Makhonmani Mongsaba talks about his Manipuri feature film “Nangna Kappa Pakchade” and the challenges of being a regional filmmaker

Apart from the more obvious categories of language and locale, poor production values are often a marker of ‘regional’ cinema, made on humble budgets. It is no different with National Award winning Manipuri director Makhonmani Mongsaba’s “Nangna Kappa Pakchade” (Tears of a woman). Made originally on 16mm, the film was first blown up to 35 mm then digitised, and by the time it was delivered to the few eyeballs at India International Centre recently, it had undergone a discernible loss of quality. What the film lacked in production values, or even the acting, however, it made up for in the ideas it threw up.

The film begins in a courtroom, where a case is being fought between Nungsithoi and Ibomcha. While Nungsithoi identifies the latter as her husband, he denies, and claims not to know their daughter. Angered by his attitude, a teary-eyed Nungsithoi attacks him in court, and the hearing is postponed to a later day. Afterwards, her lawyer seeks to find out more to prepare the case, and her past is narrated to viewers through flashbacks.

A simple village girl, Nungsithoi fell in love with Ibomcha, a tractor driver from Imphal. She moved in to their house, and had a girl child. But circumstances were difficult; Nungsithoi’s mother-in-law was anything but welcoming towards her, and Ibomcha was looking for work. A compromise was struck, and Nungsithoi was sent back to her village, with Ibomcha promising her that they would be able to live together once he found a job. The promise was forgotten soon, leaving Nungsithoi to fend for herself and her daughter.

Remarkably, telling the lawyer her story brings about a change of heart in Nungsithoi; she is no-longer the wronged wife eager to avenge herself. She drops the case, and resolves to bring up her daughter alone. Seeing her tears, the lawyer is reminded of his mother, who also made immense sacrifices to bring him up.

After the screening, some of the audience members wondered why Nungsithoi rejects the legal course, for it allows Ibomcha to go scot-free. Mongsaba, who has adapted the film from a story by M.K. Binodini, explained, “The protagonist is thinking that she wants to give her child a good education. That is the most important thing for her. She doesn’t care about her husband, she only wants to bring up her child well. She is a mother before she is a wife.”

Talking about the beginnings of the film, he said, “I wanted to protest domestic violence, and support the struggle of women…the role of women is very important in India and the world, but in Manipur there is an extra something so I wanted to project that.”

A student of playwright and theatre director Ratan Thiyam, this is Mongsaba’s fourth film. Although he enjoys theatre as much as cinema, he reveals it is not easy being a filmmaker in Manipur. “We get very little financial assistance. Another problem is that the theatres are not running celluloid cinema…we have to go to Mumbai and Chennai to convert our films.”

The screening of the film was followed by a discussion with Manipuri film critic R.K. Bidur, who once again emphasized the struggles of regional cinema. “We don’t have materials, but we have got two hands, and we will continue to make films with them,” he said.