Sanabi (Manipuri, 1994) English Title: The Grey Mare


Sanabi(Manipuri, 1994) English Title :The Grey Mare
Dir: Aribam Syam Sharma

Aribam Syam Sharma is one of the unsung heroes of Indian cinema.He hails from the North Eastern state of Manipur which barely exists on the Indian national consciousness and makes films that are a compelling voice of the Manipuri people. Manipuri cinema has turned 40 years old and Indian cinema 100 this year.While Manipur continues to have a very underdeveloped film industry there exist both Bollywood type film as well as what is called parallel cinema.Bollywood films themselves are banned by separatist groups and Korean Cinema and soap operas are gaining ground.Mr Syam Sharma’s films are steadfastly rooted in realism and pure cinema.He has made several films all of which have been well received in film festivals in India and abroad.His film The Chosen One was screened at Cannes.

Sanabi follows the story of an attractive young divorcée called Sakhi whose father Ojha Birchandra is a retired teacher.He has a pony of pure Maitei descent, a fast disappearing breed, that he loves dearly, almost like a child.Their family makes a modest and simple living weaving traditional cloth. Sakhi is a classical dancer and part of a reputed troupe slated to perform abroad. In this tranquil village existence arrives Mangi who is a cattle thief. Mangi restricts his theft to outside the village and the villagers see him as benign evil. He takes a fancy to Sakhi and pursues her despite her calling him brother.She thwarts all his attempts at friendship. Mangi enlists the help of Sakhis father to train a group of youth in polo or Sagol Kangjei, a game that originated in Manipur.This provides Mr Syam Sharma opportunity to set up charming sequences of this super élite sport being played in a rural setting. Sanabi emerges a pony that many covet but the old teacher is in no mood to part with her. Mangi is very jealous of Sakhi’s friendship with the director of the dance troupe who drops her off in a car.He digs a ditch in the village mud road to make it unmotorable. The film concludes on a reconciliatory note that is a commentary of the gentle peace loving people of this state of India.

Aribam Syam Sharma at work.

Aribam Syam Sharma at work.

Mr Syam Sharma interestingly intercuts the film with extended sequences of Sakhi’s Manipuri classical dance, also called Ras Leela, which is a way of forcing us to sample this exquisite form of performance art.He also gives us some sequences of village elders talking and discussing the problems created by Mangi. Their rustic faces and unaffected manners are a treat to observe.These scenes give us a window into the simplicity of the souls of the Manipuri people.The work of ace cinematographer Sunny Joseph, who is the cameraman of choice for most Indian art house filmmakers, is lush and gives us an almost otherworldly sense of the Manipuri landscape.The music is scored by Mr Syam Sharma himself, an accomplished musician and composer.

Sanabi is a beautiful postcard from Manipur and Mangi’s desperate attempts to attract the attention of Sakhi may as well be that of the people of this state calling out to be integrated into the Indian mainstream.The film is also a testament to the incredible diversity of India.The village depicted here is almost untouched by modernity, the people lead very simple and content lives, there are no artifacts of commercialization and the landscape looks virgin and unspoiled. The film can even pass off as being a foreign film so disconnected are the visuals from what we normally see on screen.The title Sanabi and the love of Ojha Birchnadra for his pony reminded me of Dariush Mehrjui’s landmark 1969 Iranian film Gaav which was about the love of a man for his cow.That film launched the Iranian new wave and gave voice to a people that is heard despite the country being vilified the world over for its politics.Ms Syam Sharma has been quietly making movies for decades, using the medium to tell human stories set in Manipur and is a inspiration for young filmmakers to follow his path.Maybe his films will play a role in building a bridge to Manipur.At the very least his film will remain a powerful human document of the people of this cloud covered land.

# The DVD of the film has been recently release by Shemaroo in The Cinemas of India series which showcases the best of Indian art house films produced by NFDC.

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