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Star Kamei : Artist / director : Interview and Profile

Nganthoi Lourembam *

 Star Kamei : Artist / director
Star Kamei : Artist / director



Name: Star Kamei
Profession: Artist cum director
Father's Name: Late Kamei Poupangai Kabui
Mother's Name: Late Shomari Kamei-pui
Address: Keishamthong Kabui, Imphal West, Manipur
Date of Birth: 02/10/1950
Educational Qualification: Graduate
Religion: Christian

Amongst the most prominent figures of Manipur theatre artistes and directors, Star Kamei is one of the rare figures of Kabui tribe who has created a big mark of contribution in the field of theatre and arts. Not only in the field of theatre but in the Manipuri film industry, Kamei has been a major contributor. Kamei's works have been remarkably palpable for its contribution to the development of Manipur's theatre and film industry.

65 years old Star Kamei born to a Kabui family in Keishamthong graduated from D.M. college in the year of 1976. According to Kamei, 'theatre cannot be neglected and it symbolises the cultural identity.'

Kamei has shared his valuable knowledge about the relationship amongst theatre film and Zeliangrong tribals, also his journey from being a director to an artist has being phenomenal. Here is an exclusive interview with Kamei and E-pao.net.

E-pao: How did you begin the journey in the world of theatre and film industry?
Kamei: Since my childhood I always had an interest in films and theatre. It must be the presence of the dramatic theatre hall, MDU (Manipur Dramatic Union) in my locality which influenced me to act in plays at my young age. In my locality there are many old theatre artistes of Zeliangrong tribe who inspired me to step into theatre and film industry.

During my young age I took part in a film audition where I was asked to act the role of Thonglen in Khamba Thoibi. However the result of the audition was never revealed and the film was never shot.

The local clubs organised plays every year to raise funds for the locality which influenced me to join theatre.

E-pao: Please share a brief account about Kabui tribe and it's relation with theatre?
Kamei: The first ever play performed on April 03, 1926 by Zeliangrong group is 'Mangcharengpu' which is also known as 'Kabui Keioiba' in Manipuri. Not only for the Zeliangrong tribe but 'Mangcharengpu' was the first ever drama performed among the tribals of Manipur.

After the establishment of the KDU in 1950 many Kabui traditional dances and songs were showcased by KDU. It won't be too much to say that there is a major contribution for KDU in signifying the beauty of Kabui dance throughout the world. In the early 1950s the most famous drama played by KDU was 'Rahpui Lamdam.'

In the early 60s, Lairenjao Remmei a theatre lover established 'the Zeliangrong Naga art and cultural organisation.' Under the playwright and direction of Lairenjao many dramas were performed; amongst them are Papi Uheng, Houme nangkummei Lugan, etc.

E-pao: What's the role of Phuling cultural organisation?
Kamei: Phuling cultural organisation was established to bring a revolution in the field of theatre and arts for the Zeliangrong tribe. Phuling cultural organises plays on stage and also in the form of Shumang Leela. I had also played the role of a female character.

The organisation was set up on July 15, 1972 by a group of individuals who love drama and arts. We had no money to deposit for the registration of the organisation and so we had rented our wrist watches to a shop. We started performing theatre plays but due to lack of fund to hire theatre halls we performed Shumang Leela as well. The organisation was aligned to various local clubs and that's how we used to perform plays in various places in the early 70s. We used to get Rs. 50 for showcasing a play. We decided to perform not only in Imphal area and in the year of 1977 we performed our plays in various places in Nagaland and Assam inhabited by Zeliangrong tribes.

Phuling cultural organisation also organised competitions; 'all Zeliangrong short play competition and theatre seminar' at GM hall and MDU and the team which gets selected was sent to Allahabad for the National competition. However, we couldn't devote all the time to theatre due to our personal lives and Phuling cultural organisation remained shut for some years.

E-pao: What all plays have you been performed so far?
Kamei: A comic play entitled 'Kashok Pong' was performed in Dimapur, Silchar, Haplong, etc. The play became very popular and it was shown for 25 times wherein the 25th time it was played in MDU hall organised by Zeliangrong student's organisation as a part of raising funds. The play also won the Allahabad Natya Sangh President Awards in the 14th All India Multilingual Short Play Competition. On the following year another short play called 'Delhi Challo' won the Allahabad Natya Sangh President Award in the 15th All India Multilingual Short Play Competition. We had performed various plays in numerous times but I took a break for almost 20 years after 1987 since I was posted in the hill districts for my government job.

 Star Repertory's play in Kabui language - 'Black Orchid' at MDU, Imphal :: 19th December 2015
Star Repertory's play in Kabui language - 'Black Orchid' at MDU, Imphal in December 2015 :: Pix - Som Sorokhaiba



E-pao: Was Phuling Cultural organisation based only for theatre not for films?
Kamei: Phuling cultural organisation always wanted make films but it was little difficult to find a producer who could initiate the film making due to low marketing value. In the year of 1992, we found a producer from Nagaland who was a divisional forest officer who agreed to sponsor for producing the film, 'Kapuning.' The film took time to get released due to unavailability of the artistes and got released in the year of 1994. The premier show was taken place in GM hall in 1995. And Kapuning was the first video film in Kabui language which was directed by me.

E-pao: In what all films you have acted?
Kamei: 'Sambal Wangmada' was my first film, then 'Kapuning,' 'Keishamthong Thoibi,' 'Yaishkul gi Pakhang Angaoba,' 'Rah-lu' and 'Panti Changlwan,' respectively. Sambal Wangmada got selected for national panorama. In 'Sambal Wangmada,' I played the role of a character called Abung from Tamenglong.

E-pao: Which theatre play was mostly liked?
Kamei: In 1987, 'Haipou Jadonang death anniversary committee' asked us to perform a theatre play during the death anniversary at GM hall and that's when the play entitled 'Haipou Jadonang' was performed by Phuling cultural organisation, which remained the most successful and highly appreciated plays of all the time. The play was all about all the hard works of Rani Gaidinliu's brother Haipou Jadonang, the patriot who sacrificed his life in the battle. In which I played the character of a British umpire and I was a co-director of the play alongside Amuba Kamei.

E-pao: Any ongoing projects?
Kamei: Tribal Research Institute (TRI), government of Manipur approved my proposal to film a documentary film on Zeliangrong tribes titled "Yellings of Zeliangrong". The film is to show about Kabui song, dances, it's cultures, it's yells when to use, to research by asking the olderly people. Herp lady is a one of the new movies which is in production. Charui Poung, name of an orchid flower and Ningammakge are about to be completed wherein I am an artist.

I also wrote a book entitled 'Kabui Rongmei costumes attires and musical instrument' in order to correct the misunderstanding between Kabui cultures. The book along with the film 'Yellings of Zeliangrong' were funded by TRI.

The herp lady was initiated to start filming on 2nd Oct, and hoping to be premiered in the month of November or maybe during a festival. The herp lady is a translation of Black orchid by Budha Chingtham.

E-pao: Did your plays participate in any competitions or festivals?
Kamei: We took part in 'state level play competition' organised by theatre centre of Manipur. And also took part in a tour program across Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. A play called 'Ningpan kathan' which means 'new life' was showcased in the '13th All Manipur short play competition, 1982' organised by theatre centre which was held in MDU hall. I took part as an artist and as a co director. On the 14th competition as well a play entitled 'Deludiba' was performed in MDU hall. In the national level, the group which succeeds in the short play competition was sent to the 16th, 17th and 18th All India Multilingual Short Play Competition at Allahabad.

On 23rd Feb, 2014, NSD invited us to perform our play in the National festival of tribal dance and music theatre. I took part as an artist, translator and as a director of the play.

In the month of Dec, 2014 after premiering the play 'Medical surrender' in MDU hall, it was also performed in Kolkata as invited by the NSD. The play was the best original script award winning play written by Budha Chingtham which was later translated by me in Kabui language and then performed in Kolkata. I choose scripts which will be appropriate in any society and can spread messages across the state or any other places without any language barrier.

E-pao: Any difficulties faced during the tenure of theatre and film industry?
Kamei: After a long pause in the work of theatre the present deputy chief minister, Gaikhangam invited us to perform in the '3rd Khundongbam Brojendro theatre festival 2014.' It was very difficult for us to gather artistes after a long year of gap but we somehow managed to perform the play entitled 'Hingminnabagi Mahut Siminnaba' written by Khundongbam brojendro after translating it into Kabui language, on Jan 24, 2014 at Chandrakiti auditorium hall. The festival was sponsored by Khundrongbam Brojendro conference trust in collaboration with department of arts and culture government of Manipur.

We decided to build a new organisation called 'Loungdaimai art and culture academy'. Due to some issues the organisation's name was later reinstated to Star repertory.

E-pao: Any interesting experience in 'film making' you want to share to us?
Kamei: During the shoot of 'Kapuning' film of a song sequence in Bishenpur Thongjaolog, when the actresses were inside the water for the shot, suddenly the flow of the water increased rapidly which would have killed everyone. But we survived due to God's grace. While shooting the film, 'Panty Changlwan,' in the hill district on Ziri road, we nearly escaped death from landslide. There are every sort of difficulties in both film and theatre be it time management.

E-pao: Are there many theatrical artistes of Zeliangrong?
Kamei: I have noticed that Zeliangrong group doesn't have much of theatre artistes but mostly film lovers. I believe theatre and film are related to each other except for few different features. I would like them to know at least some basic knowledge about the two. Since I was born in a poor family and me being the only son raised by a widowed mother I couldn't get what I wanted; I wanted to study in National School of Drama, Film and Television Institutes of India Pune, etc but I couldn't. In the interest of the people from next time Star repertory resorted to produce film from early next year and continue theatre in the month of September and participate in national festivals.

E-pao: Do you think the present youth are interested in theatre?
Kamei: The youth prefers film more than theatre. I am planning on something to interest the youth to participate in theatre through the help of NSD. Once the youth knows the similarity between theatre and film I am sure many youths will join theatre.

E-pao: What changes you want to bring in theatre and arts of the state?
Kamei: There can be many changes which can be brought in theatre developments. I have approached to the officials of Tribal development and the concerned Ministers to organise residential workshops about theatre for a complete year or two. May be due to lack of fund there isn't a positive respond. Theatre plays an important role in denoting our cultural identity. Theatre is something which can't be neglected.

E-pao: Do you think Manipur stands strong in theatre comparing to other states?
Kamei: In terms of theatre and art Manipur doesn't lack behind. I don't have an opportunity to compare Manipur's theatre work with other state but in the 80's Manipur has received 'best director,' 'best producer,' 'best script' and 'best artistes' awards. Oja Kanhailal and Ratan's plays are not only famous in the state but they are known throughout internationally.

E-pao: What was the most interesting play you have performed?
Kamei: There are many interesting plays amongst them there was one play which was performed 25 times called Kashokpong. There is a one play written by Brojendro called 'Hingminnabagi Mahutta Simminnasi' which was translated into Kabui language and was played in Chandrakiti hall which is bigger than MDU hall and was fully crowded. It was an amazing experience to show that play in just one act without changing the background screen, music and light. We received very good response from the audience.

E-pao: Any advice to the youth of arts lover?
Kamei: The best policy to excel in life is to stay healthy. To become a good play artist is to have healthy life with good moral, no drugs and disciplined. I was very fat earlier I worked out and reduced ten kilos.

See a Full gallery of Star Kamei's Play "Black Orchid" here


* Nganthoi Lourembam conducted this interview for e-pao.net
This article was posted on April 27, 2016.


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