Meet Oinam Doren from Manipur; Jack of all trades, Connoisseur of film-making
There is a saying "What you have, you lose; what you have not, you get; and where you cannot choose, the crown of life is set".
These lines fit perfectly in the life of a renowned filmmaker from Manipur — Oinam Doren, who once aspired to become a doctor-business-accountant but never thought of story-telling through the lens. His journey was an amalgamation of all his childhood dreams juggling the role of creative artist, manager, accountant, businessman, music promoter, traveler etc.
It is worth mentioning here that one of Oinam's film shot in a small village in Meghalaya –'My Name is Eeooow' has been nominated for the 'Tangible Culture Prize' at the 15th RAI Film Festival which will take place at Watershed in Bristol (UK) from 29 March to 1 April 2017. The film will have its world premiere at the festival.
In an exclusive interview with TNT-The Northeast Today, Oinam maintained that his films are his creative response to the environment around him.
- Hello Oinam, first of all, big congratulation on your new achievement. Before we start off with the professional queries, why not tell us something about yourself?
I am just a passionate small town guy trying to make a connection with people through stories and music.
- How did your journey start? (Educational qualification included)
In comparison to the present day kids, I consider myself immensely lucky that I have had such a rich experience starting from a village. Growing up in a village, I have had the pleasure of flying kites in vast fields, catching fish in the rivers and ponds, making marbles and loudspeakers with clay. I can still feel the Images of life in the village in different seasons. Whenever there was any grand occasion in the village; birth, marriage or festivals, loudspeakers were hang in tall bamboo poles and music was played out loud for the entire village to hear.
Later on because of my mother's job, we had to shift to a smaller town which introduced me to a new experience. Most memorable was visiting the local theatre. Me and my friends would never miss a single new film being screen in the theatre where we need to hold an umbrella when it rains. We started off visiting the theatre with one or two rupees in hand and bribing the gate keeper to get inside. Sometimes we would wait for the interval and sneak inside without paying the bribe. When we grew a little older, we started buying tickets formally from the ticker counter. We also used to collect film reels and project them on a cloth in my house by making simple pinhole projector. Reading comics of Phantom, Mandrake, Tinkle and collecting picture from newspapers and magazines to make scrapbooks were also pursued passionately as part of growing up. And since I was a very shy kid, I would often stay in my room either reading, listening music or doing all of this. I am telling all this because I think all this experiences had touched me in imperceptible ways that would consequently lead me to where I am today.
I grew up in an environment surrounded by doctors and nurses. So in my friend's autograph book, I used to write 'doctor' in the aim in life column. Later on I used to think I should do some business also. So I used to write 'doctor+business' in the aim in life column. A few years later still in school, I started playing the guitar and writing songs deeply influenced by Bon Jovi, Guns and roses, Metallica, AR Rahman etc. And I thought I should also become a rock star. So in my room I used to have a drawing of myself pin up on the wall in which half of the figure was a rockstar and another half a doctor.
In class ten, I met a friend who used to spend all his money in buying creams and tablets for his pimpled face and was studying commerce. He wanted to be a chartered accountant and top Manipur in the 12 standard exams. He made a big influence on me and I decided to study commerce after 10.
But my weakness for accounts and the pain of unrequited first love drove me into frenzy. I became restless and felt into deep depression. This is the time when I started analyzing myself and other people's behavior writing notes, reading books on psychology. When I moved to Shillong for my graduation in St. Anthony's college to study mass communication,
I think it was an amalgamation of all my experiences. As a filmmaker, I am fulfilling all this childhood dreams juggling the role of creative artist, manager, accountant, businessman, music promoter, traveler etc.
- Can you tell us a little about your movie – My name is Eeooow set in a small hamlet in Meghalaya
In my college days in Shillong, three music albums based on folk music had a profound effect on me. Two Khasi albums including 'LabahSorah' and Rewben Mashangva's debut album 'Tantivy'. I have listened to them countless times in my Sony Walkman in the hostel bed in Stephen hall. When I moved to Delhi for work, I had scribbled so many notes hoping to do some project with tribal music. I met Rewben after 6 years of living with his music and we did two films together. But the Meghalaya dream project never took off. It is about two years back when I heard of the 'Jingrwai-iaw-bei' of the Khasi people in KhatarShnong area in East Khasi Hills. 'Jingrwai-iaw-bei' is the tradition of having musical tunes as names. It drew me instantly because I have always been inspired by music. Basically in the film, I followed the family of two married sisters Shithoh and Shydiap Khongsit in Kongthong village who make a living by growing broom and betel nuts. But as their kids leave the village one by one for higher studies in Shillong, I have tried to pose the question what happened to the 'Jingrwai-iaw-bei'.
- Being a three-time national award filmmaker, how did you cope with your success?
The first time I won it, I took it seriously. When I heard about the news, I was in Delhi returning from a film festival trip in Eastern Europe. My friends including my ex-gurus in St. Anthony's college called me up. My sister called me and said when my dad heard the news, he shed tears. After I left my television job, I was leaving the life of a vagabond with long dandruff hair, kurta and a jhola. Most of my friends and relatives thought I have lost it. It was the national award, the highest filmmaking award in India that proved to them that my vagabonding was worth it. Though it gave a lot of media attention to my work, it doesn't mean that I have arrived. I have two goals in my life as a filmmaker. Firstly, I want to find my personal form that would be my style of filmmaking. Secondly, I want to travel the whole world with my films.
- You base your films only on social issues or beyond that
Filmmaking is story telling. In stories, we have characters and they have problems. In real life too, we all face problems and issues everyday. What we filmmaker does is depict those conflict elements on screen, analyze them with a perspective for the larger good. But filmmaking is also an entertainment medium. We all like to be entertained. So when I pick up any story, my challenge is to tell it in an interesting way cinematically. I don't choose issues to make films. In fact, my films are my creative response to the environment around me.
- Hailing from Manipur, do you intend to make a movie on the division between the hilly and plain tribes of Manipur
Nodody has asked me this question so far. Though I stay in the valley, I have travelled extensively in the hills and done most of my work there. In fact, the hill-valley divide you are talking about is mostly created by certain individuals and groups who are looking for political gain. I have met elders in the hills who speak better refined Meiteilon (the language of the meiteis in the valley) than me. Any rich man in the hills will make sure he builds a house in the valley. I once met an old man who told me this story of his son. He said, when his son became a big officer in the government and wanted to build a house, he asked him to build it in his native village. But the son refused to do that and build the house in the valley. The only problem with the valley people is that we cannot possess land or build a house in the hills because of a constitutional Act. Now being a filmmaker, how do I respond to this divide you are talking about? Yes, many a times I have build stories in my head. But I don't want to do the obvious thing. We have lots of folklore that speaks of the relationship between the hill and valley natives. But in the face of political power and money, everybody is ready to hurl attacks on one another. But I still continue to travel to the hills and interact with the elders and the youth. I have learned a lot of ancient wisdoms from them about culture, human civilization and our relationship with nature.
- How would you describe Northeast, then and now
In my struggling days in Delhi, I once went to Daryaganj on a Sunday to check out the second hand books. Having a stomach problem, I climbed one of the stairs looking for a toilet. I approached one of the apartments asking whether I can use their toilet. The owner screamed at me saying I must be a thief and asked meto leave the place immediately. In Mumbai, I have stayed in residential colonies and none of the neighbors interact with one another. In the northeast, you go to any part of the region and people will open up to you, invite you to their house for tea or dinner. Like the big cities, our society has become very consumeristic, materialistic in many ways. But I think people's attitude towards one another hasn't change much. But our villages are going through a deep crisis. Only the old men and women are left in the villages. The youngsters are either in the state capital or in the big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore either studying or working. Since they have become educated, they don't want to return to the village where farming is the only option they have. So the parents and grandparents live very lonely lives in their hollow houses.
- I believe you have covered most of the issues of Northeast… What is your next move?
For the last 2 years, I have been developing a big musical project focusing on the entire northeast for which I have to travel extensively in the villages and forest during different seasons. I am also developing my third film with Rewben Mashangva who is considered 'the father of Naga folk blues'. In the film titled 'the lonely song' he plays a popular musician who picks up a gun. Right now two films are in production. But I don't know when they will complete.
- How many films have you directed so far? And which one is your favourite
To be honest I haven't made many films. Because I was also busy running after other passions, other projects connected to music and culture but not films. A lot of other filmmakers also asked me to do cinematography for their films as I have a good aesthetic sense. The films that I made a year ago, I don't want to see it now. I start seeing so many faults. So I can't really say which is my favorite. I am still trying to make a film that I can proudly say that's my style of filmmaking. Generally, I want to make visually poetic films that haunt audience.
- What would be your message to the budding filmmakers from Northeast
I am not big enough to give a message. I can only share my experiences. We all have to find our own path, our own stories. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong in the artistic world of filmmaking. What works, works. Some people say you need a lot of experience to make great films. But I also know filmmakers who shook the globe with their debut film. I realize that money is an important tool to materialize whatever vision you have. But I also know lots of filmmakers who have money and make shitty films. Whatever you do, do it with sincere love and passion. It shows in your work. And always work with a great team.
By Ibankyntiew Mawrie