The subject of film : Is it a medium or an art form ?
- Part 1 -

Meghachandra Kongbam *

 A scene from  'Komberei'
A scene from 'Komberei'

Beyond food and shelter, another fundamental need of a human being is the urge of communicating with each other. Communication brings integrity in the human civilisation, a necessity for survival. Thereby, the people looked for the art of communication in different methods to attract the large audience for peaceful existence.

Theatre came into existence in 6th century BC in Greece. Various forms of traditional media of its own emerged in different communities. Songs and dances were common as the medium of communication. In Manipur too, the traditional methods of communication like Lai Haraoba in theatrical form, Pena singing, Khongjom Parva, and Waree Leeba in ballad form came into being. The main purposes of these traditional methods of mass communication are to inform, to educate and to entertain the masses.

Modern means of mass communication

With the growth of human civilisation, modern men built intricate, multi-faceted machineries for delivering their messages. The unfolding achievemehfs of science made the communication machineries more and more fantastic in its ability to conquer the physical barriers of our world. Modern era of mass communication started when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and published a Bible in 1452.

The Film medium came when the first public screening of films took place in Paris on December 28, 1895 by the Lumiere brothers. Later on, radio medium came into existence commercially around 1920-23 and television medium reached the public in 1925.

Print, film, radio and television are all modern means of mass communication which can carry any important messages to reach the diversified audience. With the advancement of science, there have been technological changes in these media. In this digital era, the technology of these media became digital. Among the mass media, film medium is the most effective medium which can easily strike the audience" to auditory and visual senses.

Film : Born as a medium

Though the product of the film is an artistic expression, the film itself cannot be produced without a medium that is the technology of film. Like press, radio and television; film depends on technology. Some argue that film is an art form and claim that it should belong to the Department of Art and Culture.

If film is an art form, let us invite a poet, a painter, a theatre director, a dancer, a singer and a film maker at Imphal Pologround to display their respective art in public. Can a filmmaker perform his artistic expression of film in public ? It is impossible. The filmmaker must, look for the medium of film which is employed with various technical hands to express his creativity of visual narrative.

Film : An important sector of Government

While the Government focused on the development of post-independence India, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not fail to include the film sector as an important sector. The Government of India set up a Film Enquiry Committee (FEC) led by SK Patil in 1949 to inquire into the conditions of the film industry. The committee examined the state of the film industry and proposed measures to further its development along desirable lines which included the formation of the Film Finance Corporation (FCC) in 1960 and the establishment of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 1960.

Based on a FEC report, a National film seminar was conducted in 1955. With BN Sircar as the chairman, Devika Rani as the executive director and Prithviraj Kapoor as the director, the six-day seminar offered recommendations on institutional changes to alter the course of film making in India including training, archiving and funding, as also to attract new talent.UNESCO has also proposed to build one cinema hall per 20,000 population.

Film under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 77 of the Constitution of India, the President of India made on 14/01/1961 the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 for allocation of business of the Government of India to be transacted in the Ministries, Departments, Secretariats and Offices specified in the First Schedule to these rules and the distribution of subjects among the departments specified in the Second Schedule to these Rules.

Under the Rules, the subject of film has been allocated under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. Different activities of film as given below are assigned to the Ministry as reflected in the Rules.

1. Legislation under entry 60 of the Union List, viz, 'Sanctioning of Cinematograph films for exhibition'.
2. Administration of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 (37 of 1952).
3. Import of feature and short films for theatrical and non-theatrical viewing.
4. Export of Indian films, both feature and short films.
5. Import of unexposed cinematograph films and various types of equipment required by the film industry.
6. All matters relating to the film industry, including developmental and promotional activities thereto.
7. Promotion of good cinema by institution of State awards for films produced in India and assistance through the National Film Development Corporation Limited.
8. Production and distribution of documentaries and news-reels and other films and film strips for internal and external publicity.
9. Preservation of films and filmic materials.
10. Organisation of International Film Festivals in India and participation of India in International Film Festivals abroad.
11. Organisation of Film Festivals under Cultural Exchange Programmes.
12. Film society movement.

Two more entries - (a) Films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers and (b) News and current affairs content of online platforms are inserted to be transacted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting following an amendment of the Rules dated the 7th November 2020.

(a) Central Board of Film Certification;
(b) Films Division;
(c) Directorate of Film Festivals; and
(d) National Film Archives of India
are attached and subordinate organisations;-

(a) Film and Television Institute Of India, Pune;
(b) Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata;
(c) Children Film Society of India; and
(d) Federation of Film Society of India
are autonomous organisations; and National Film Development Corporation Limited is Public Sector Undertaking of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as indicated in the Rules.

Thus, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India has been formulating the policies and the guidelines of the Film sector and also funding from time to time for the development of film industry in the country and the State. Departments of Information and Public Relations have been following the policy guidelines and receiving the projects and schemes from the Ministry.

Film under DIPR in Manipur

After attainment of Statehood in 1972, the then Publicity Department of the Government of Manipur was renamed as the Department of Information and Public Relations with the expansion of different media units. The Cinema Section was the biggest section among the various media units in the Department. It had three wings- Production wing, Exhibition wing and a filrri library.

The Production Wing had a 16 mm movie camera, a 35 mm movie camera, sound recording machines and light equipments with sanctioned posts of a Movie Cameraman, Assistant Movie Cameraman, a Senior Cameraman, a Cameraman, a Tape Recordist and two Light Assistants. The production wing produced documentary films and newsreels on the activities and achievements of the Government of Manipur. The Department maintained a panel of film makers like MA Singh, Aribam Syam Sharma, G Narayan Sharma, and L Banka Sharma for assigning the job for production of the documentary films and newsreels,

 A scene from  'Matamgi Manipur'
A scene from 'Matamgi Manipur'

The Department of Information & Public Relations, Government of Manipur produced six Manipuri documentary films, one reel each in 16 mm namely: 1) Events in Manipur 1971-2, 2) Events in Manipur - 1973, 3) Events in Manipur 1974-A, 4) Events in Manipur 1974-B, 5) Events in Manipur 1975 and 6) Events in Manipur 1975-76 directed by MA Singh, a double graduate from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

MA Singh also made Manipuri newsreels namely - 1) Manipur News 1978 and, 2) Manipur News 1979 each having two reels in 35 mm. The films were recording of the current events in the particular years. MA Singh also made two Manipuri documentaries in 16 mm - 1) Visit of Shri W Giri, President of India in Manipur 1972 and 2) Ariba Pala (Bangadesh Pala), having a duration of 10 minutes each. All these films obtained censor certificates from the Central Board of Film Certification, Calcutta.

G Narayan Sharma also made a newsreel - Manipur News 1974 and L Banka Sharma made a newsreel - Manipur News 1980 highlighting Yaoshang festival and Khongjom Day Celebration with other developmental activities of the Government.

In 1977, the Department of Information & Public Relations, Government of Manipur produced two documentary films. The films were 1) Towards a better life, 2) 20-Point Economic Programme having 10 minutes duration in 35 mm directed by Aribam Syam Sharma.

A 30-minute Manipuri documentary film - Sanaleibak Manipur directed by Aribam Syam Sharma was produced in 1980. The film shot in 35mm colour covers the general aspects of Manipur with reports on development programmes of the Government.

In addition, to promote and encourage the filmmakers by way of engaging them in the in-house production of films of the Government of Manipur; the Department also encouraged the film producers by giving a subsidy of Rupees 50, 000/ - for production of a Manipuri feature film. In the beginning, Rupees 25,000/- was given as subsidy to each selected Manipuri film. Kongbrailatpam Ibohal Sharma was the last producer who received the subsidy from the Department for his international acclaimed film- Imagi Ningthem.

The Exhibition Wing was equipped with 16 mm film projectors, sound equipments and the silver screens. The wing was run by two Cinema Mechanics, four Cinema Operators and four Assistant Cinema Operators. The Exhibition Wing toured the interior areas of the valley and hills of Manipur for organising film shows on moral values and achievements of the Government in order to inform, educate and entertain the masses.

The Film Library of the Department of Information and Public Relations was the biggest film library in Manipur that housed more than 500 documentary and feature films. It was run by a Film Librarian. Most of the documentaries were from the Films Division and Children's Films Society under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The Department also bought some good films having moral values for touring film shows. In order to encourage the local producers, the Department purchased the Manipuri feature films like Khonthang, Mayophygi Macha and Chinglensana.

The Imphal Cine Club organized a Children Film Festival in 1979 where the organizers hired some valuable films including the silent film- Child and Fish from the Department. Precious films like Rabindranath Tagore's story Chandralika, a documentary on the life and works of the famous tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha, a documentary on the great painter Amrita Sher-Gil were stored in the film library.

The Department of Information and Public Relations was keeping a constant touch with the Central Ministry and the State Governments towards the growth of film industry in the State. The Commissioner or Secretary of the Department is a member of the Children's Film Society which is under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

(To be continued)

* Meghachandra Kongbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a Swarna Kamal Awardee for Best Film Critic of National Film Awards 2015,
a member of FIPRESCI-India (International Federation of Film CriticsIndia),
President of the Film Society of Manipur and
former Director of Information and Public Relations, Government of Manipur
This article was webcasted on February 27 2021.

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