SN Chand : The father of Manipuri cinema
- Part 2 -

Meghachandra Kongbam *

 A scene from  Brojendragi Luhongba
A scene from Brojendragi Luhongba :: Pix - TSE

Meanwhile, Karam Monomohan, an exhibitor who owned his theatre house at Moreh and also a timber merchant running the business in Indo-Mynmar border and a jungle contractor dealt in dalchini and spices produced his Manipuri feature film- Matamgi Manipur engaging Debkumar Bose, son of noted filmmaker Devaki Bose from Calcutta as director, shooting the whole film at Movietone Studio in Calcutta with a few shots in Imphal 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, SN Chand completed his film- Brojendragi Luhongba during the calendar year 1972 and the Censor Board passed his film on December 30, 1972. If the film was made in a studio, it could have been completed early and marked as the first Manipuri film. But SN Chand didn't like the studio made film. He strongly believed in the realistic approach of the New Indian Cinema movement while making his first film.

SN Chand scheduled the release of 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 then Chief Minister of Manipur Md Alimuddin was the chief guest for the release of the film at Usha Cinema.

During the premiere show, SN Chand submitted, "It is not a successful business if we treat filmmaking in Manipur as a business. However, being a devotee of art 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 possess."

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 (A traditional stringed instrument used in the narration of the Epic of Khamba Thoibi legend) 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 in life. The film also revolves around a conflict between modernism and traditional values and reveals that traditional values are worthy of one's identity. Brojendra (SN Chand) returns home with a medical degree from Calcutta Medical College.

When he reaches home, he learns that his marriage has already been scheduled. It was a bolt from the blue to a young man with a modern outlook like Brojendra. He thinks that marriage should not be treated so lightly, at least he shall see eye to eye before they are wedded.

So, he argues with his mother (Ibemhal). His mother replies that she got married to his father as arranged by her parents. 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 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 in the bride's room. He gets a Government job with a posting at Churachandpur, a hill station and leaves home before Mangani Chakkouba (Marriage feast on the fifth day after marriage). Days pass by, the agony of the innocent girl increases 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 a Bashok, a Manipuri Nata music concert in a nearby Mandap.

The singer is performing the Birha song of Radha "Vrindaban-gi amuba thadu amuk thoklamkhini" (The 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 apologize 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 to fame sang a Manipuri song- Nil Khonglaba Nonggi Mapei Mapei (Noisy Thunder of Black Clouds) in semi-classical style.

SN 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 as Debkumar 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 an invitee.

However, Elangbam Nilakanta praised the film- Brojendragi Luhongba for its reflection of the vivid identity of Manipur, capturing the beautiful ways of lives of the people at the real spots. It was not a studio-made film.

MK Binodini, an eminent writer who was also on the Jury as an invitee, opted out from the Jury for being associated with Matamgi Manipur as a lyricist. The Regional Jury, Calcutta was headed by Sombhu Mitra.

If we study SN Chand's Brojendragi Luhongba, it may not be an exaggeration to say that the film emerged as a product of the New Indian Cinema wave, which was prevalent from the latter part of the 1960s to the 1980s. SN Chand himself was an active member of the 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 realization 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 achievement. Under the initiatives taken up by the Government of India, such landmark films were produced.

The period heralded a shift from 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.

To be continued...

* Meghachandra Kongbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on May 27 2022 .

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