Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Syam Sharma with Lamja Parshuram cast, Tomba and Bedamani

Aribam Syam Sharma: A Genius in the World of Indian Cinema

In this vast land of India where diversity of culture, languages and traditions have flourished; spirited and erudite film makers from different regions have created a great history of Indian cinema. With the changing of new technology day by day, the Indian film history has become voluminous by the addition of ever new chapters with each passing generation.

Language defines the identity of films. Indian cinema has not been made only by the Hindi films which is lingua franca of India. The regional films produced from different regions in different languages have occupied a major share in making a complete picture of Indian cinema. Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand, V. Shantaram, Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, Saeed Mirza and Ketan Mehta in Hindi Cinema, Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Goutam Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh in Bengali cinema, two Malayalis-G. Aravindan and Adoor Gopalkrishnan in Malayalam Cinema; K. Balachandra  and Mani Ratnam in Tamil Cinema; Girish Karnad and Girish Kasaravalli in Kannada Cinema, Jahnu Barua in Assamese Cinema and Aribam Syam Sharma in Manipuri cinema put efforts to bring the glory of Indian cinema in the glove. The globalisation of Indian film industry which began in the late 20th Century has also accelarated the movement of Indian cinema. And now, every Indian filmmaker is eying his or her film for world premiere in many major international festivals outside India. Every year, many regional filmmakers have brought the laurel of the country in the international arena.

Three major language groups are found in India for communicating each other in their region. Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Tibeto-Burman are the principal language families in India. Cinemas of Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and Telegu mainly introduced Dravidians and the Cinemas of Bengali, Marathi and Assamese introduced the Aryans. But, Aribam Syam Sharma of Manipuri cinema was the pioneering film maker of India who introduced the Indian cinema of Tibeto-Burman languages. He made a new flavour of Indian cinema featuring the stories of the colourful Mongoloid people settled in North Eastern India.

It is the pride of the nation that a film maker, brought up from a small state and a small community where there was no infrastructure and technicians for making films, has brought the glory of Manipuri cinema in the national and international scene as well. It was a great victory of Indian cinema that Syam Sharma’s Imagi Ningthem (My Son My Precious) (1981) bagged the Grand Prix (Golden Montgolfier) of the Nantes International Film Festival of Three Continents in 1982. It was the first Indian film to receive the best film award in the festival. No Indian film had got the best film award so far in the festival till date.

A scene from a pioneering classic “Imagi Ningthem”

A scene from Imagi Ningthem


Major international film festivals which the Government of India has recognized are the festivals held at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Locarno, Locarno, London, Karlovy Vary, Nantes, Rotterdam, Freiburg, Munich, Busan, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome and Sydney. Those Indian films which are invited for participation in the major festivals are eligible for screening in the Best of India Cinema programme of the Doordarshan; the producer also can get a huge sum of rupees for the screening. The best film award of Cannes is Golden Palm, which was earlier known as ‘Grand Prix du festival du film’. The first Indian film which bagged the best film of Cannes was Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar. It shared with other 10 films of different countries in 1946. In 1957, Satyajit ray’s Aparajito won the Golden Lion, the best film award of Venice Film Festival. Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding also got the same title in 2001. Sambhu Mitra and Amit Mitra’s Jagte Raho received the best film award of Karlovy Vary Film Festival –Crystal Glove in 1957. In 1981, Rabindra Dharmaraj’s Chakra was awarded the best film award Golden Leopard of Locarno International Film Festival. Syam Sharma’s Imagi Ningthem bagged the best film award of Nantes in 1982. He was the fifth Indian film maker who received the top prize in a major international film festival. Very few Indian film makers have received the top prize in the major festivals held in abroad; although many Indian film makers have received various consolation prizes in many major festivals.


It will be tough to find a film maker like Syam Sharma who can make all kinds of films successfully. He made blockbuster films in mainstream cinema. He made great art films of international repute. In the field of documentary, he made films of different subjects marking its uniqueness. His documentaries reached to the international arena.  Each and every of his films have significant areas for academic discussion. His films fabricate with social traditions and cultural practices ranging from ancient to modern times, and analyse the socio-cultural values of the people. He obtained Master Degree in Philosophy subject from the Viswa Bharti University, Santiniketan. He is a philosopher. He thinks deeply. He can see the depth of the ocean when he finds an ocean. He searches for the aesthetic values of every object and understands it thoroughly. And it reflects into his films. Interlacing the aesthetics into a story or a subject, he makes the remarkable films.

Besides the mastery of film making, Syam Sharma possessed the superiority in the field of modern Manipuri music as composer and singer; in the field of theatre as director and actor; and in the field of literature as short story writer and lyricist. A multi-faceted personality possessing multiple qualities! All these qualities make him a great film maker. Emerging as a genius in Indian cinema, he is recognized internationally.

So far he has directed 14 Manipuri feature films and 30 non-features. His films, though rooted in the socio-cultural milieu of Manipur, have found flavour globally due to the universal appeal of the subjects of his films. He earned six awards in his features and nine awards in his non-features in Nationall Film Awards.

Known as film director, music director, actor and singer; Aribam Syam Sharma came to limelight in the world of cinema with his internationally acclaimed Manipuri film-Imagi Ningthem in 1981. He was born on March 21, 1936 at Thangmeiband Lourung Purel Leikai in Imphal. He did his graduation from Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, west Bengal and also passed his Master in Philosophy from the same university. During his intermediate college, he did in science subject. Once he also went to Chennai to study engineering but could not succeed. Apart from his own mother- tongue Meitei language, English and Hindi, Syam Sharma could speak Bengali fluently. After returned home, he joined with the Dhanamanjuri College as teacher in phylosophy department and later became the head of department. Singing and acting were his favourites since his childhood.

Since his school days, Syam Sharma gave focus on music. Whilst reading at Johnstone School in Imphal, Syam Sharma learnt singing songs from his music teacher Kunjo from Kangjabi Leirak in Imphal. Later, he continued the study of music from Mutum Modhu at Sagolband. And whilst he was still reading in Class VIII, he started writing lyrics for his own songs and sang.

The years from 1961 to 1972 could be described as theaatre days for him. He played the role of Shantidas Goshai in the drama- Chingu Khongnangthaba, played a village chief in the drama –Charairongba and Okchillaka in Pidonu, being played by Aryan Theatre. He received the best actor award for Okchillaka in Pidonu at the All Manipur drama Competition. He also directed a trilogy drama Hallakpa, Khongchat and Ani all scripted by Sri Biren, Sahitya Akademi awardee. He directed three dramas- Karbar, Meerang and Judge Sahebki Imung all written by Arambam Somorendra for Aryan Theatre. He directed and played the role of Mammo in the drama- Ashangba Nongjabi written by M.K.Binodini for Roop Raag. He also directed many experimental dramas being produced by the Apunba Saktam Arstistes Association.


A scene from “Sanabi”


Syam Sharma learnt the complete knowledge of film making during the making of Matamgi Manipur (1972), the first Manipuri feature film directed by Debkumar Bose. He was the Music director and played the role of Tonsana, a father in the film. He composed four songs for the film. The musicians, especially the percussionist of Kolkata, while recording the songs in Technicians’ Studio, Tollygunge, could not catch the rhythm of the song-  Tha Tha Thabungton, a folk lullaby in traditional tunes of the film.


The film which deeply impressed Syam Sharma was Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik; he saw it at Bolpur while he was studying in Santiniketan. He deeply loves his native place and motherland. “Ho Ima, Poknapham Ima, Nangumbi Leite Ima” (O Mother, O Motherland, Nowhere like you Mother) is the voice of his soul. It is the ‘Vande Mataram’ of Manipur. He looked for his identity first before setting on the venture of a film maker which he would face many hurdles. He was sanctified with ‘Aribam Syam Sharma’ converting from his name ‘Aribam Shyam Sharma’ of Matamgi Manipur. He said himself, “I am not the ‘Shyam’ of outside, and I am the Meitei ‘Syam’ of Manipur”. He also loved to be a ‘Syam’ to be recognised from Santiniketan. His patriotism reflects in all his films. The unique aesthetics of Manipuri culture are absorbed into his films. And his films transport the beauties and the best aesthetic products of Manipur across the world.


His first Manipuri feature film Lamja Parsuram (Orphan Parsuram)(1974) was made on the drama- Lamja Parsuram written by distinguished dramatist G. C. Tongbra of Manipuri literature. The structure of the film was in the trend of Indian mainstream cinema. Syam Sharma attempted to deliver a new taste of Manipuri mainstream cinema to the Manipuri audience who had already addicted to Bollywood cinema. It was a great challenge for him to vanquish the great flood of Bollywood submerged in Manipur. It was the period when the Bollywood cinema was at its peak at the end of 1960s and the beginning of 1970s. The grown-up youths were crazed with the formula of romance, song and dance, crisis in love, separation, fight and union of melodramatic Bollywood films. Binaca Geet Mala of Sri Lanka Radio and its counterpart Vividh Bharati of All India Radio broadcast old, new and forthcoming Hindi film songs abundantly. It created the cinegoers anxiety and addicted to Hindi film songs.

Songs of Lamja Parsuram were brought out in disc record before the release of film. Syam Sharma was also the Music Director. All the songs- the title song of Lamja Lamja Kougene Nahakpu rendered by Aheibam Shyam in the tune of the folk song of Moirang Kangleirol accompanied with traditional string music-Pena, the romantic duet song of Ngaorehe Eidi Shumhatlehe Nangna by Khun Joykumar and Chongtham Kamala, the sad song of Nangdi Chatle Taklamdana, Eigi Thawai Oiriba by Chongtham Kamala and the comedy song of Imagi Mamou Eihakpu Thajou of Khun Joykumar and Rashi were superhit. Everyone memorized the songs and hummed it. It became the popular Manipuri film songs after the songs of Manipuri film- Urirei Madhabi (unreleased) composed by Syam Sharma himself with Aheibam Budhachandra. Khun Joykumar came into limelight as a play back singer of romantic voice from Urirei Madhabi. At this point of time, Aheibam Syam was regarded as Manna De; Khun Joykumar as Kishore Kumar and Chongtham Kamala as Lata Mangeshkar of Manipuri cinema.

The theme of Lamja Parsuram is about an orphan who grows up with his own. His maternal uncle sells his mother to a cruel rich man. He perceives that all these happenings are caused by his father who neglects them.  And he takes a vow to kill his estranged father when he finds him. It is a heart touching journey of an orphan who always fights hardship. Use of flashbacks, negative images and still photos in the narration, and introduction of fashionable dresses of the leading actor and actress with new choreography during song sequence are some impressive features of the film. It was released at Pratap Talkies in Imphal on April 24, 1974. Kangabam Tomba in the role of Lamja Parsuram and Bedamani in the role of Indrani became the stars after the release of the film. Kangabam Tomba was better known as Lamja Tomba. Huirem Tomba emerged as the film comedian from the film. During the period, Raj Kapoor’s super hit film-Bobby was screened at Usha Cinema in Imphal, but could not get the momentum of Lamja Parsuram. Thus, Lamja Parsuram snatched the Manipuri audiences away from Bollywood cinema. It ran 15 weeks with the celebration of 100 days screening.


A scene from “Olangthagi Wangmadasu”


Aribam Syam Sharma’s second feature film-Saaphabee (1976) is a period movie that the story was from a different era. It reflects past civilization of Manipuri society. It explores rich typical culture and traditions, and ancient literature of the past. It proves that the great treasure of Manipuri culture came into existence since the time immemorial when the Gods and the humans used to live together. It was the first Manipuri folk film. It was based on the drama- Haorang Leishang Saphabi written by Sarangthem Bormani and staged by the Manipur Dramatic Union which bagged the best play in folk category in the National Drama Festival, New Delhi in 1954. G. Joykumar Sharma scripted the film. Syam Sharma as Music director composed four songs- Mapok Langon Khudingda of Aheibam Shyam and Arambam Jamuna, Khoiyumgumna Shaklotpa of Arambam Jamuna, Eidi Pakhang Sareeni of Khun Joykumar and Ngasi Korou Nongjada of Khun Joykumar and Arambam Jamuna. All the songs became hit and everyone hummed it.

It is the immortal love story of Loya Naha Saaphaba son of Thongnang, the king of Khuman region and Haorang Leishang Saaphabee daughter of Tabung, king of Kege region. The film focuses on Kege region and Khuman region settled in opposite side of Loktak Lake, the biggest fresh water lake in North East India. The two kings are good friends and even swear that their son and daughter shall marry when they grows up. Tabung does not recognize Saaphaba and kills him as he has mistaken him an intruder. Saaphabee also kills herself. Heartbroken Tabung and Thongnang decide to kill themselves in a spear fight to follow them. Khamnung Kikoi Louonbee, the goddess of death concealing her appearance in the sky with a thunderous voice stops them in the midst of lighting and thunder. Saaphaba and Saaphabee are seen in the sky proceeding towards the feet of the Almighty God.

The dialogues are in archaic language with rhythm in ballad form. Shapharol (Ancient art of hunting), Tenkaplon (Art of shooting arrow), Hueiyen Lallong (Martial arts), folk songs of adolescent youths throwing lovely words each other, folk songs on husking the rice, folk songs on driving away the birds in paddy field, folk songs on riddles and answers, and Helloi, an elusive beautiful ghost lady who takes away young man are few unique features of the film. It was the first Manipuri folk film. It was released at Usha Cinema in Imphal on July 13, 1976 and was a hit film. Saaphabee received the Rajat Kamal Award for the best Manipuri film in the National Film Festival. This is Syam Sharma’s first award winning film in the National Film festival.


Aribam Syam Sharma’s third feature film- Olangthagi Wangmadasoo (Beyond the Pale of Summer) (1979) became the all-time blockbuster and longest running Manipuri film in the history of Manipuri cinema. It was released at Friends Talkies in Imphal on January 18, 1980. It was made on the first original screenplay of renowned Manipuri writer M.K. Binodini. It was a well-crafted film with box office elements infused with regional flavour. It contained eight songs composed by a dual Joy Shyam. Surprisingly, the disk record of the song soundtrack went out of stock just after it was released.

Bijoy, a singer of modern Manipuri songs and a Manipuri martial artist brought by the grandparents falls in love with Thadoi, a medical student pursuing MBBS in Delhi. Bijoy lives in a traditional family, whereas Thadoi’s family believes in modernity. Thadoi’s brother Kamaljit and sister-in-law want her marriage to Jiten, a wealthy man. On the circumstance, Bijoy has eloped Thadoi. When Bijoy’s grandfather approaches to Kamaljit for marriage, Kamaljit has agreed and asked for sending his sister back home.  On the contrary, Kamaljit has kept Thadoi under his custody. Bijoy’s grandfather comes to meet Kamaljit. When Thadoi sees him, she escapes from the custody and insists him to leave the place with her. Kamaljit’s men chase them. In a fight, the grandfather is killed and Thadoi is taken back. Bijoy and his grandmother go for pilgrimage to Brindavan. After a long period, Bijoy meets doctor Thadoi in a hospital at Jiribam.

Police cordoned off the theatre premises as queues throng the pavements every day. In the scramble for tickets, a young man’s desperation had cost him his life. Photographs of leading duo- Kangabam Tomba and Yengkhom Roma were selling briskly. The screenplay book was also a sell-out. The film had a tough competition with Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay, the blockbuster Hindi film for a long run. Sholay was screened at Usha Cinema in Imphal. With the attraction of the cinegoers by adding one and two reels during the running, Sholay achieved to run 28 weeks record in Imphal, but could not compete with the Manipuri film.  Olangthagi Wangmadasoo marked the longest running Manipuri film so far in the history of Manipuri cinema with the record of 32 weeks celebrating its silver jubilee. ‘The latest film Olangthagi Wangmadasoo has broken Imphal’s box office record held by Sholay’ was the intro of the article published in popular film magazine -Filmfare (February 16-28, 1981) with photograph. The film also bagged the National Film Award in the regional film category. It was a kind of magic created by the film maker Syam Sharma.


Having proved that he could make a blockbuster film, Aribam Syam Sharma then moved in another direction to make significant films. On the popular radio drama- Imagi Ningthem written by M.K.Binodini, the writer herself developed the film script. Film Society activist and film maker K. Ibohal Sharma voluntarily came out to produce and to handle the camera of the film that would be a different kind of cinema in Manipur under the direction of Syam Sharma. Thus the birth of the Manipuri film- Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious) took place in 1981. It is the strange love of a stepmother for an illegitimate child and the film develops a strong human relationship between the two. The little boy’s father is the husband of the woman, and mother is the daughter of a Chowkidar of Dak Bungalow. His mother has been seduced by the man while posting at the village and died in childbirth. The story unfolds one after another when a school teacher, the cousin of the woman is posted in the village school. The director puts the issues arising out of the situation before the audience. The film was released at Usha Cinema in Imphal on May 4, 1981. But the mainstream cinema audience did not accept it.

Imagi Ningthem bagged not only the best regional film award in the National Film Awards 1981 but also the best child artist award to Master Leikhendra who played the role of Thoithoi. It was the first Manipuri feature film which got entry into Indian Panorama. The film was screened at the International Film Festival of India (Filmotsov of the particular year)- the biggest film event of India in 1982 held in Kolkata. The date- ‘January 7, 1982’ decided the fate of Imagi Ningthem when it was screened at New Empire Cinema. Though there was a thin audience, a few film personalities of foreign countries had witnessed the film. Three days later, Philippe Jalladeau and his brother Alain Jalladeau, Co-director Nantes Film Festival looked for the Producer of Imagi Ningthem and handed over the invitation to the producer for participation in the Nantes Festival to be held in November in the year. The film bagged the Grand Prix in the Festival of Three Continents, Nantes in 1982 and became the first Indian film to receive the prestigious top honour in a major film international festival.

Imagi Ningthem was first shown in abroad at New Directors/ New Films Festival in New York organised by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, New York in April, 1982. It was the Indian entry and was screened on April 21, 1982 at the festival theatre. Imagi Ningthem was first reviewed in Variety, the American weekly magazine on entertainment media. Gene Moskowitz wrote of the film, “This is a small gem of a film which is touching without being sentimental, and makes a statement about human relations that transcends its place to make a human impact”. The film took part in major international film festivals held at Denver, Locarno, Montreal, London and Hong Kong. After the film received the Grand Prix from the Nantes in 1982, the Manipuri cinema and Aribam Syam Sharma came into limelight in the world of cinema.

Observing the society in the West where there was no caring about the human relations and taking into account of what Imagi Ningthem had shown; the film scholar and critic Derek Malcolm wrote in the Guardian on November 25, 1982, “In those parts of the world where the traditional mother and child relation had been badly shaken by uncontrollable plague of divorce and where pre and extra-marital sex have become common practice, Imagi Ningthem was a discovery of conservative values. The film came as refreshing departure in a country like USA which rated the highest record of divorce in the world and because of which the resultant problem of ‘bastard child’ had become a national issue”. Interesting dimension of the success of Imagi Ningthem has been its social impact to the West.

His fifth feature film- Paokhum Ama (The Only Answer) (1984) made in 16mm colour exposes the various social issues on unemployment problem, corruption and insurgency. On the other hand, it explores a healthy and strong relationship between the plains and the hills of Manipur with sincerity and conviction. The film was screened at the Tyneside Film Festival in UK.

Syam Sharma’s sixth feature film- Ishanou (The Chosen One)(1990) bagged the best feature film award in a language other than those specified in Schedule VIII of the Indian Constitution in the National Film awards and its protagonist Anoubam Kiranmala in the role of Tampha got a consolation award- Special Mention for her debut performance. At the International Film Festival of India held at Madras in 1991, Ishanou got plaudits from the foreign critics. It caught the eye of the authorities from the Cannes, who promptly invited it for the Un Certain Regard section of the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival 1991. The film favourably received at many major international film festivals held at Nantes, Montreal, London, Seattle, Locarno, New York, Hawaii, Singapore, Freiburg and Toronto. It is about the story of a happy married young woman living in her mother’s house with her husband and a daughter who is suddenly possessed by a benign spirit and enters into the life of a Maibi. This has made her a distance from her family.  As there is belief of a Maibi’s daughter becomes a Maibi; the space has been created in between the mother and the daughter. Even the daughter has not recognized her mother in the later part.

In the Guardian published from London on January 24, 1991, film critic Derek Malcolm described Ishanou as, “ Perhaps the best film in the panorama, largely because it tells a good story with great honesty and lack of guile, came from the State of Manipur, where two or three directors have worked against all odds for a decade or more”.  Former director of Sydney Film Festival and Film Critic David Stratton also wrote in the Variety published from New York on April 11, 1991, “ One of the best Indian films of the past year, The Chosen One looks though it’ll make its way on the international film circuit. Specialized art house release also is possible”.

His seventh feature film-Sanabi (Grey Pony) (1995) received the National Film Award and also entered into Indian Panorama. It was shown at the Cairo international Film Festival. The film bagged V. Shantaram Award for best direction in 1997 presented by the Rajkamal Academy of Cinematic Excellence instituted by Shantarams. Mangi, a wayward youth loves Sakhi, a dance artiste of the same locality. Sakhi refuses his proposal. The film ends with Mangi stealing the pony reared by Sakhi’s father with great affection and care, to fulfill his love with Sakhi. The film explores a concept of purity of the values and its frequent attack from alien forces to make it polluted and vitiated.

His short feature –Shingnaba (Challenge) (1998) deals with HIV and AIDS issue. He also made a children film- Paari in 2000 under the banner of Children’s’ Film Society. His feature film-Leipaklei (2012) tells the story of Leipaklei, a woman named after the flower-Leipaklei, a symbol of patience and strength, whose life is surrounded by the hard trials of fate; separated from her husband, she is burdened with sustaining herself and her young daughter. The film won the National film award in regional category and was participated at Jeonju International Film Festival held at Jeonju, South Korea in 2013.

His feature films which bagged the National film awards are Saaphabee, Olangthagi Wangmadasoo, Imagi Ningthem, Ishanou, Sanabi and Leipaklei.


Syam Sharma made over 40 documentary films. All the documentaries were based on culture. His National Film Award winning documentaries are- Deer on the Lake (1989),Indigenous Games of Manipur (!990), Meitei Pung(1991), Orchids of Manipur (1994),Yelhou Jagoi (1995), Thang-Ta: Martial Arts of Manipur (!991),The Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh (2001), Guru Laimayum Thambalngoubi (2006) and Manipur Pony(2012).His ballet film Sangai-The Dancing Deer of Manipur(1987-88) produced by the Sangeet Natak Akademi was awarded five merit awards from the 12th International Film Festival of Wildlife, Montana, USA in 1989. The film received the citation, ‘Outstanding Film of the Year 1989’ from the British Film Institute, London. His Koro Kosii (1988) participated at International Film Festival of India in Calcutta, Indian Film Week in Hungary and Bombay International Film Festival. His Lai Haraoba (1991) was selected in the Indian Panorama of the IFFI in 1992.His Orchids of Manipur (1994) was not only participated at IFFI 1995 but also at the International Wildlife Film Festival, Morocco in1996.Yelhou Jagoi (1995) was the opening film of the Indian Panorama of the International Film Festival of India in 1996.The Marams (1999) was participated at Indian Panorama of IFFI, 2000, Mumbai International Film Festival 2000 in competition section and Kathmandu International Mountain Film festival, 2000. Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (2006) was screened at Indian Panorama of IFFI in 2007.


In recognition of his contribution in the Indian documentary cinema, Government of India conferred him Dr. V. Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award in the 10th Mumbai International Film Festival, 2008 organised by the Films Division. All his documentaries are made significantly identifying and highlighting the important aspects of subject tracing it from its origin and coming down to the contemporary situation. Deer on the Lake highlights traditional fishing culture of Phum Thaba, incorporated with singing folk songs for fishing. The practice of such traditional fishing culture is no more today. In Lai Haraoba, it depicts creation of earth followed by human beings, and all the flora and fauna and so in, drawn from Manipuri cosmology. He made Orchids of Manipur blended with Manipuri folk and classical music with unfolding the chapters of Leirol (Oral folk literature describing flowers). Syam Sharma describes 364 hand gestures of Lai Haraoba dances in Yelhou Jagoi. It would be interesting to analyse it comparing with the hand gestures of other Indian dance forms.



Government of India organized a special retrospective of the films of Aribam Syam Sharma in the International Film Festival of India 2015 at Goa. Red Carpet was rolled out to receive him while coming to attend the screening of Imagi Ningthem, the inaugural film of the retrospective at Maquinez Palace Theatre. He was accompanied by renowned veteran film artistes of Manipur Yengkhom Roma, Ksh. Rashi, who were leading actresses in Syam Sharma’s films and T. Leikhendra who acted as a child artise in Imagi Ningthem. Five feature films- Imagi Ningthem, Ishanou, Matamgi Manipur, Olangthagi Wangmadasoo and Paari, and nine documentaries-Koro Kosii, Lai Haraoba, Manipur Pony, Meitei Pung, Orchids of Manipur, Dear on the Lake, The Marams, The Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh and Yelhou Jagoi were screened. It was the first time to screen a large number of films in a retrospective of an Indian film maker, which did not happen before. It was a special retrospective in recognition of Syam Sharma’s immense contribution in Indian cinema.

Retrospective of his non-features was also organized by Films Division in Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2000. Another retrospective- “….And Miles to Go”, a tribute to Aribam Syam Sharma’s cinematic journey took place in the International Film Festival of India 2007. Government of India conferred him Padmashree in the year 2006.



Cinema goers crowd at screening of “Olangthagi Wangmadasu”

Aribam Syam Sharma has contributed two classic Manipuri films of Indian cinema. His Imagi Ningthem has been featured in 50 Indian Film Classics, a book of essays penned by film critic M. K. Raghavendra published by Harper Collins in 2009. His other classic- Ishanou was among 27 selected Indian films screened in the 43rd International Film Festival of India in 2012 during the celebration of Centenary Indian Cinema.



“I have always loved films. In my youth, I was introduced to films. I repeatedly saw some of the movies just to hear the songs. My first love was music. Later I had the chance to see films of Akira Kurosawa, Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray etc. much later. The film which deeply impressed me was Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik; I saw it at Bolpur while I was studying in Santiniketan. By then I realised the possibility of the medium but I never dreamed that I would one day be making films. My initiation into the world of filmmaking came accidentally”.


“The first Manipuri film had been made. This was in the year 1972. I never had any formal training in filmmaking. The making of the first Manipuri film was on the job training for me. The process of filmmaking that I saw and observed was a fascination for me and gave me invaluable knowledge about the technicalities of filmmaking like studio works etc. Shortly after this experience, I made my first feature film called ‘Lamja Parshuram’. In relatively quick succession there followed other films. All this while, I was faced with questions on the form and content of the film medium”.

“Making films in the initial stages in Manipur had significant creative challenges apart from the technical and financial ones. The cinema audience had already seen and experienced movies of Hindi and English since the first cinemas were built before the Second World War in Manipur. The effect, in the absence of a film movement from the region, was that the audience had been impressed by these films about what movies are”.

“And the repeated impressions to the public mind posed a challenge to create cinema peculiar to the region. Content had to be altered beyond the reality of the society to fit a pre-conceived, pre-impressed cinematic idiom foreign to the artistic sensibilities of the people of the region. As a filmmaker, working against this challenge needed a conscious effort to create cinema true to me. It was a huge challenge that needed time, failures and success and three films to convince myself, to create a form that would be true to me and my vision”.

“My first three films- Lamja Parshuram, Saaphabee and Olangthagee Wangmadasoo were a compromise to meet this expectation within the context or the culture and history of my people. I was fortunate to find stories rooted to the ethos and folkways of my society. And the tremendous success of these films in terms of box office returns, to my belief, was due to the content of the cinema and not much to the form that met the audiences’ expectations.



“I believe that as filmmakers, we need to return to our roots again and again to make films, which stand as works of art. Only then we can be able to bring both commercial and art house films that are true to our sentiments and beliefs.

I believe that cinema, a western invention and development with its schools of what should be and can be, should take root in the social millieu of the region for it to bear its flowers and fruits. It cannot be grafted or transplanted”.



“I would like to address the younger generation that they should have the courage to push the envelope of creativity. But an effort without clear vision borne out of conviction and faith would be hard to reach the goal. Experimentation has to be done to keep creative spirit alive but I recommend the experimentation be made with a purpose.”


All the films made by Aribam Syam Sharma will remain a great treasure of Indian cinema for posterity. One day they will trace it out and find the great works.

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