Amidst the traumatic, communal crisis that Manipur just witnessed, a Manipuri feature film ‘ISHANOU’, directed by Aribam Syam Sharma has been recognized as a World Classic with its lead actor, acclaimed film actor Kangabam Tomba, walking the Red Carpet at the prestigious 76th Cannes Film Festival.
Tomba attended the Cannes Red Carpet in full traditional Manipuri attire along with Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Dr. L. Murugan and other famous personalities of the Indian film industry.
Ishanou is the only Indian movie to be considered for the Cannes Film Festival’s Classic Section, which celebrates the restored versions of timeless classics. The movie features Anoubam Kiranmala and Kangjam Tomba and focuses on the Maibi culture of Manipur. Directed by Padma Shri awardee, Aribam Shyam Sharma, ‘Ishanou’ is a poignant tale of love and loss steeped in Manipuri culture. The drama skillfully highlights the co-existence of the occult and the physical in the same reality by contrasting the spiritual realm of the Maibis with the rhythm of daily life.
The story unfolds to the hypnotic sounds of the bamboo flute, the Pena (traditional string instrument), and incantation chants. The film’s authentic blend of storytelling, documentary, and ethnography is a result of the amazing direction, subtle acting, vivid portrayal of Maibi culture, and usage of Manipur’s traditional music in the soundtrack.
The film revolves around a female protagonist named Tampha, her husband and her children who are settled in a remote area of Manipur. Their lives are disrupted by a sudden change when Tampha leaves her family in search of the Maibi Guru whom she thinks has chosen her to be the matriarchal religious sect of Maibis. Manipur- the ‘Jewel city of India’, one of the eight sisters of North East has been a source of great interest and curiosity globally. This 91-minute feature film, produced in 1990 is a true classic in all its forms. It had previously been chosen as an official entry for the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category of the Festival de Cannes in 1991.
The film’s reels were preserved by the National Film Archives of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, government of India since 2012 in its vault. The Manipur State Film Development Society got the film restored through the Film Heritage Foundation’s Prasad Film Labs.
Sharing his thoughts on the film, Kangabam Tomba said, “As an actor, I feel deeply touched by how a small and happy family drastically changes when the wife is possessed by the spirit. In the Meitei belief, the daughter of Maibi also gets possessed by the spirit. The essence of Human connects, emotion depicted by well-crafted mind and hands of the gifted director Aribam Shyam Sharma is indeed an epic film.”
In his words getting such rare opportunity to walk the red carpet alongside the Minister and celebrities representing India is indeed an honour that one can attribute as one of the top privileges in this film industry. “Being in the film industry for several decades now I am indeed happy to have been given such an unparalleled opportunity which has now created a niche for Manipuri Cinemas at the World’s Cinema platform in particular for Manipur and for India as a country.” he says.
Cannes has always been a pivot of cultural and knowledge exchange acting as a bridge of empathy at the individual level, and amity at the national level between India and France. Last year India was the ‘Country of Honour’ at the Marche du Cannes.