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Date of Publish: 2015-12-09


When odds make life even

Iboyaima Laithangbam up close with Manipuri filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar whose “Phum Shang” is a part of the ongoing IFFI.

The name of Haobam Paban Kumar is etched in Manipur’s film making history for being the first director from the north-eastern State (in non-feature category) to have won the Swarna Kamal, the prestigious National Award. Imphal-based Kumar won it for the 52-minute moving saga “AFSPA 1958” in 2006.

The young filmmaker is back now with his documentary “Phum Shang” (Floating Life),a part of films to be shown in the ongoing International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa.  The 52-minute film, selected this past October for the first Bala Kailasam Memorial Award, 2015, instituted by Cinema Rendezvous -- a Chennai-based non-profit institute, is a moving saga of some of the least represented people of Manipur. It depicts the life of those fishermen who used to live in huts constructed on the floating bio mass of the State’s iconic Loktak Lake. In 2011, The State Government torched the shacks where they lived for generations as part of its drive to clean the lake of hyacinths. The film documents the plight of the helpless fishermen who never knew any other means of livelihood. The documentary depicts their loss of home and livelihood in the wake of the Government’s inadequate rehabilitation plan for the displaced.

Kumar exclusively speaks to nezine.com  about his work and what moves him as a filmmaker. Excerpts from the interview:

What prompted you to make “Phum Shang”?

I was doing a recce of my first feature film when I came across this particular floating village which suddenly disappeared. It shocked me and I became eager to know more about what happened to the displaced people. I kept aside the feature film idea and made the documentary instead.

How did you organise the funds for it? Did you face any difficulties while making the documentary?

I am very lucky that way. Whenever I decide to start a film, my team always supports me. Initially, we started on our own but then I approach the Films Division for financial support. We got a good budget for the film but then the shoot kept on dragging and we overshot.

What message did you want to convey through the documentary? Do you think it succeeded in conveying it?

I have always done films on contemporary subjects in Manipur, the subjects that moves me. For me, this film is ultimately about the celebration of life. I was blown away by the courage of these people.

Do you think the poor fishermen who have been there for generations were made pawns in the dirty game of institutional corruption? The State Government reportedly splurged Rs 400 crore in cleaning the lake of hyacinths, the reason it stated for displacing the fishermen.

There have been a lot of talks and reports in the media about the lake, the corruption related to the financial rehabilitation of the fishermen, etc. The claims and counter claims will always be there. The need of the hour is how to keep moving because life can’t be stagnant. I saw this in the fishermen. I simply loved their spirit. It was a do or die situation for them but they never gave up and tried to find other means of livelihood. They are hardworking as they always have been.

How justified is the Government’s claim that the fishermen were dirtying the lake? Is it not the rivers instead which are killing the lake by dumping all kinds of domestic rubbish round the clock?

It’s a fact that Loktak Lake is considered a dying lake and everyone is concerned about it. But the solution does not seem to lie in the burning down of a few huts in the lake alone.

How does it feel to be the first director from Manipur to be awarded the Swarna Kamal (for “AFSPA 1958”)? Do you feel you depicted well the plight of the victims of army excesses in the State and that you could convey the message well to filmgoers?

The award came as a surprise. Getting a national award is the biggest honour for a filmmaker. It means a lot to me too. It became even more special as it was not only the first one for me but the first for a director from the State. The reason why I chose the subject of the film is that as a filmmaker we can’t turn a blind eye to the happenings around us.

Are there any filmmakers who inspired you to in your work? Do you have any mentor?

I love to watch Andrei Tarkovsky, Krzsztof Kieslowski, Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Aribam Shyam Sharma, Wong Kar-Wai, Akiro Kurosawa, Oju Ole anyday. But then, I am yet to do my first feature film.

Please state something about your style of working. Do you have your own studio?

In my films, I try to present life as it is. My team is a family for me and we work together all the time.

What is the status of cinema in the North East in general and Manipur in particular? Why do you think the regional films are lagging behind others -- the Hindi and southern films?

Like elsewhere, there is a digital revolution happening in the entire region. People are making films for fun, entertainment and even money. But I feel now is the time to take cinema beyond fun and entertainment.

What’s next for you?

My first feature film “Nongmei”.

Select filmography of Paban Kumar

 PHUM SHANG                             



RUPTURED SPRING                   

16 min/Non-Fiction/2012



52 min/Non- Fiction/ 2010


 MR. INDIA                                     

47 min/Non- Fiction / 2009


THE FIRST LEAP                         

25 min/Non- Fiction / 2008


NGAIHAK  LAMBIDA                   

19 min/Fiction/ 2006


A CRY IN THE DARK                   

52 min/Non- Fiction/ 2006



AFSPA 1958                                 

77 min/Non- Fiction/ 2005

( The writer is a senior journalist based in  Imphal. He can be reached at imphalreport@gmail.com)









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