From California to Manipur documenting Laiharaoba, Pena and Folk music - Byron Aihara – Part II

James K: Can you tell us more about your relationship with Oja Khangembam Mangi the master pena musician of Manipur?

You were asking about my association with Oja Mangi? For those that don’t know, Oja Khangembam Mangi is the senior most “Pena Khongba” (Pena musician) of Manipur. He has been awarded every state honor there is and also has received the Padma Shri from the president of India (India’s 4th highest civilian award) for his achievements in traditional culture and music of Manipur. He is now over 90 years old and still an active musician and foremost expert on Lai Haraoba, and he is also an Amaiba, and traditional healer. He is a cherished living treasure amongst the Manipuri traditional arts scene. I was introduced to Oja Mangi through the folks of Laihui, who are Mahesh, Tiken, and Mangansana, I wanted to mention them because we are all kind of like a team. From the first day over a year ago that I met Oja Mangi, I knew I needed to be recording him, that this was my responsibility. That above and beyond everything else I should be working with him and recording his invaluable knowledge and storehouse of endangered traditional musics. You know that it is said that in cultures and their traditional folklore, songs are the first things to go. Foods, costumes, and ritual can continue but music and songs are so fragile, they are like delicate endangered songbirds, these traditional folk songs, and they are going extinct and disappearing right before our eyes, every day songs are disappearing from humanities repertoire forever. What to do? Well thankfully these days there is very affordable digital video and recording devises that are available on the market. Modern technology has made it possible for just about anyone with the desire to make high quality digital field recordings. So this is what I’ve started doing, and it is people like Oja Mangi, the old master musicians, who we need to start with first. And I will be frank and direct when I say, we should start with the old musicians first, because they are are growing older and soon will disappear, as life has it, right before our eyes, and we will deeply regret it and if we have a conscience we will be haunted in our dreams when they are gone and we didn’t do all we could to in some way preserve the knowledge they are so willing to pass on.

Oja Mangi is an expert on the epic Khamba Thoibi (the Manipuri song poem story) performance. His version of Khamba Thoibi is about 70 hours long, and he can still do the whole thing. Can you believe that? He can sit down and over days he can play and sing 70 hours of the Khamba Thoibi story from beginning to end. Its mind bending, this is the grand tradition of Manipuri folk music! The story is 500 to 600 years old and Shakespearian in depth and character. Once you get into the details of Khamba Thoibi its really entertaining too. And well the fact is, no one has ever recorded the whole thing. This is the Meitei people’s historical epic story, and no one has as yet to record its performance in full. And then yes its endangered, as there are really, according to what Oja Mangi has told me, only four people living who can still do the story in full, and Oja Mangi is the oldest.

Then also Oja Mangi is the foremost expert on Kanglei style Lai Haraoba. One has to just think about this one fact, he is over 90 years old and has been Pena Khongba in Lai Haraoba’s since he was about 12 years old. Oja was actually awarded by the Royal “pena loishan” to officially wear the sacred “Khamu Chappa” (eggplant snake pattern cloth) at lai haraoba when he was like 14 years old, which would have been around 1932 right, even before WWll right? This means that Oja Mangi has over 75 years of official Royal and state approved lai haraoba experience! We are not talking about bookish scholarly writing, or armchair philosopher conjecture, this is 75 actual years of living experience and gained knowledge of Lai Haraoba. That is the importance of Oja Mangi, and the other elder musicians of Manipur traditional arts. They are the real authentic people. I would call them living treasures. When I met Oja Mangi and I said to myself, “Oja, I promise I am not going to let you slip through my fingers.” So over the past 16 months I have been recording as much as I could, so that I have about 40 hours of music and documentary video with Oja Mangi. I can say it was not easy, but it was so worth it. I followed Oja to three Lai Haraoba festivals, and over 20 ritual events, and we also recorded about 20 hours of the Khamba Thoibi epic song. Eventually Oja asked me to live in his house, so we spent over two months living together.

James K: I know you have also been recording other music too. Tell me about Mangka and the Laihui group, who seem to be the new rising stars of traditional Manipuri music? I think you called this a revival? What do you mean by that?

Yes yes, Laihui and Mangka. So as a theme in my project Oja Mangi exemplifies and represents the old master musician. My second focus of recording and research has been, what I might call, “The modern take on the traditional”. And representative of this is the young Manipuri folk artist Mangka, and the Laihui musical group. Over the past year and a half I have been following and documenting this phenomenally talented young woman who had been playing a big part of the new revival of Manipuri traditional folk music. This new revival with artists like Mangka and Laihui, and some other artists like my friend Pinky Saikhom who also sings Moirang Sai, and the young son of Pena Achoba of Moirang who is carrying on Pena in Moirang, and Rojit Meitei of Kakching who is carrying on the pena traditions in Kakching. These young folks and their passion for the music is what will hopefully keep traditional Manipuri Moirang Sai and the numerous Pena styles alive, and also serve as catalyst to inspire other young kids to follow. So this following of the old and the new are my two main themes of research.

James K: We have talked before about your searching for, “the authentic image”, can you talk about that?

Then there is the third subject which I am really interested in which is Lai Haraoba, the traditional ancient Ancestor worship festival of the Meitei and Chakpa of Manipur. Many people have asked me why I am interested in Lai Haraoba? Which is a very good question. I am not a scholar, I am a film maker, photographer, and an artist and I am not a Manipuri, so why should I be so interested in this subject? So I want to tell people that I am approaching Lai Haraoba with the greatest of respect, and to do this I have to come to it from the honest perspective of an outsider, looking in, trying to understand, and also participating and experiencing and saying, OK here is what I saw, this is how I saw it. The beauty of Lai Haraoba in all its aspects is undeniable, and I am just going for that, the music, dance, and rich authentic ritual beauty that it possesses. Over the past year and a half, I attended ten different Lai Haraobas, and three of them in full from beginning to end. I attended Moirang, Kakching, Chakpa, and Kanglei Haraobas. I was lucky enough to attend the Chakpa Phayeng Lai Haraoba for two years in a row where I lived with and was advised in my research by the Khullakpa’s village leaders families and elders. Phayeng holds a 10 day Lai Haraoba so I actually lived in Phayeng village for the duration of those festivals. in 2014 I followed Oja Mangi to three Lai Haraobas, and lived with him in the laibung documenting and recording the life of the Pena Khongba. I also followed Ima Dhoni Amaibi (the head amaibi of JN Manipur Dance Academy). All in all I’ve shot and recorded over 50 hours of music, dance, and ritual, and took over 30,000 photographs during actual Lai Haraoba. This is not cultural program or staged performances; I filmed and shot actual Lai Haraoba as they happened in the real and authentic setting. I captured hours of Ima Dhoni Amaibi leading dances, and hours of Oja Mangi singing and playing on pena in the ritual setting. And tens of hours of actual Phayeng Lai Haraoba. Besides all this I also participated, I was asked to and danced for the pleasure of the Umang Lai in the forest of Chakpa Phayeng during their Lam Thokpas, and on the Laibung at Hibongpokpi for Laibou Jagoi.

This all brings me full circle back to talking about my recording and film project, Ehool.

James K. Yes so you have been researching, photographing, recording, and filming and now your plan is distribution? You have made a production company called Ehool? Tell us a little about that.

With these projects I have been pursuing in Manipur I have made a new production company, It is called Ehool Films, and the long name is Ehool Manipur Music and Films. The goal is to help preserve the rich traditional dance, music, and rituals of Northeast India, with a focus on Manipur. The tools of Ehool are photography, video, and music field recording, writing, and the internet. Its a big project you know and only really just beginning. One exciting development is that I was able to get a book deal to publish a book of photographs on Manipur Dance and Ritual. The publisher is Vajra Books based in Kathmandu, who are one of the highest quality publishers in South Asia. We have made a deal to create a 250 to 300 page book of my color photographs, which will be coming out sometime later this year. No one has really done a book like this before on Manipur traditional culture. We will keep you informed of the details on the Ehool Facebook page. So besides publishing this initial book of photographs. I want to distribute the videos and musics from the 2013 to 2015 recordings. I will be uploading many videos to YouTube and other online viewing sites for public distribution. I will also be distributing music in the same way. Then I also will be creating music albums of particular music that will go up for sale, with the proceeds going directly back into the project and also pay the artist themselves. I also have enough material for a documentary film about Chakpa Phayeng Lai Haraoba, and I want to make a film on the Amaibi. Then in the next year I want to go back to Manipur to continue this work. We hope then to finish our recording of Oja Mangi and complete his version of the Khamba Thoibi story. Then my next phase is to head into the hills and try to find some authentic hill tribe musics. So even though I am for the time being no longer in Manipur am keeping really busy. I am totally out of money too. I spent a year and a half of my own money and all of my life savings to do the work I’ve done so far. But I have faith that If I do the right thing, it will turn out all right? My philosophy is that if you spread the music, and the more people you reach, and if you stay positive, then the more opportunities will come. What did John Lennon say? “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”



From California to Manipur documenting Laiharaoba, Pena and Folk music - Byron Aihara – Part I

Byron Aihara is a Photographer and Film maker who has been independently researching Manipuri Dance, Music, and Ritual for a 16 month period during 2013 to 2015. Mr. Aihara has just returned to his home in California, and he has been interviewed by James Khangenbam for Manipur Times to talk about his self and motivations for spending so much time in Manipur to research and record its varied traditional cultures. James also asks Byron about his documentation project, and distribution company, Ehool Manipur Music and Films. and also about his close personal relationship with Oja Mangi the foremost Pena exponent of Manipur. Byron also announces that has also garnered a book deal with a publishing company and his book of photographs on Manipur Dance and Ritual will be coming out sometime later this year. They also talk about the aspirations and motivations he has for filming, recording, and distributing the musics and ritual performances of Manipur. A Facebook page of this project, Ehool Films can be found at this link.

James Khangenbam: Hello Byron, I know we have known each other for a while now but for our readership can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in California, my grandparents moved to the United States from Japan about 100 years ago. So I am what in The States is called a Japanese/American and I am very proud of this ancestry. You know I have always been interested in movies and I actually took up photography when I was 13 years old, using my father’s old film and Super 8 movie cameras, and I have been shooting ever since. When I was 20 years old I went to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and was accepted to their School of Film and Television, and graduated with a BFA degree in Fine Arts. My major was focused on production and ethnographic documentary film and also critical film studies.

I worked in Hollywood for couple of years but the industry didn’t suit me. So I quit and moved away from Los Angeles for many years and did other things. I wandered for a while, years actually and eventually I became a commercial fisherman on the California sea coast fishing for big money in the Pacific Ocean, and during the off-seasons I took jobs as a journeyman carpenter learning to build homes. I even worked as a bread baker and French pastry chef for a while at a couple of high end exclusive bakeries in Northern California. So I did many things. So the time went by and my passion for films never went away. I wanted to do some documentary films. I was awarded some funding and directed and produced a series of half hour documentaries on street culture and fashion as it was in my home town of Santa Cruz, which if you don’t know, Santa Cruz, California is historically one of the enclaves of the original Hippy Culture, its near San Francisco where the Summer of Love started in the 1960s.

Then 10 years ago, with a friend, for the adventure of it, I first traveled to India. From that first experience of travel to what was for me “a far away land” my life hasn’t been the same since. I fell in love with travel and I started to come to India every year. For a photographer, India is like a visual paradise you know? I was looking for a good feature documentary film project too. So in 2006 I was traveling in Madhya Pradesh, way off the beaten track in the country side and in our journey we came across this small magical town called Chanderi. It was a town made up of hand weavers who produced saris, it was a beautiful 1000 year old town, half muslim and half hindu and they made a special cloth there, a cotton muslim of such fine and legendary gossamer quality that it had been given its own name, and it was called Chanderi Sari. I was there and I said to myself, this is my subject for a documentary film, and over the next couple of years I went back three time and lived in the town for over 6 months filming a movie and this all eventually became my first feature documentary called “Marriage in Chanderi”. I was the director, cinematographer, editor, and producer.

So after this was completed I was searching for a new project. I was looking for another subject to make more documentaries. I always wanted to come to Northeast India, and I had traveled before in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, where I was introduced to some traditional folk singing. This Northeast Hills music I became totally fascinated with. It had beautiful textures, harmonies, and rhythm and when I returned to the United States I was haunted by the few sounds and images I had recorded, and I though, this music of the Northeast of India, this haunting and endangered traditional music of Northeast India could be my new subject for filming and recording. But I really had no point of reference and no real contacts who knew about these musics.

At home in the states I trolled YouTube and other music web sites for traditional music from the Northeast India states and there was little to nothing to see online. This was five years ago, and back then Northeast India was virtually un-walked territory for an outside Westerner who was interested in film and traditional music studies. This whole unexplored area made me want to go there even more and I became obsessed with wanting to come to the far off spots in the Northeast. Then I saw some tiny YouTubes on Manipuri Ras Lila and was amazed, I had never seen anything like that. Then I saw this short 10 minute YouTube video of Manipuri folk music, of these two young musicians named Mangka and Marjing singing and playing this amazing music on an unusual one stringed bowed instrument. I said to myself then and there, “I have to go to this place”, this Manipur place!” That is how I found out about Manipur and its music.

So from these couple of smalI YouTube videos I decided to travel half way around the world from my home in California to Manipur. I did not know anybody though, I had zero connections. I went online to social networking to Facebook and found one of the Manipur Photography Club communities. I sent messages to people who were posting pics there, and long story short only two people answered back, it was Arbind Sorokhaibam and William Gurumayum, who I am forever in debt to for answering me. I FB messaged them that I wanted to come to Manipur and make recordings of folk music. They said, yes OK come. So I flew to Manipur, Arbind and William met me at Imphal airport and they helped me find a hotel to stay. The very next day, all on my own on my first full day in Manipur I walked from my hotel on foot to JN Manipur Dance Academy (JNMDA), Manipurs famous Indian government school of dance. I walked right through the gate and then arriving right at that same moment in his car, as if by providence and perfect timing was the academy’s lead choreographer Lokendrajit Singh. We didn’t even know each other, had never met, and I walked up to him and he extended his hand and like an old friend he immediately invited me into his office and he had some cha brought over and we sat and had a long hours long talk about music and dance. That is how I met “ Oja” Loken. He was the first musician I actually met in Manipur. I told him that I was interested in authentic traditional musics, not staged or cultural program material but traditional musicians in traditional settings. He told me that if I wanted to learn about traditional music of Manipur I should look for an musical instrument called the “pena”, and if I wanted to know more about pena I should meet a man named Mangansana who had a place called “Laihui” where this music was played. We actually got in Lokendrajit’s car that very same day and he drove me across town to Laihui (Laihui Center for Research on Traditional and Indigenous Performing Arts) to meet Mangansana, and it so happened that Mangansana was the father of the two young musicians I had watched in the YouTube video, Mangka and Marjing that video which had first interested me in coming to Manipur. So it all started just like that. I met Oja Mangansana and from that meeting everything opened up and all at once I was taken in and welcomed to the inner circle of Manipuri traditional singers and performing artist.

So it was through Oja Mangansana and Laihui that I was introduced to the peoples and traditions what has become my focus of interest for the past year and a half, which is the recording of traditional music, dance, and rituals of Manipur. Originally I was only planning to stay in Manipur for 30 days at the most. I first came to Manipur in November of 2013 and I continued to live off and on in the state until March of 2015 when I finally returned back to my home in the United States. It has been a 16 months period of work and research and my archive of material has grown to over 60,000 photographs and over 120 hours of video, field music recordings, and extensive written notes and text.


To be continued ..

Abok pishak - the veteran artiste’s 94 years long journey in acting art

Despite her growing age and weakening body, her passion for acting in films never gets exhausted.  How strong for her enthusiasm for the art of acting is that she can even ignore everything including her personal problems or ailments whenever somebody starts talking to her bout film shooting. She is none other than Lourembam Pishak Devi, a 94 years old veteran artiste, the grand old woman who still relentlessly contributes her part in Manipuri feature films.  

Popularly known as Abok Pishak, Laishram Ningol Lourembam Ongbi Pisak Devi wife of late Lourembam Ibotombi hailing from Wangkhei Prna Rajbari, Imphal east is one of the living senior most veteran Manipuri film artiste who still contributes her role towards promoting Manipuri films actively despite her growing  age. In the journey of Manipuri film, although many artistes have got retired while many others passed way with the swift changing of time, Abok Pishak who is highly acclaimed for her role of a mother or elderly grandmother in film, is relentlessly her role in Manipuris films.

Since my early days, Acting becomes my passion of life. My passion for acting never gets exhausted that I still feel to act in films till my last breath, said the 94 years old veteran artiste, said Abok Pishak while talking to Manipur Times in a recent interview.

Manipuri Celluloid and digital films Abok Pishak acted:-

 The 94 years old veteran film artiste had acted in several Manipuri celluloid and digital cinemas . She acted in Manipuri celluloid films including Mayophygi Macha, Aroiba Natte, Thawanmichakna Kenkhrabada, Amambasu Anganbani, Yenning Amasung Likla. Among the digital films in which she acted include Thengmallabar radhamanbi, Reporter, Chang si Chang, Eisu Mini, Ngamloi Eidi Kainaba, Shakthibi Tampha, Star, Praligi Meiri, Ei Amuk Hallakhini, Loktak Patki Thoibi, Panthungi Wangma, Makar, Khongpham Ama soibada, Hiyang Athouba, Nangna Mama Oibiyu etc.

Apart from films, she acted in many documentary films, Dramas and Tele films to her credit. She acted in the documentary films ‘Ras Lila’, Laibakthibi’, Mangsatagi Mang’ Changyeng Amada Mamado Angaobido and in the Tele plays of DDK Imphal entitled ‘Changyengduda’, ‘Dakhinagi natte’.

Her Yester-year journey :-

Born to Laishram Julon Singh and Chandani Devi as the youngest among three daughters on November 21, 1923, she started her acting career from her tender age of seven when she for the first time acted the charater of Kusha in a drama ‘Lava Kusha’ which was exhibited at Keishamthong Moirang Ningthou Leirak regarding the birth anniversary of Manipur King Churachand Maharaj. Her grandfather Laishram  Ibungoton was the man behind her acting career in Theatre, Dramas, Music and dance.  Being the artiste of Meetei Chanu Lila Party, a party exclusively of female artiste, she also acted in many Shumang Lila plays like Pravas Khand, Manbhajan, Muruli Horon, Kalanka Bhajan, Manipur Phongba etc exhibited in different parts of the state. They played the shumang Lila lays under the guidance of Chongtham Ningthemjao, Kalachand Shastri, Tongbram Khoimu.

After marriage, I had to leave my acting career for many years due to intervention from y husband. I felt so emotional. It is one of the inconveniences most female artistes use to face in their career.  The opportunity to come back in my acting career came to me late at my 60 years of age only when my husband relented to the pressures of MK Binodini and Khuraijam Amubisana. Thengmallabara Radhamanbi of Ningthouja Lancha was the first feature film in which I got the chance of acting.

 The veteran artiste began her acting career with a full theatre background. The dramas in which she acted include Ramayan whwerein she took the character of Kusha, Bhakta Raja (role of Jamuna), Beigyachandra (role of Kuranga Nayani and Laishrabi), Mainu Pemcha (role of Pemcha), Urirei Madhabi (Madhabi and Thambalsana), Nal Damayanti (role of Damayanti), Shahajahan (supporting actress) and Krishna Lila (Shakhi).

Achievement in Art :-

Abok pishak who is an AIR Imphal Approved dramatist and Monoharsai Singer was awarded special jury Award for her role of a tribal elderly woman in the Manipuri feature film ‘Mayophygi Macha’, certificate of honour during the celebration of 25 years of Manipuri cinema organized by Manipur Film Development Corporation, Special Jury Mention Award in the Festival of Manipuri Cinema 2007, Mother of Manipuri film title by PAFINLA Foudation, Natya bhusan conferred by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad. Film Academy Manipur also awarded her the prestigious Life Time Achievement Award in recognition of her relentless contribution in the field of Art.

Present Life:-

She now spends her life in the worship of Shri Shri Ramji Prabhu at Wangkhei Ningthem Pukhri Mapal and being the Guru of Sana Pala of Shri Shri Ramji Prabhu at Wangkhei, she is teaching many disciples in the art form.   

Lamenting on the deteriorating trend in morality and discipline among the Manipuri woman, she said,” Manipuri society have witnessed a great change in morality, discipline and dress among the Meetei woman nowadays with the tune of time. Many girls are seen wearing pants ignoring traditional fabric Phanek while most married woman lacking in discipline and defying the social costume prevailed in Meetei society for decades long. It is a costmary for all the married Meetei women to cover their heads with cloth locally called ‘Innaphi’ . Those women who were found not covering their heads with Innaphi cloth were punished during the time of King Churachand Maharaj. The changing trend in discipline and costumes in Manipur society we witness today will defile the age old tradition and the beauty of Meetei identity, maintained the veteran artiste.  

If an artiste dreams to achieve the goal he or she desires, working with great enthusiasm and dedication is a must. Otherwise, he will not achieve the goal he desires, she observed while appealing the younger artistes to work with full understanding of the value of art and respect for the seniors.



The making of Mary Kom- the film

A biopic on Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, who is a five times World Boxing Champion and an Olympic medalist, will soon hit the screens next month on 5th September across the country. But how many knew MC Mary Kom or Mary Kom before the trailer featuring Priyanka Chopra was released months back. It took a Bollywood film with names such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Priyanka Chopra to grab attention of the entire nation. The film titled Mary Kom instantly garnered more than a million hits on its trailer since its release on YouTube.

Much has been written on the authenticity of the characters played by Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom. Many even wrote on how actors hailing from the northeastern region should have been cast in the lead role.

That aside, this biopic will show Mary Kom as an Indian boxer who hails from Manipur’s Kangathei village and who fights all odds to be the champion she is today. Speaking to Manipur Times, Saiwyn Quadras who has written the screenplay of Mary Kom said that the challenge was not to make the film look like a documentary and yet to make it look as real as possible. He has written the film in a way that it showed the struggles she went through as a woman sportsperson who had to wade through opposition from her father, politics and eventually making a comeback after a long career break. 

Saiwyn has been writing for almost ten years now, initially for non-fiction television. It has been six years since he forayed into writing for films. Mary Kom is his maiden film and he considers himself fortunate and takes pride in the fact that he is part of making of the film Mary Kom.

Saiwyn has been following her story in the sports pages and the web, which later helped him write her story. “I have been following Mary Kom's exploits on the international stage for almost a decade now. I read about her victories in small corners of the sports section. I remember reading about how she struggled her way up to reach where she was and how her struggle was still ongoing,” adds Saiwyn. 

It occurred to him that despite Mary Kom’s achievements as a boxer, she is not really known in the country. And that’s when he started writing the script of the film in 2011 and took two years to complete. He approached Omung Kumar with Mary Kom’s story of her struggle and achievements. Omung who is making his directorial debut with it had not heard of Mary Kom before, but was amazed at the fact that a world champion boxer was not known in the country by majority of the Indians like him. The same year when he started writing the script, he arranged a meeting with Mary Kom with the help of her manager, Jimmy. She could hardly believe that a Bollywood film is going to be based on her life.

Saiwyn’s research for Mary Kom was done through content available online, newspaper archives, online videos, telephonic interactions and emails with Mary and Jimmy. What struck him first about Mary Kom was her appearance which was in contrast to her feisty self once in the ring. She was stylishly dressed and her affinity for nail-art, her girly nature and forthright and honest demeanour was what surprised Saiwyn. Mary Kom in her interactions with Saiwyn and Omung, was very honest and forthcoming when it came to the details of her life and became a significant input in the screenplay that Saiwyn was writing.

Ever since the trailer of Mary Kom was released, many raised doubts that Priyanka Chopra has no resemblance to Mary Kom’s ethnicity and this might make the film look unrealistic. Saiwyn has a different view on this. He says Mary Kom is an Indian first and this film will open the eyes of many Indians. He further says that Mary Kom’s home state is an Indian state. He says the aim of the film is to show her story to the world and concentrating on the ethnicity is not significant. According to him, the efforts made by everyone who are part of the film should not be belittled with speculations and Priyanka Chopra who plays Mary Kom has put in her best and has worked hard as much as she can.

Expectations are high and speculations are inevitable when the film is about an Indian woman sportsperson who has been through a lot of struggle and is now a World Champion. The biopic is also significant because she hails from the remote part of the country, a village of Manipur. We will see actors from Manipur and Assam portraying prominent roles in the film. Model and actor, Lin Laishram will be playing Mary Kom’s childhood friend and a boxer in the film. Other actors, like Rajni Basumatary and Kenny Basumatary also play key roles in the film. Will this help talented actors like them break the ethnic discrimination they face in the mainstream film and modeling industry? Mary Kom may also bridge the disconnect that exists between the Northeast and the rest of India. With just a week left before the film’s release, excitement is building up in the entertainment sector. The unfortunate part is that the film that is based on a woman sportsperson from Manipur will not be released here. We still do not know if the underground organizations in the state will make an exception and allow the film to be released.


Indira Akoijam freelances with Manipur Times and is currently working with a media research house in New Delhi. For feedback, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

‘Chingda Satpi’ Manipuri folk on a jet plane

“In this globalised world, the indigenous people of the northeast India have become a race of receivers. Look at the technology around us, our dress, lifestyle, our education; everything has been imported from the outside world. If you ask what is our contribution to the outside world? There is nothing”. 

Propelled  by this thought process; the award winning filmmaker Oinam Doren is now on his latest mission to produce a music CD album and a DVD by the budding young talented Manipuri folk artiste Mangka Mayanglambam titled “Chingda satpi” which he plans to release in the month of August this year. The limited edition music CD will comprise of 8 folk songs and 2 contemporary versions of two selected folk songs fuse with guitars, drums and bass. The DVD will contain a music video and a short film.

“A huge amount of money is required for this project.  And investment is a huge risk as piracy has collapsed the music market. So I decided to raise funds through pre-order of the CDs & DVDs. I am grateful that some people have donated generously and I am planning to acknowledge their names in the creatively designed multi-folder CD/DVD cover.”

Doren also reiterates that it is not a money making venture. “When I was growing up as an adolescent, I was looking for role models, someone I could identify with and I found them in the form of rock stars all around me in MTV, magazines and music cassettes that were all over the place. So I grew up trying to imitate them whose lifestyles were quite alien to my culture or context. In Mangka I see the talent and personality to be our next culture icon, someone our new generation can identify with and get inspired”. The Manipur society is filled with talented artists but they remain and perished in the local domain as none of them has the communication or marketing skills.  According to Doren, he doesn’t want artist like Mangka to perish in Imphal valley like the flower ‘ingellei’ growing in the hills that remain unnoticed. He wants her to be our cultural ambassador around the world. “I have some experience with how the national and international music concerts and performances function. A good quality music CD, a slick music video and an artist website is a good starting point. From there, very smart networking and marketing to the right people can put her on a jet plane”.

 Ourvillage Films, the Company founded by Oinam Doren that is doing the production of the ‘chingda satpi’ music project was established in 2008 with the objectives of making local films for an international audience. In that same year, he could win development support from Goteborg International film festival, Sweden for a feature film project out of hundreds of applications worldwide. At present, it is working on a number of major projects that are in various stages of production. The films produced by Doren under the company are listed in IMDB, screened in a number of film festivals worldwide, won awards and is being distributed by the Times Group.  The DVDs are available in all leading DVD stores across the country and online shopping sites like Flipkart, Amazon, Times shopping etc. He is also the Winner of the National award, the highest filmmaking award in India given by the President.  

Doren also writes on contemporary music, cinema for magazines and is invited regularly to conferences and seminars across the country to deliver on independent filmmaking and indigenous music.

Any individual who wish to pre-order or contribute to the ‘Chingda satpi’ music project can do so by writing to him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For individuals in India donating Rs.500 will be presented one CD+DVD while Rs.1000 donor will be offered two CDs+two DVDs. Three CDs+three DVDs with an autograph by the artiste will be offered to Rs.1500 donors. Individuals or organisation that contributes more than Rs.3000 will be honoured with their names in the CD+DVD multi folder cover in addition to the gifts.

It is very difficult to find a folk music CD in the market while CDs for Manipuri modern songs, Bollywood and western rock/pop are easily available. In this context, Doren shares with us his woes.  “Recently, two filmmakers from England came to Manipur to shoot a film on the world boxing champ Mary Kom. I wasn’t happy with some New York filmmakers who used bhangra music, tabla and sitar on a base ball film set in Manipur.  So one evening, I told these London filmmakers of the musical crime the New York filmmakers committed and they should not repeat it. They demanded to give some music CDs to sample the local folk songs and music. But none were available in the market.  So I took them to oja Mangangsana, the artistic director of Laihui. A contract was made and some music delivered as score for the film”.

In order to nurture our rich cultural heritage, we need to cultivate more cultural icons in our society.  We are exposed to our folk music only during festivals which happens once or twice in a year while our younger generation are exposed to other alien music and culture everyday through television, music and movies. If we have to lure back this future generation to our culture and identity, we have to flood our media and the market with much stylised local cultural content.  They may even find its way to the international market just as the American music industry has done here. This are some of the reflections Doren made to me about his initiative to produce such a music project ‘chingda satpi’.

I walked away with the thought lingering in my head that any art work produced with quality will surely be able to spot a niche in the international market just as the Korean music oppa Gangnam style that became famous globally. Can ‘chingda satpi’ take our folk music on a jet plane is a query time will tell.



Junichi Kajioka – Japanese Actor Director Love for Manipur

I will do further editing of my short film Imphal 1944 and screen it in Japan with Japanese subtitle around October this year in a commemoration ceremony for World War 2 reconciliation. I am visiting Japan with the Burma Campaign Society in October.

Junichi uses symbols and relics in his short film to represent the reconciliation process. The handkerchief which a Japanese war survivor Japanese returns to another survivor in the United Kingdom means a lot.

He uses symbol and lyrics. It shows the humane side of the Japanese soldier who overhears the story of the handkerchief which an allied soldier from London has with him. Many years he travels to England and tries to give back the handkerchief to the soldier’s friend. The handkerchief was given to the soldier by his beloved before he set out for war as a soldier. The Japanese soldier has fulfilled something by giving back the handkerchief which is a symbol for his reconciliation work.

The friend who receives the handkerchief after 70 years gives the handkerchief back to the Japanese soldier in return which mark the beginning of his own path of reconciliation.

It is significant that both Japanese and British ex-soldiers are intent on reconciliation.

It is a fictional film inspired by Masao Hirakubo a Japanese War veteran who survived the Second World War and dedicated his life to reconciliation.

Making of Imphal 1944

Junichi took 6 full days to shoot the film. From pre-production to post production it took him four months to produce the short film which he will now be reworking with Japanese subtitles and a final editing touch.

Imphal 1944 is the first directorial short film of Junichi.

The film was shot in London. His team members included 10 actors, most of whom offered their services for free. The make-up artists and post-producton music were also paid, while the rest of the team including crew volunteered for this film.

“I had to find a new make-up artist for the very next day as one left unexpectedly and I had to find a new one immediately. For me every day was a struggle. Three hours of makeup was needed as I was playing an old man character in the film” says Junichi.

He uses roses, cherry blossom and lillies to represent England, Japan and Imphal respectively in his movie.

“I completed the short film in a very short period of time in order to screen it at the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal.”

Imphal 1944 was shot with a very limited budget. The movie is 30 minutes in length. “The main thing I could ensure that the film carries an important message of peace and reconciliation. It was interesting to see how I could do this with such limited resources,” Junich explained frankly. “I need support for making a full length version of the film.”

Dreaming of shooting a feature film on world war two at Imphal:

He wants to imbue the full length film with the rich culture of all three nationalities portrayed in the film. “Although the film will need to show the reality of the battle of Imphal”, says Junichi, “it will also show human values, and eventually a way forward from the tragedies of war.”

Junichi is keen to shoot the war time scenes in Manipur and hopes that the film can show the beauty of the area as well as the horrors of war. He also expressed that his film could be a starting point for better tourism for Manipur. “When people who see the film learn some of this ‘forgotten war’ they will hopefully want to learn more and start to trace the locations and places which are currently unknown to them. Film is a good medium for people to discover more stories”.

Junichi Kajioka’s career in films.

“I started acting in 1988 in Tokyo.  After seven years, I tried to find a new scene and went to drama school in China and then moved to the United Kingdom. Now I am trying to discover myself in Manipur! It’s been a short time here so far but has influenced me a lot. I have been acting for 25 years but now I have started directing to express my own artistic side

Being an actor is a small part of the participation in a film, but being a director allows a much greater scale of input. I am quite satisfied with my new career direction of being both an actor and a director. I have lots of ideas, and feel I can do a lot more!

My first drama film is a small budget film. I play around with two Japanese, two British people and some sound effects. If the budget is bigger we can create so  much more. I want very much to engage people in our recent history and help open up inquisitive debate. Young people  in particular would benefit a lot from learning about our past.

So far Junichi Kajioka has acted in more than 46 projects.

Most interesting role so far – “I have to say Imphal 1944. That was interesting!

I got connected to Manipur through the Burma campaign society. Akiko the chairperson of the society lent me a lot of books to read. One of the books was written by Masao Hirakubo. Akiko contacted Rajeshwor a member of the Burma campaign society in Manipur who was a very valuable local contact.”

His love for Manipur

“I came here and connected with Manipuri people. I know the Manipuri people like Japanese and found out how they interacted with Japanese soldiers during the war time. This was a new discovery for me and that interested me greatly. I started thinking how to connect all things together in stories. ‘My Japanese Niece’ a film I signed up to with Mohen Naorem, a filmmaker in Manipur, will hopefully be made some time soon, but in the meantime I decided to make my own film and I asked Rajeshwor for permission to show the film during the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Impham. That was what spurred me on to complete the film in such a short time. I think the 30 minute version was right for this Anniversary commemoration but I will now be editing a shorter version which is more suited to other international audiences.”

Personal life

I left Japan when I was 25 years old in 1995. For three and half year I was in China and then moved to London, alhough I know have very fond feelings also for Manipur.

“I eat the pholla a local food here yesterday and it’s so  tasty!” says Junichi.


“ – making films is my new hobby, you have to be so dedicated and determined otherwise you can’t make a proper film.

But at present I am needing to do a lot of my own publicity, keeping everyone up to date with Imphal 1944 through social media sites like Facebook. It’s helping me get a lot of support for my film-making.”


“– I would like to collaborate with the local film makers, DOPs, make-up artists and will need to rely on them a lot.  Anyone interested in the project is welcome to get in touch.

I’d be interested in connecting with local singers and musicians so that the background music can be authentic and relate to regional Meitei songs.”

Junichi also wishes to bring in some film makers from England and other parts of the world and organize film festivals in Manipur. Hopefully then they will go back home and spread the word about Manipur. “Film makers from all over the world come and make films here!”

Tour and travels in Manipur

While Junichi was in Imphal he visited Loktak Lake, Ima Keithel, INA Museum and Kangla. He planted some flowers at Ima Keithel and planted trees at Heingang supporting Blooming Manipur in their cause for a green environment.   “It takes time for these plants to grow but it’s way of making a direct contribution to the environment and in time we will have more and more blossoms growing in Manipur.”

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