SN Chand : The father of Manipuri cinema

Meghachandra Kongbam
“He sold his own saleable properties and even mortgaged his homestead property. He left a Government job.   If the Brojendragi Luhongba was made in a studio, it could be completed early and marked as the first Manipuri film. But SN Chand didn’t like the studio made film. He strongly believed in the realistic approach of the New Indian Cinema movement while making his first film”

 Brojendragi Luhongba
MAKING A FILM in Manipur was then considered a distant dream owing to the poor economy, the meagre population and the limited audience. It needed huge investment, manpower and all the resources, besides engaging crew members and equipment from outside the State. Finding its market was beyond imagination. Bollywood movies had also flooded all the cinema halls numbering less than 15 in the State and the Manipuri audience were already engrossed in Bollywood movies- its story, stars and songs.
During the latter part of the 1960s and the beginning of 1970s – when the Indian film industry was at its zenith, and the New Indian Cinema also emerged- there was a strong feeling and urge among the people of Manipur who were in the field of theatre and allied arts to have their own films.
There was a strong film movement in Manipur created by the Film Society of Manipur established in 1966 and registered in 1969, the lone organization in the State and the third film society in North East India after Shillong Film Society and Guwahati Cine Club in Assam. And among the eminent personalities of theatre and allied arts, Sapam Nadiachand (1935-1989) aka SN Chand belonged to that era.
A multifaceted personality, SN Chand was the first Manipuri film director in Manipuri cinema when he completed his feature film Brojendragi Luhongba (Brojendra’s Marriage) in the year 1972. Armed with the knowledge of Italian neo-realism and the ‘New Wave’ of Indian Cinema, he picked up the short story penned by Dr Lamabam Kamal (1899-1935), the yesteryear’s great poet of Manipur to make the film. And he sowed the seed of the ‘New Indian Cinema’ in Manipur.
Like Dhundiraj Govind Phalke in making the first Indian film- Raja Harishchandra in 1913 and Jyoti Prasad Agrawala in making the first Assamese film- Joymati in 1935, SN Chand was also a one-man army shouldering various important responsibilities of producer, director, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, lyricist, playback singer, music director and the leading actor when there were no basic amenities available to make a film.
Early Life
Born on August 8, 1935 at Singjamei Mayengbam Leikai in Imphal, to Sapam Marei and Sapam Ibemcha, SN Chand inherited an abiding interest in music and performing arts from his parents who were in their own right, patrons of Manipuri traditional culture. But music was his first love. He studied classical music at Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapith, Lucknow from where he passed Sangeet Visharad and Sangeet Nipun. His interest in the performing arts led him into association with premier Manipuri theatre groups like Rupmahal Theatre,  Manipur Dramatic Union and Leimayol Arts Centre.
He served as a Hindi Translator at the Imphal Station of the All India Radio in 1965. He wrote lyrics, sang modern songs and composed music for several classical and modern songs, anchored many programmes and rendered background dialogues for AIR, Imphal. He was established as a good anchor in ‘Fauj’ programme, a musical programme format where songs are played only from the request received from military personnel in Hindi of the All India Radio, Imphal. He was a man of many faces and a real artist.
Venturing Into Film
Though engaged in other art forms and involved in the promotion of Manipuri culture, his only dream was to make films. An active member of the Film Society of Manipur founded by Hijam Romani in 1966, SN Chand learned filmmaking from great movies, books and visited film studios in Kolkata and Mumbai. While he was serving at AIR, Imphal, he went to Bombay to do cosmetic surgery on his face to suit the leading man in the film.
Screenplay writing is not an easy task. Apart from having a thorough knowledge of film craft, he or she has to know the intricacies to develop characters, create plots, and come up with dialogues and actions. SN Chand took on the challenging task and made an amazing screenplay of Brojendragi Luhong-ba adapted from the 800- word short story. He added two main characters of maternal uncle and father of the bride in his screenplay, which was not found in the original text of the short story. He developed an important scene of Chura- chandpur, the place of posting of Brojendra. He established the contemporary situations in his screenplay to suit the audience.
He sold his own saleable properties and even mortgaged his homestead property. He left the Government job. Hijam Romani, President of Film Society of Manipur opposed his decision to quit the permanent post of AIR, Imphal. But, he always dreamt of making a Manipuri film. And his only dream was accomplished in 1970 when he launched his film production house–Sajatiya Pictures Private Limited–at his home at Singjamei Mayengbam Leikai in Imphal. He engaged technicians and hired film equipment from Calcutta for the production.
In the summer of 1971, he along with his crew members took shots for three important sequences of his film at the historic Ningthem Pukhri, the big royal pond dug out during the reign of King Pamheiba (1709-1748). During the whole day shooting, the crews took the panoramic shot of the pond where lotuses were blooming for credit titles. The shot continued with Brojendra’s maternal uncle coming towards Brojendra’s house after meeting an astrologer to fix the suitable date of the marriage ceremony. This was the opening scene of the film. The other sequence was Brojendra’s arrival at his home after getting posted in Churachandpur.
There were two shots – a long shot of a lighted jeep coming towards Brojendra’s house and a mid-shot of Brojendra getting down from the jeep. The last sequence at the location was Brojendra’s Point of View shot at a double storeyed house illuminated inside, which revealed the place where ‘Bashok’ (a popular form of Nata Sankirtana) performance took place. The last two sequences were captured during the night. People from distant places and nearby areas thronged the place to have a glimpse of the outdoor shooting of the Manipuri film. This writer was also in the audience. ‘The shooting of the film was of the first Manipuri feature film’ and ‘the nose of the hero of the film had a cosmetic surgery’ were the talks of the audience during the shooting.
With great difficulties and against all odds, he continued with the process of making the film.
However, he could not complete his film within the scheduled time due to financial problems. Some of the prominent locations he featured in his film include Churachandpur to depict the hill station and the tribal lifestyle, the old palace of Canchipur, the residence of the Khaidem Family at Uripok and other sites of historical significance and cultural importance.
Meanwhile, Karam Monomohan, an exhibitor who owned his theatre house at Moreh and also a timber merchant running the business in Indo-Mynmar border and a jungle contractor dealt in dalchini and spices produced his Manipuri feature film- Matamgi Manipur engaging Debkumar Bose, son of noted filmmaker Devaki Bose from Calcutta as director, shooting the whole film at Movietone Studio in Calcutta with a few shots in Imphal in a short period and released the film in three cinema houses namely Usha Cinema, Friends Talkies in Imphal and Azad Talkies in Kakching on April 9, 1972, which was marked as the birth of the Manipuri cinema.
(To be contd)