Aribam Syam Sharma :: Biography

Film Forum Manipur *

 Aribam Syam Sharma
Aribam Syam Sharma

Aribam Syam Sharma is one of the bright luminaries of Indian cinema whose enduring contributions will ever remain as the crowning glories of India Cinema. Eminent film critics of the country like Amita Malik, Samik Bandyopadhyay, Chidananda Dasgupta and M.K. Raghavendra classify his films as amongst the best of Indian Cinema.

His 'Imagi Ningthem' and 'Ishanou' feature in the 100 greatest Indian films of all time. Considering his contribution in all of the three genres of cinema Art, Commercial and Documentary, national award winning film critic, Meghachandra Kongbam, referred to him as the 'Genius of India Cinema'.

Even today, at the age of 86, the veteran Manipuri filmmaker is busy scripting for his next production. So far, he has directed 15 feature films and 31 non-feature films and scored music for 25 films. Nearly all of his films have been screened at the 'Indian Panorama' of the International Film Festival of India.

With 15 national awards - six for feature films and nine for non-features - a rare feat by any standards, Aribam Syam Sharma is an internationally acknowledged filmmaker of artistic excellence. His films are distinct and unparalleled. Known for narrative simplicity and lyrical treatment, his films articulate stories of the common man, rooted in the socio-cultural milieu of the Manipuri society.

The critics have often underlined the 'uncomplicated frame' that Aribam employs to represent Manipuri life on screen as his finer point. International critics like Derek Malcolm (The Guardian), Gene Moscowitz (Variety), John Warrington (BBC) and Janet Maslin (New York Times) have all termed his films as "masterpiece" and "essential purity".

Aribam is self-taught filmmaker. The production of 'Matamgi Manipur' - the first Manipuri feature film, was the incubation period for Aribam's filmmaking career in 1972. Not only did he participate in the production as an actor and a music director, he contributed in direction as well with his deeper understanding of the culture and traditions of the State.

'Lamja Parsuram,' made in 1974, was his debut film as a director. Then came the folklore based, 'Saaphabee', released in 1976. It won Aribam, his first national award for feature film. 'Olangthagee Wangmadasoo' was his third film whose release coincided with 'Sholay' in 1979. The film went on to become a super hit and still holds the record of being the longest running film ever made in Manipur. It ran for 34 weeks.

The turning point for Manipuri Cinema came in 1981, when Aribam Syam Sharma used a 16mm Bolex camera, to film his sensational 'Imagi Ningthem' (My Son, My Precious), a story about the unconditional love of a woman for the illicit child of her husband. Not only did it win the third national award for Aribam, it toured many reputed international film festivals in New York, Denver, Locarno, Montreal, London and all. It topped it all by winning the 'Grand Pix' at the Festival des trios Continents at Nantes, France in 1982, the first Indian film to win such a reputed award.

After the critical acclaim enjoyed by 'Imagi Ningthem', there was an air of excitement around the nascent Manipuri Cinema. It was in 1984 that State patronage came in the form of the 'Manipur Film Development Council'. In 1991, Aribam directed another international milestone, 'Ishanou' (The Chosen One). It created another Indian record of featuring in the 1991 Cannes Film Festival as an official selection in the 'Un-Certain Regard', another rare feat for Indian Cinema.

'Ishanou' also featured at several international festival as official selection across the globe including Rotterdam, Toronto, London, Singapore, Seattle, Hawaii, Nantes, Vancouver, Fribourg, Tokyo, among others. After the success of 'Ishanou', he quit his government job as college lecturer and dedicated entirely on filmmaking.

 A scene from Imagi Ningthem
A scene from Imagi Ningthem


Driven by the passion to prop up the budding filmmaking activities in Manipur, Aribam Syam Sharma applied to a call for the Secretary-ship of the Council. The government of the day readily decided to depute Aribam Syam Sharma, who was a college lecturer, as the Secretary of the Council.

Two years after, in 1986, the Council transformed into a dedicated governmental agency for the promotion of cinema in the state under the name 'Manipur Film Development Corporation', MFDC, with Aribam as its first Managing Director. It was during his tenure as MD, from 1986 to 1990, MFDC procured state of the art film equipment and initiated various skill development workshops/labs to revolutionize independent cinema of the state.


A versatile artist and well versed in music, both as a singer and composer, and in theatre; he studied Rabindra Sangeet and Philosophy at Visvabharati, Santiniketan. Despite his training in classical Indian traditions, Aribam's pioneering contribution as a composer reflects a deep understanding of the nuances of indigenous music and his compositions are considered as classics. He has documented more than 30 hours on the various traditional art forms of Manipur.


Considering his significant contribution in the growth Indian Cinema, Aribam Syam Sharma's films are more read than watched at several of his retrospectives, held nationally and internationally. The 38th International Film Festival of India, Goa, 2007 curated a retrospective of his, titled "A tribute to Aribam Syam Sharma's Cinematic Journey: '...And Miles to Go'."

Special screenings of his films was organized at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (University of California) Berkeley, California in 1997. The 6th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2000 featured a retrospective of his documentaries. The 7th Dhaka International Film Festival 2002 also held his retrospective.

So did the Centre for Film Culture, Assam & Guwahati Cine Club in Collaboration with Assam Cine Art Society, Guwahati. The 6th International Film Festival of Thrissur, Kerala in 2009 also featured screening of his body of works. At the 46th International Film Festival of India in 2015, 14 of his films were screened.

Even the 9th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, held in 2016 had retrospective section of his films. Three of his documentary films Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh, Orchids of Manipur and Dances of Lai Haraoba had special screening at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 2019.

 'Jewel of Manipuri Cinema' conferred  to Aribam Shyam Sharma at MSFDS :: 14 May 2015
'Jewel of Manipuri Cinema' conferred to Aribam Shyam Sharma at MSFDS on 14 May 2015 :: Pix - DIPR Manipur


A relentless mentor and contributor, Aribam Syam has served as the Chairman of the Jury of the Indian Panorama, both feature and non-feature for the International Film Festival of India, IFFI in 1997 & 2015 and 2005 & 2009 respectively. He has also served as the Chairman of the Jury for the International Short Film Competition, Short Film Centre, Goa in 2008.

Towards fulfilling his cherished dream of formalizing filmmaking in Manipur, Aribam Syam played a leading role in the establishment of the Manipur State Film and Television Institute. He had also served as a member of the Governing Council of the Film and Television Institute of India, FTII, Pune, Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, SRFTI, Kolkata and the member Trustee of the Cine Artiste Welfare Fund of India (now, National Film Development Corporation).


In 2006, the Government of India conferred the fourth highest civilian award, 'Padmashri' on Aribam for his contribution to Indian Cinema. Two years after, in 2008, he was conferred with the prestigious award in the field of short and documentary filmmaking in the country, the 'Dr V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award' by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

The Government of Manipur bestowed upon him "The Manipur State Lifetime Achievement Award" for his outstanding contribution towards the growth and development of Manipuri cinema in 2000. Again in 2014, he received the 'Lifetime Achievement Award' from the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, Assam.

The Manipur State Film Development Society and the Film Forum Manipur, in 2015 conferred the title, 'Jewel of Manipuri Cinema' upon Aribam Syam Sharma.


Manipuri Cinema has made indelible mark in the country's film history. Credit for this milestone is largely due to Aribam Syam Sharma, for his brilliance and dedication in creating masterpieces that have moved international audience, furthering the growth of Indian Cinema as a whole. Beside his films, Aribam has also been the force to install an ecosystem for growth of committed filmmakers and technicians in the state of Manipur.

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This article was webcasted on July 31 2022 .

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