Chasing peace in Manipur

Ninglun Hanghal *

 Paban Kumar's Nine Hills One Valley
Poster of Paban Kumar's Nine Hills One Valley :: Pix - TSE

It is said that the conflict-ridden State of Manipur is complex and complicated, yet people are ordinary and lead simple lives. Haobam Paban captures this intricately tangled situation in the form of simple narration through the lives of ordinary people living their daily routines in his latest film 'Nine Hills One Valley'.

The film re-visits the experiences, incidents, anxieties and hopes of the Manipur people, to present how ordinary lives get caught in that complex web of conflict, and the violence and socio-political unrest.

Haobam Paban Kumar is a renowned filmmaker from the State of Manipur. His films and documentaries have been screened in several places across the globe. Haobam won several recognitions for his films. Among others, Loktak Lairembi won National Film Award for Best Film on Environment at 64th National Film Awards in 2017. His documentary AFSPA 1958 in 2006 received critical acclaim and applause.

With survivors of violence as protagonists and a story-narrator, Haobam's film travels from the pristine hills to the beautiful valley, the State capital Imphal. The journey is, in itself, a story, a telling presentation of ordinary conversations between people, daily activities, common anxieties, unease and sorrow of past events.

There are conversations between people about the development of the State, about their children. Nevertheless, amid the loss of lives, destruction and agony, people are hopeful and trying to find peace. The common man and woman are trying to carry on with their routine lives.

The one-hour fifteen-minute feature film is based on true events, narrated and characterised in a somewhat non-fiction narrative. Though partly fictionalised, the characters recount actual happenings, their encounters, and talk about their true feelings and thoughts.

The story bumps into several people and different situations during the journey from a rural semi-urban village down to the capital city. In the travel, the film attempts to show and encompass–if not all-almost all of what Manipur context and situation stands. One can visualise the state of affairs of Manipur during the ride. The dusty bumpy road also presents a state of development that cannot be missed out on in the film.

The film's travelling – through a protagonist-encounters ordinary youths aspiring for a better future, about people struggling with dark memories, ordinary people finding ways for a new beginning. About communities trying to find their peace– through various means like turning to their faith and beliefs or taking out to the streets in the form of public demonstration and protest.

The film is also a personal journey of Haobam Paban. As a filmmaker, Haobam is a participant as a State citizen, an observer and a storyteller in the film. His attempt to understand the varied hues of conflicts–ethnic, political, social. The misgivings, the hatred amongst the different communities.

 Haobam Paban Kumar during the film shooting of 'Loktak Lairembee'
Haobam Paban Kumar during the film shooting of 'Loktak Lairembee' :: Pix - Haobam Paban

In a State like Manipur, attempting to dissect and understand the crisis often leads to more complications. A lot has been attempted but to little or no avail. The search for an answer is what Haobam attempts to tell in his film. The question "can we find a common ground? A common collective peace in Manipur ?"

Haobam's film provokes and asks many questions. The film seeks to find some clues. Some pointers, some dots to connect. The answer(s) though is elusive.

Does an individual's efforts for his/her inner peace, or effort of the community for peace come in the way of the other community's peace ? Does the call for peace in the far hills echoes down in the valley ? Does the difference–diverse ways of life, beliefs, cultures of different communities–come in the way of finding a common collective peace ?

For instance, many have also opined on the possibility of re-igniting wounds from the numerous memorial events, recollections of past events, observing occasions etc. That such observance could lead to more misgiving than forgiveness and misunderstandings amongst people. That this has led to never-forgiving each other.

Not forgetting but forgiving is something that seems crucial in Manipur. True to a certain extent where past wounds, anger, if too often remembered and recalled, could be a stumbling block to finding a common ground to end the hatred and the misgivings.

Again, there is an opinion, a concept that those incidents are histories that should be remembered, re-told more often-and these recorded events and incidents should be one of the keys to finding a solution (if any).

Indeed, Manipur's problems are many. The issues are numerous. The situation is complex, entangled. People are diverse. There are far too many opinions too. And equally too many attempts to find a solution. The road to finding answers, therefore, cannot be one-way. One size fit all cannot and should not be the formula.

Perhaps the search for peace cannot stop. It is an ongoing process. Many more attempts are needed in the search for an answer. A one-hour film cannot possibly capture all that Manipur is going through.

The varied problems, the underlying tensions are not possible to be portrayed in one film. But one fact remains. As in Haobam's film – People yearn for peace, as an individual, as a community, as a State. This comes out prominently in the film.

Haobam's journey through his film is one attempt to find some answers to the many questions that intrigue him or that provoked him. Maybe many more such films are made as a way to understand the myriads Manipur is caught in. Beginning from understanding to finding some pointers to what can be a way to bring alternatives and new ways of life.

The search for peace cannot end in one attempt. Haobam's film takes us to ask more, to find more, to tell more stories of common people, ordinary citizens and beyond.

As written in the Bible 1 Peter 3:11 "Let Him seek peace and pursue it", people in Manipur requires to seek peace, more of it, run for it, pursue and continue pursuing.

As the film "Nine Hills, One Valley" seeks to understand and pursue to find answers, Haobam Paban continues to seek insights, tries to understand underlying fault lines. While Haobam continues to seek and chase for peace, we hope to find more films on the many questions and possible answers in/of Manipur.

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 06 January 2022

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