Haobam Paban Kumar’s Manipuri film ‘Loktak Lairembee‘ (Eng: Lady Of The Lake) is the first film from Manipur to be released in Netflix.
The movie explores the life of fishermen living in huts built on floating biomass whilst addressing the socio-political factors that impact their daily experience. Under the tutelage of legendary Aribam Syam Sharma, Haobam did not bustle into regional cinema, and he also chose not to fit in. Truth, as they all say, is reiterated several times and it would be fair to say that the director’s first feature film painted an honest story in a multifaceted manner.
The working title of the film was ‘Nongmai’ which means ‘gun’ before it got changed to ‘Loktak Lairembee‘.
The film is about a guy who accidentally discovers a gun and he comes to the conclusion that it is that gun that could solve all his problems. The movie in layers addresses modern-day Manipur and the gigantic heaps of problems that local people face in the state.
I would have never imagined a worldwide release of my film hadn’t it been for Netflix… But at the end of the day, we have to make a good film.
A SRFTI graduate, his films reflect meticulous craftsmanship, and as a furious intellect at work, he says, “The film does not have a complex plot. I have been making documentaries for a very long time so when I finally decided to make my first feature film, I wanted a documentary- like treatment for the movie. Contemporary Manipur has always intrigued me, and I have put this across in my movie.”
The director who is essentially known for his documentaries confesses that making a fiction movie was a dream come true and he was happy about the fact that cinema never left his side. His feature film starred real characters and real people who were untrained and everything that came out on the screen was raw and unadulterated.
Having your own films do rounds of film festivals across the country and the globe expands your identity and the reach of your story to people around… It gives the independent filmmakers an economic support and it is a wonderful platform for artistic unity.
“I had gone to the location to recce for my fiction film but ended up making a documentary first. I thought it was a good idea because making a documentary takes you through courses of thorough research. That particular documentary almost took me three years and during the course, I also moulded my fiction story. The characters in the film got camera friendly whilst shooting the docu, and it got easier for me to do the feature film.”
And while Paban strongly believes in his small set of crew members, he adds that filming in the lake was the most difficult part. The biggest strength of a film are the visual powers that it possesses, but it was a difficult task travelling with the equipment in the small boats that were available in the location. The sound director happened to be unfamiliar with the local language and it got difficult for him, so Paban had to take some audacious chances with those works.
The fact that Paban uses films as a medium of communication makes the process of filmmaking an inevitability as well as a virtue.
“Manipur is greatly influenced by cinema or maybe it is vice versa. Having your film do rounds of film festivals across the country and the globe expands your identity and the reach of your story to people around. It helps you find a space and helps you express yourself. If you look into modern day cinema, I think film festivals are the only places where you have a proper projection and where people passionate about cinema can all unite irrespective of language, culture, genre and regions. It gives the independent filmmakers an economic support and it is a wonderful platform for artistic unity.”
…there is a dearth of educated filmmakers in the regional industry in Northeast India. There are very few graduates from film schools but a lot of people think that access to digital medium and taking small crash courses can easily help you make good cinema…
The director also bumps into the realization that the new technology has advanced the access and distribution of films.
“Earlier when directors like Aribamji made films, the Indian Panorama was the only platform where the programmers, distributors, and producers came and watched films. Now with the boom of social media, we have Facebook, Twitter and all such platforms where the distributors, festival programmers and everybody else from the film fraternity get in touch. We also have something called ‘Work-in-Progress’ Lab at India’s Film Bazaar where we can show our unfinished movie and even acquire some mentoring. However, we need to stop thinking about platforms and we should concentrate on our film. We need to focus on the story other than how it is actually told. I would have never imagined a worldwide release of my film hadn’t it been for Netflix, and sure it helps. But at the end of the day, we have to make a good film.”
While Paban’s films don’t lend ways to easy criticism, he says that filmmakers should educate themselves.
“I believe in education and I think there is a dearth of educated filmmakers in the regional industry in Northeast India. There are very few graduates from film schools but a lot of people think that access to digital medium and taking small crash courses can easily help you make good cinema. But no, you need to study cinema and we need to have a constant effort in the understanding of cinema, it’s a very technical field, after all. So I suppose that’s one reason why we don’t see quality cinema coming out that often. Budget is another factor, but not the biggest one. I would personally say that film education is very important.”
There is always someone who brings about a renaissance. Somebody who brings about the greatest amount of change; a transformation, a driving force that leads to a change. Paban believes that with quality content in regional cinema, change is assured.
He adds, “Nowadays it is easy to make a film, but difficult to make a good film. Above all, believe in yourself because believing is everything. Even Loktak Lairembee is a surreal story and it is about that. “Lai” means goddess and my film is about a spirit from the lake. Initially, when I discussed my script with my friends, all of them said that it was unrealistic. You don’t have to sacrifice personal perspective to a fleeting crystallization of a reality. I believed in my script and I think we got the movie the way I wanted.”