XONDHIKHYON - LIFE IN TRANSITION
Belonging to Moirangthem family, originally from a small village- Phumlou in Manipur, M. Maniram was born in Assam and now settled in Guwahati. He is an established film maker and scriptwriter in the Assamese cinema. His father Bolbihari who left his home in Manipur at the tender age of 14 to study Tailoring in ITI, Jorhat in Assam did not return home but continued to live there with his family. The family earned their living by opening a tailoring shop at Tinsukia. It was the place where Maniram learnt about films and film making. He used to watch a lot of films during his boyhood days in a cinema hall located adjacent to his father’s shop. That cinema hall became the film learning institute for Maniram, besides his formal education. He watched the films not only for entertainment but also observed various productions styles and techniques attentively.
Maniram directed his first Assamese film- Mon Jai (I feel like) in the year 2008 under his film banner- Moirangthem Movies. He scripted the film. The film was not only selected for the Indian panorama of the International Film Festival of India in 2008, but also it won the national film award for the best regional film in Assamese language of the same year. In the film, Maniram portrays the life of four educated unemployed youths hailing from lower middle class small town families in the backdrop of insurgency, corruption, influx of foreigners and unorganized society of the time. They all lived together in a rented house in Guwahati in search of jobs. One of them finds a job in another town. In sheer desperation, the other three hatch a plan to gather a huge capital for a business. They kidnap a trader’s son for ransom. They get the ransom but kill the hostage as they suspect that they will be arrested by police as identified by the hostage. However the ransom amount cannot bring them happiness. The other friend who has now joined in the Assam Civil Service once meets them while they are in the state of anxiety after the incident. He told them, “Life must go ahead from one step to another moving upwards”. Maniram has established himself as film maker who critically present the contemporary social and political evils. He explores the insights of the degraded society in his films; and it serves as a mirror of the society.
In his latest film-Xondhikhyon (Transition) (2014), Maniram exposes the socio-political system in depth by piercing its thick layers. The film was shown at the Contemporary Indian Film Festival held in May 2015 at Indian Habitat Centre in New Delhi. Xondhikhyon was the inaugural film of ‘New Horizons from North East’, the North East section of International Film Festival Indian, 2015held at Goa. The 95-minute film depicts the agony of a woman and her family when her husband Abinash Barua has been kidnapped by an insurgent group. It unfolds the layers of the different politics taking place behind the issue. The Government of India is taking up economic development measures in the North Eastern India opening the door for investors. Under the scheme, an Agarwala sets up the Luit Cement Factory at Bholukabari, a village of Tiwa tribes in Karbi Anglong under the PPP model after signing an MoU with the government. Abinash Barua, an officer of the Department of Commerce and Industries is appointed as OSD of the cement factory. The indigenous tribes of Bholukabari have already opposed the project. Revolutionary Sopon Gogoi has also given a statement to the media in protest of the project. The film begins with the camera focusing on a city where vehicles are moving slowly in dim light. Upon these visuals, credit titles roll on. It gives a meaning of lifeless life. Film is the composition of picture and sound. Maniram uses these two powerful elements appropriately. Sound comes first to narrate the story towards the end of the credit titles.
“On the other hand, today we enter into the third day of the kidnapping of OSD Abinash Barua. But the State Machinery fails in finding a clue to this issue. This incapability of the government is condemned by several organizations and individuals having social concerned. Terming the government as ‘Administration of God created by people’, revolutionary Sopon Gogoi has told to our correspondent”.
After the voice over, the actual picture of the story begins with the television telecasting the news, inside house of Abinash Barua. Sopon Gogoi is seen criticizing the society on the television screen.
“The ‘gods’ made by us can give or take away anything just like an invisible one. Like this, no trace of Abinash Barua. At a time when thousands are losing their dwelling houses and land due to floods, the capitalist like Zakaria, Jalan and Agarwala are busy building their earthquake proof palatial mansions on highlands”.
“Who made it possible? Aren’t the ministers elected by the common people responsible? And please remember my friends. I do not speak out of mere emotion unless I have valid proofs to substantiate my claims. I have the evidences and date with me”.
Despite all sorts of unrest in the society and the State, these ministers do not have even a second to come and see the conditions of their electorates. Why?? Because they remain busy in making plans to make money left and right by indulging in corruption. Undaunted about the State’s welfare, they are busy finding ways to plunder crores of public money. The price rise of every essential commodity is a nagging nail on our head and still they boast about providing meals to the common people an implausible low price”.
“Please rise and speak up against this for all should understand that ‘You don’t wait for a command when the cause is your motherland’”. The film shows the current practice of powerful television channels. It throws light to the audience about the unorganized situations of the land where the selfish leaders run it. The director utilizes the television news channel as a character of the film. During the newscast, the director introduces the characters and different situations happening in Abinash’s family. Brother-in-law Roktim desperately enters the house after the search of Abinash and meets mother. They are silent and do not exchange words. The domestic help holding a plate of rice seems to search somebody by entering every room. Abinash’s wife Papori is standing alone in the balcony.
Abinash’s father cleans his spectacles for watching television. Agarwala provides a car and his manager to Roktim for search of Abinash. They meet the chief of Bholukabari as they learn that Abinash has been kidnapped when the chief asks him to come. They also meet someone associated with an underground group to get the clue of the missing. When they meet the police, they are told that the police is launching active search for him. Abinash’s wife Papori becomes abnormal. She leaves home one morning. Roktim and his mother look for her. She has been found murmuring on a roadside. A psychiatrist says that her disorder is schizophrenia. In the television news, a young widow is sobbing on the dead body of her husband who has been kidnapped. Proceeding towards the television, Papori also joins the sobbing. While meeting the ministers, the ministers charge the opposition party. The opposition leaders also speak about the mistakes of the government. Once the Chief Minister comes to the family and consoles the little daughter of Abinash saying that one day her Papa will come home. Abinash’s mother bows to the feet of Chief Minister asking him to do something to save her son. The security personnel drag her away from the chief minister. The morning newspaper reports that the Abinash has been kidnapped by one ULTA. Police tells Roktim, “We have not got any information for their demand. They may also approach to you. Don’t worry”. In the evening television news, three demands are claimed for release of Abinash. Demands are payment of Rs 10 crores; return the land of the Luit Cement Factory to the land owners and to release two ULTA cadres. Agarwala informs Roktim that he cannot return the land as well as pay Rs 10 crores. He has been invited by the government and has spent a huge amount for the project. In a high level meeting, Manoj Hazarika, an intelligent senior journalist is appointed as mediator to deal with the issue. Hazarika tells Roktim that he has communicated to the ULTA cadres. In television news, it telecasts the release of Abinash will be on Monday. Papori is extremely happy. Wearing a new Sari, she waits for her husband. Television reporters also arrive at her residence. Till the end of the day, Abinash has not been released. Roktim cannot bear to see the agony of his sister. He consumes liquor. He criticizes everyone with full of energy. He gives his statement, “This is the fault of our community, mere onlookers”.
When Roktim visits the mediator, the mediator avoids him and diverts from the issue. Roktim scolds him, “I am worried about my family and I selfishly say so. Do you have the capacity to save my sister from becoming a widow”? It is a morning at Abinash’s house. A girl newscaster is speaking before the camera, “Today is the21st day. Abinash is expected to be released today. There was a series of secret meetings between Manoj Hazarika and ULTA and came to consensus on few issues. Details are not known, but agreed to free Abinash. See how the whole family is hopeful and eagerly waiting to welcome him”. After a while, breaking news come in the television, “A series of bomb blasts have shaken the State once more. Within a span of one hour, it shook the capital of Dispur. Five bombs in upper and lower Assam. First blast took place at 10.45 am”.
Abinash’s daughter asks her mother whether her father is coming. Papori feels the tick-tock sounds of the clock in her house very harsh piercing into her ears. She breaks the wall clock and table clock by hitting it on the ground. The second indicator of the broken clock on the floor cannot move though it still sounds tick-tock. The indicator of the clock makes a symbolic reply to the questions of Papori. Maniram emphasizes on cinematic values redefining the film technology in narrating the story. He creates the film with elements of suspense. He maintains the tempo manoeuvring to avoid the anti- climax in the subsequent scenes of the film that begins with a climax. He puts poetic elements using clock with the effects of sound and music at the ending to give an impact to the audience. Sumon Dowerah’s flawless camera work deserves special mention. He beautifully captures different moods of the characters in close frames for ex
( Meghachandra Kongbam, is the Director of Information and Public Relations, Manipur. He won the Best Film Critic award during 2015. He also received the best film journalist award 2010, awarded by Film Forum Manipur. He drafted the Manipur Film policy on behalf of the government.)