COVID-19 Chokes The Manipuri Film Industry

Usha Cinema Hall, one of the iconic theaters in Manipur, has shut down since the enforcement of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tehelka photo by Bishwajit Aribam

It was on March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day total lockdown for all the 1.3 billion Indians to tackle the spread of coronavirus, which emerged as a black swan, in 2020. Since then, people have started converting their homes into offices, schools, private gyms, and whatnot.

It came as a blessing in disguise to some who fancy working from home using digital communication systems, but the pandemic has, by far, impacted the lives of all human beings in one way or the other. The lockdown arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak has given rise to several unique challenges across various industries and professions in India and across the globe, and the Manipuri film industry is no exception.

“The ‘Work from Home’ idea doesn’t apply to Actors, Directors, Cinematographers, Makeup Artists, et al., who are working in the production process of cinema. We have to go out of our homes and shoot at real locations. Authorities ease lockdown for a few hours, but it’s not enough to make a music album or films,” said Mr. Samjetsabam Mangoljao, chairperson of Film Forum Manipur, an apex body of filmmakers, in a telephonic conversation with Tehelka.

Mr. Mangoljao said: “The Manipur Film Industry provides employment to around 10, 000 members directly or indirectly.  Now, everything has stopped, and unlike other industries, the film industry faced a unique challenge. When the authorities ease lockdown, shops, malls, and any other business institutes can open for a few hours, but we cannot start opening the theatre. Who would come to watch films? ”

Around 20 years ago, a separatist group banned Hindi films and any form of entertainment connected with the Hindi language in Manipur, alleging that it destroys Manipuri culture and language. The banning of Hindi films gave a new impetus to the Manipuri film industry. Since then, it has started producing around 60 films a year. Luck is unlikely on the side of the Manipuri Film Industry this year.

Manipur Art & Culture Minister, L. Jayantakumar, on May 21,  announced the winners of the 13th Manipur State Film Awards (MSFA), 2020. Mr. Amar Mayanglambam, a renowned Manipuri Film actor, won the ‘Best Actor Male’ award for his outstanding performance in the film, ‘Eechadi Manini’.   

“I was over the moon when I learned that I have won the ‘Best Actor Male’ award 2020. The feat elated my parents even more. The Art & Culture, Manipur Government, is due to organize a State Award function and formally present the awards to the recipients and I can’t wait for the day,” the award-winning actor said, adding that all activities have been hampered by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

All cinemas in the state are shut, releases are held up, and the production of films is indefinitely delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Tehelka photo by Bishwajit Aribam.

Manipuri music videos are also a very popular entertainment medium in the state, and it is mostly considered as a stepping stone to Manipuri feature films for many young actors and directors.   Mr. Ng. Ango, who has directed more than 30 popular music albums, and edited more than half of them, said that he has 4 music video projects on the pipeline but unsure when he will get the chance to complete and release it.

“The fear of uncertainty due to the global outbreak has entrusted me to making some online videos on Youtube. I don’t know when shooting will resume as usual. Even after the lockdown is lifted, we will have to follow guidelines issued by the government, and containment of COVID-19 soon seems unlikely,” added  “Ho Nongdamba” Director.

Though laying of the foundation stone of Manipur’s first Film City in Ukhrul District, and approval of Manipur State Cine Policy this year, come as a ray of hope to the filmmakers of the state, COVID-19 has slammed the brake on the industry, affecting the lives of around 10,000 members of the Manipuri Film Industry.