. Her husband is shocked when his mother tells him that his wife goes on her own after her illicit relationship has been discovered. The husband and wife search for each other and Shanti finds solace in the hills and gives birth to a child.
Meanwhile Anita who gets pregnant fails to convince her boyfriend to marry him and rather than accepting her, he turns her out. The traveller an old gentleman unexpectedly finds Shanti who disguises as a tribal woman in a hill village and helps Shanti and her husband Binoy in reuniting.
Binoy searches for Ravi and brings him to unite with his sister. His mother also realises her past misdeeds and arrogant nature. The traveller hands over Shanti, her husband and their little child to their family and moves away singing the traveller’s song. The film closes with a positive note.
The film was made with his previous team- Anil Gupta as Cinematographer and Rasbehari Sinha as Editor. The film was released on 20th September 1974 at Usha Cinema, Imphal.
Without any credit, S.N. Chand extensively helped G. C. Tongbra, a distinguished dramatist, in making his directorial debut film- Khutthang Lamjel (1979). He also acted in R. K. Kripa’s Ingallei (1990). He expired on December 12, 1989.
TOWARDS FILM PROMOTION
S.N. Chand was actively associated with Film Society of Manipur established in 1966 for promotion of good film movement in Manipur. As a resource person, he presented research papers on ‘Recent Trends in Contemporary Cinema’ in the Seminar on Trends in Contemporary Cinema jointly organized by the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, the Film Society of Manipur and the Manipur Film Development Council at JN Manipur Dance Academy in Imphal on April 24, 1982. In his paper, he elaborated the trends of silent and talkie films and emergence of Italian neo-realism wave which had influenced Indian film makers like Satyajit Ray. He indicated that the regional film makers should have adequate knowledge of film medium and the social significance while making films.
In another Seminar held on August 23, 1983 at JN Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal organized by the Manipur Film Development Council in connection with the Eastern Indian Film Festival, S.N. Chand presented a paper on ‘Problems in Making Manipuri films’ which highlighted the revolution of regional cinema in 1955-65 in India, importance of Manipuri cinema in the small State of Manipur, lack of facilities in the production, distribution and exhibition sectors of Manipuri cinema, film policies of Assam, Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab and its positive impacts in the promotion of regional film industry, and the need of a Film Policy in Manipur.
S.N. Chand was a member of the Governing Council of the Manipur Film Development Council from September 1981 to April 1987 and the one of the Directors of the Board of the newly converted the Manipuri Film Development Corporation Ltd. from May 1987 to 1988-89.
The Manipur Film Development Corporation Ltd. and the Cine Artistes and Technicians Association, Manipur paid rich tributes to S.N. Chand by organizing functions for his dedication to the Manipuri cinema.
The ideology and the spirit of the great pioneers never disappeared from the soil of Manipuri cinema. The arrival of Manipuri cinema was very late in the national scene when the Indian cinema had already completed six decades. Manipuri cinema shot into fame the moment it entered in the national arena. The very first Manipuri feature film- Matamgi Manipur (1972) bagged the President’s Silver medal in the 20th National Film Festival. After a decade, Manipuri cinema got international recognition when Aribam Syam Sharma’s Imagi Ningthem (1981) bagged the Grand Prix in the Festival of Three Continents, Nantes in France in 1982. It was a historic moment that Imagi Ningthem was the first Indian film to win the coveted top prize.
With its rich literary, artistic and cultural background, Manipuri cinema is at present the only established film industry of the Tibeto-Burman language speaking people in India.
Meghachandra Kongbam is a film critic who received the Swarna Kamal Award for the Best Film Critic in the 63th National Film Awards 2015. He is currently the member of FIPRECI- India and the President of Film Society of Manipur. He was the President of Cine Artistes and Technicians Association, Manipur, the Executive Member of Manipur Film Journalists and Critics Association and Board Director of Manipur Film development Corporation Ltd.