Understanding the works of Independent filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar
- Part 1 -

James Khangenbam *

Haobam Paban Kumar in a film shoot
Haobam Paban Kumar in a film shoot

Haobam Paban Kumar, a young filmmaker from Manipur has been in the news for the last couple of years. His talents and unique approaches towards filmmaking has caught the attention of many filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers.

Loktak Lairembee (Lady of the Lake), a feature film based on gun culture shot at Loktak Lake was premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival 2017 and the 21st Busan International Film Festival, 2016.

Altogether the film won 16 awards, some of the them are
Special Mention Cultural Diversity Award at the 11th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Brisbane 2017,
Golden Gateway award 18th Mumbai Film Festival 2016,
National Film Award for Best Film on Environment/ Conservation/ Preservation,
NETPAC award (Network for the promotion of Asian Cinema) at 22nd Kolkata International Film Festival, 2016.

Phum Shang (Floating Life), a documentary film on Loktak Lake won the best investigative film at National Film Awards, Best Medium Length Film at 18th International Environmental Film & Video Festival, Goias, Brazil 2016. The film also won the Golden Conch (Best Documentary) at the 14th Mumbai International Film Festival 2016 besides 6 other awards.

In this article, we try to find out how he went on to make a documentary and feature film in a single location. We also try to find out what it takes to be a documentary filmmaker and a fiction feature filmmaker.

We are also sharing the experiential knowledge of Haobam Paban Kumar as he keeps honing his skills through many knowledge and resource labs across the country and aboard. We also explore some of the aspects of film making in its different hues.

Haobam Paban kumar holds responsible positions in voluntary film organizations in Manipur and serves as academic council member at film institute. His latest venture as a mentor was at Asia Pacific Screen Lab, Brisbane 2019.

He completed his diploma in direction and screenplay writing from SRFTI (Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute). So far, he has made 13 films as a scriptwriter, producer and director.

Topic: Making documentary and feature film in a single location

Q: How did you find yourself making Documentary and Feature films?

A: In the beginning, I always perceived Cinema as feature films. I was born in the celluloid era when feature films were made in celluloid. And documentary film making was beyond my idea.

After I graduated from SRFTI Kolkata, I started shooting for Television program, then I started making documentary films. My documentary film, AFSPA 1958 was a big success at the onset of my career as a filmmaker.

I always wanted to make feature film and the mood of shooting feature film reemerged when Manipur witnessed the trend of Digital video filmmaking in 2002. It was a challenging time for me as I was into documentary filmmaking. Documentary filmmaking and feature film making differ in many aspects. It took me time to change the track.

My actual effort of making a feature film began in 2011, luckily the same year I was chosen as one among six emerging talents of India by National Film Development Corporation to represent India at 64th Cannes International Film Festival.

Q: How did you make two films simultaneously at Loktak Lake?

A: I went to Loktak lake for the Recce of my feature film with Rajesh Salam, an environmentalist and film activists. The particular floating village, we were looking for was found missing. It gave me immense shock. I halted my feature film venture to work on addressing the issue by making a documentary film on the missing floating village.

That was how my documentary film Phum Shang was shot. It is true that many things are compromised at the time of development activity. But the way how the implementing agencies were carrying out the evacuation activities at Loktak Lake was inspiring enough to make a film. For instance, the rightful candidate for compensation was deprived of the same right at the time when I started rolling my camera.

My documentary film was like a recce to my feature film. I was fully convinced of the location to shoot my feature film on gun culture. However, it took me three years to complete my documentary film 'Phumshang.

In three years' time, I established a good relation with the characters of my documentary film who actually acted in my feature film.

Having exposed to camera for almost three years, the characters of my film appeared quite natural while shooting for feature film. Even my crew members were automatically attuned to the location.

Q: How did you choose the story of your feature film?

A: Being a contemporary filmmaker, my idea comes from daily happenings. What affects me now as a person gets reflected in the choice of my film script.

During 2011, 2012 and 2013 there were lots of gun related violence in Manipur. I had an urge of making a film on the same topic. My first feature film Loktak Lairembee is an adaptation from the short story 'Nongmei (Gun) by Sudhir Naoroibam. I worked with the author and the story evolved into a fine script for my film.

Q: What do you look for while making a feature film?

A: I try to stay away from typical classical storytelling. I always wanted to depict Manipur in its unique style for my films. My mind is in the pursuit of finding a cinematic language to capture and portray Manipur and its people in its original look. Perhaps my approach to feature film is one big reason for my delay in feature film making.

I started shooting 'Loktak Lairembee in bits by 2014 and 2015. While in 2016, I accomplished the task of completing the film shooting. The film got premiered at Busan International Film Festival in October, 2016 and was screened at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival 2017 which is one of the top festival in the world.

Q : How was your shooting days at Loktak Lake ?

A : I shoot my film with a small crew. The shooting was completed in about 11 days. We camped at the location. It saved time and help everyone to stay in focus. We also got more working hours being at the location. I personally got lots of time to discuss with my assistants on a daily basis which really helped in my film.

See a full photo gallery Part 1 | Part 2

To be continued ..

* James Khangenbam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at jameslaphoi(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 20 2020 .

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