E-Pao! EI - When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi

When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi
Episode 03 :: The Manipuri identity

By: Oinam Doren*

Prologue: The Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi is inundated with massive applause for the theatre group from Manipur. People shout and scream in hysteria giving a standing ovation to a poignant mirror that has reflected Manipur pompously in the global map. Ladies and gentleman, presenting Ratan Thiyam and his band of committed man and woman - the Chorus Repertory Theatre Group.

A three day retrospective of Ratan Thiyam's plays - Uttarpriyadarshi, Chakravyuha and Ritusamharam has the entire art lovers in Delhi humming with frantic praise for the state - our culture, music, dance, costumes, aesthetic and technical sense. Every eloquent line comes with a prefix - yeh manipuri lok (this Manipuri people). After each play, my lawai Manipuri ego used to swell the entire auditorium.

I am personally grateful to Ratan Thiyam for another professional reason. In my premature days in Delhi in the 'Bahadur' era, a few big people had granted me time and respect. I was part of our St. Anthony's college theatre group 'Minimum Wages', wrote and directed plays for All India Radio Shillong. This fact was evident from my resume. When I met them, this people would say 'you must be a Manipuri' and then would begin enquiring whether I had work with Ratan Thiyam. They would significantly add 'Manipuris are very creative'.

In general, however here in Delhi the northeast is flank with 'lowly or derogatory images'. You can compare notes with some Imphal citizen's attitude towards people coming from villages in Manipur. Maybe it is because they are more privileged in terms of development. I have often been preaching my friends and acquaintance interspersed in the region we should do something to alter this sort of stereotyping. In the initial months in Delhi, I was tired of hearing 'yeh ladka uloo banne aya he! (this guy has come here to be fooled)'. Now they say 'yeh to bahoot husiar hai (he is so clever)' for I have proved myself. We still have to voluntarily accept the fact that the region is backward. But I personally want to conjure this image - the people's mind is progressive.

I do not have to be acquainted with a fork and a knife to flaunt I am cultured or developed. That is uncontaminated western style. I strongly believe the metro McDonalds, PVR, branded clothes, skyscrapers, or busy traffic does not make one superior. Moreover, I am not against this sort of urbane lifestyle. But if you assume possessing a larger sophisticated toy than your brothers entitle you to nurture prejudice for others, I personally consider it a very cheap concept, a nasty attitude. In the race of 'who has a bigger toy?' the entire human race seems to have degraded the human quality.

And to be honest I am not anti Delhi. If you analyze the attitude of numerous people in Manipur, Delhi seems a safer haven. The problem is not in the race; mayang (referred to the Aryan race) or meitei or naga or kuki. The root is the dark grim side of our human nature. For a little advantage or selfish gain, all this filthy politics of race, region, God comes into foreplay. On a more pessimistic note, we can discuss about it, run through it but the disease would linger as long as humanity exist. On a positive note, this has refurbish life, precarious and interesting. But like in films, even in reality the good wins the race in the end even if it takes centuries.

In my experience in Manipur, Shillong and Delhi, the Manipuri community congregates occasionally to celebrate Patriot's day, Holi with thabal chongba or other cultural dissertation to remind ourselves we are Manipuris. If we stare from a vantage point, some of us are not entitle to exhibit respect to our culture. Culture is just a sort of external representation to identify our uniqueness, our bond that we are Manipuris. But when you annihilate that meaningful relationship, your celebration of your culture is relegated to mere phony.

Forget about the unnecessary conflicts we tarnish everyday among us, we can't even reimburse our poor government servants a few thousand rupees monthly to feed their family. We are economically, socially, politically suppressed people, suppressed by our selfishness. Please cease blaming the Indian government when your governance of local representatives elected by you and me has demote us to mere puppets. Keep waiting for sir Muivah to intimidate you to unite the Manipuris.

These days a very pessimistic and threatening slogan is swiping the Manipuri community or any race ally to them. It is 'meitei macha phate' (the meiteis are bad). This kind of depressing statement if often repeated to our kids and ourselves would sink subconsciously. The anticipated danger is that the whole Manipuris would consequently become bad. Ask any professional hypnotist or psychologist. This statement often has created so much distrust and disharmony among us. In any group; Nagas, Marwaris Bengalis or Manipuris, a few bad people would always surface. But do a few indicate the mass? I fervently feel we should uproot this 'GENERALISATION TRAP' before it traps the whole race.

Finally, let us descend at Delhi where we all started with 'baptism with bahadur'. The problem as some Delhi people has pitched; as feedback was, we resemble Nepalese. But my essence soars higher. The title was metaphorical. I never thought Nepali or Bahadur are inferior to us. But often the term 'bahadur' is use to refer as 'derogatory' or to demean someone. My tangible point in the first episode was that people who enjoy higher technological, intellectual, social status or live in cities tend to have preconceived inferior or discriminating attitude towards the less privilege group. But its hard to be neutral unless you are a saint insane. I shared my experience in support of the underprivileged new to Delhi. The first episode also inadvertently bit some Nepalese because I titled it 'baptism with bahadur'.

The second episode 'absolute struggle for identity' has struck a note with the younger Delhi crowd. (My target readers were expanded. Delhi is interested in me because of my popularity here as a young controversial award winning filmmaker. Thanks to the film business and my self respect). The narrative transparency of my life must have struck a bond with their personal lives. For the truth is, a small kid in a village in Manipur wades through the same insecurities of growing up and the perplexity of choice like any kid in Delhi. Sole variation was in the environmental context.

More importantly than my personal tale, what enthralled me was their feedback that reading my episode has acquainted them about life in the northeast. For knowing each other creates familiarity. Familiarity breeds trust. Trust leads to friendship. How can two strangers camouflaging different looks and origin trust each other? Its not only about psychology but also about common sense. (Here is a tip to every girl or guy in love. Let your target get familiar with you. And strike).

Therefore, if some of you perceive Delhi (or Imphal in Manipur) has been unfair with you, let us isolate ourselves from the BLAME GAME. Let us take personal responsibility of our lives. Cease waiting for the state or people in power either with guns or politics to initiate action to create headlines in newspapers. This was another reason I wrote 'absolute struggle for identity' to epitomize the struggle of a group as well.

Share your culture with the aliens through mutual contact. Make friends. If you are a student in Delhi University, strive to be the best in your class. If you are employed in some office, woo everyone with your etiquette, efficiency, and organizational skills. Every race's identity springs from the identity of common people like you and me. A Manipuri classical dancer reinforces the cultural identity of Manipur. Me as a filmmaker has one of the most powerful tools to cinematically showcase our culture, represent our society to the world. That is why Delhi people call me 'northeast ka masoor filmmaker (popular filmmaker of northeast)' and not my name. Though some Delhites say 'Delhi ka naya filmmaker (new filmmaker of Delhi').

I believe that is how our race identity is build up. If you do well, the Manipuri race image is revamped. It is that simple. You seldom need to spend a fortune on a PR agency or an image management consultant. Every individual big or small contribute to the Manipuri identity and the state.

In the personal front, I am being rewarded extravagantly here in Delhi. Firstly, a few seniors from the Northeast has been complimenting me for the respect they are being showered in Delhi within their group because of me. Secondly, the fleeting comments from the younger generation their confidence is bulging in Delhi because of my presence. And of course, I am totally flattered by the adulation from the Delhi bhadralok. Just because of one film 'The Perfect Guy'. (Hopefully my film starts traveling abroad). These compliments has made me more motivated, humble, and responsible not only professionally but also as a guy from an underprivileged region.

A lot of us have never gone to America. But we have this glossy image of America teeming with skyscrapers, jazzy cars, refined intelligent people. The image has been conjuring up by the media, Hollywood films, magazines, or television. I know lots of guys who thinks American girls are easy pick ups, could be laid to bed easily because of the hardcore sex and eroticism rampantly exhibited on mainstream films, porn films or literature. Even I used to fantasize this concept in my teens after my friends introduced me to porno. I share this message with media personalities or comrade filmmakers from the under privileged region.

Cultural imperialism, loss of identity is the basic fundamental fear psychosis that alarms a race to revolt.The NSCN wants an independent Nagalim, a land of only the Nagas for this purpose. It is the same with ULFA, or the segregated groups in Manipur. You can apply this theory to Delhi. People like to hang around with whom they can identify with. It is about security - the comfort zone. In this global village, if planet earth has to survive peacefully, we should adapt to respect every culture, their unique identity. Self-respect precedes respect for own culture and other cultures.

For a truly creative artist, humanity is his real culture. Even though his work is a representation of his local culture due to his upbringing, his attitude is universal. So people of all race irrespective of race or region gravitates towards him. The threat that the presence of an alien culture would defunct one group shows the group's extreme weakness. A culture that unflinchingly believes in itself would never feel threatened. Discrimination, prejudices are for somber weak individuals. Personally, I am spiritually strong. I am exhilarated when anybody does well. I instinctively thrive inspiration from his success, feel motivated. Its smart to remember winning his transitory or perpetual support can transcend me to a higher level. Extra competitions mete out paramount traits of you and me as well.

EPILOGUE: This culminates the 3 episode series. This series is solely dedicated to stereotyping and discrimination of the under privilege group. I am awfully sorry if you cynically perceive I have exalted myself a lot in the series. Firstly it is because I am a new filmmaker. Secondly it is a good antidote to combat negative and mean people who shun hard labor and are trying to kill your confidence to constrict you to mediocrity. My mission is accomplished if the series could earn respect for all the cultures and people. Just a caution, in order that we remain true to our culture and our real self during integration, lets BELIEVE in ourselves'.

Read other episode(s)
When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi - Episode 01 :: Baptism with Bahadur
When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi - Episode 02 :: Absolute struggle for identity
The writer is a DV filmmaker based in Delhi. Besides currently engaging in a political project and making a music video for a band-Snowhite, in spare time he is writing a script for a Manipuri feature film-KOKEN dedicated to meitei woman for local & international audience. You can contact him at [email protected]

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