Aribam Shyam Sharma

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Ishanou, Sharma’s classic film

2023: Restored print heads for the Cannes Classic section

Alaka Sahani/ Restored Manipuri film to be screened in Cannes Classic section/ The Indian Express / May 7, 2023

OVER three decades since its screening at the Cannes Film Festival under the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section in 1991, Aribam Syam Sharma-directed Manipuri film Ishanou (The Chosen One) returns to the upcoming edition of the festival and its newly restored print will be shown as part of the Cannes Classic section.

Ishanou, which is described as a poignant tale of love and loss steeped in Manipuri culture, juxtaposes the spiritual world of Maibis (priestesses) with the rhythm of ordinary life. The story is written by M K Binodini Devi, based on her observations and stories shared with her by Maibis. The film also draws inspiration from Syam Sharma’s documentary on Lai-Haraoba, an annual festival celebrated by the Meitei community to appease the gods through songs, dance and rituals that are performed by the Maibis.

The year-long restoration project was undertaken by FHF Film Heritage Foundation conservators, who worked on repairing the original camera negative on 16 mm that was preserved at the National Film Archive of India. After the negative was repaired, it was scanned at L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna, using a wet-gate scanner.

For Syam Sharma, a Padma Shri recipient, witnessing his film being restored “so beautifully and respectfully” has been an exhilarating journey. Talking about the making of Ishanou, the filmmaker says it was developed “organically”.


The story revolves around protagonist Tampha (Anoubam Kiranmala), a young woman with a loving husband and a small daughter. She lives in the Manipur valley, occupied with mundane details of everyday life. Later, she begins to behave in a strange manner, talking to flowers, becoming afflicted with dizzy spells and wandering out of the house in the dark of the night. The family eventually realises that she is responding to the inexorable call of the deity. As if in a dream, Tampha abandons her family to join the Maibi sect of priestesses.

The second half of the film captures the mysticism of the Maibis with their exquisite costumes, graceful dances and ritual singing. Syam Sharma says: “Behind the colourful spectacle of the traditional Manipuri Lai-Haraoba, into which Tampha almost loses herself in enraptured absorption, there lurks the pain of a mother who can no longer nurture a child who now grows into a stranger.” Towards the end, the film shows a brief encounter at a festival between Tampha, her estranged husband and grown-up daughter who fails to recognise her.

Putting Manipuri cinema on the world map

Syam Sharma, who is credited with putting Manipuri cinema on the world map, is known for his simple, poetic narratives about ordinary people of Manipur. “I believe that as filmmakers, we need to return to our roots again and again to make films, which stand as works of art,” says the 1936-born filmmaker, who made his directorial debut with Lamja Parshuram (1974). He made several successful movies such as Saaphabee,(1976), Olangthagee Wangmadasoo (1979) and Imagi Ningthem (1981).

A 2013 interview with Sharma

Rendezvous With Cinema Legend Shyam Sharma

Suresh Rajkumar Singh

SentinelAssam 2013-06-03

Heralding a landmark leap in filmmaking in Northeast India, acclaimed Manipuri filmmaker – Aribam Shyam Sharma rewr0te the history of Indian Cinema once again at the National Film Award 2013. Sharma was honoured with the Best Director’s trophy at this year’s 60th National Film Award – India’s highest official film award, for his feature film Leipaklei as well as the best documentary for Manipuri Pony.

Aribam Syam Sharma is the only filmmaker to win the best director’s award in both the feature and non feature categories in the same year. Remarkably, this is the second time that Shyam Sharma will be honoured with both the awards, a unique feat in the history of Indian Cinema which Syam Sharma had already accomplished 23 years ago.

Best known for his masterpiece Ishanou – The Chosen One, which created a sensation at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, Shyam Sharma is the only Director in the history of Indian Cinema to accomplish this remarkable feat, not once but twice! Ishanou was also screened at the International Film Festival of India held at Goa as part of the 100th Anniversary celebration of Indian Cinema

The Manipuri film icon’s path breaking accomplishment for 2013 was a repeat of a similar achievement at the 38th National Film Award in 1991 when he won the best director’s award for Ishanou in the feature film category as well as the best director in documentary category for his documentary The Indigenous Games of Manipur.

“I’m thrilled with this announcement because Leipaklei is my first foray in the digital film format. This year’s award for Leipaklei means a lot to me because I made the film as a tribute to my deceased friend and colleague – the late Arambam Somorendro who wrote the story and playwright for the film,” said an elated Sharma reacting to this unique achievement.

With his association with Arambam Somorendra, Aribam Syam Sharma had produced a number of theatre plays namely – Dasha, Karbar and Meerang. According to the veteran filmmaker, the adaptation of Somorendra’s plays was a challenge which he took up.

“Arambam Somorendro is a legendary figure in Manipur and adapting a legend’s work always poses a great challenge. Initially I was a bit reluctant to go on with the project for Leipaklei because I thought that the film adaption might bring down the charm and the beauty of the original novel written by Somorendro. But then, the conviction to pay my deepest homage for my late friend was far more important than anything else,” reminisces the septuagenarian Manipuri filmmaker (born 1939).

Leibaklei is a simple narrative on the social challenges faced by a young wife whose husband left home never to return again. Last year’s winner for best supporting actress at the National Film Award, Tonthoi Devi will be seen portraying the title role.

Shyam Sharma revealed that the film was shot for Doordarshan Imphal as a 5 part serial and later re–edited into a feature film. Speaking about his films, the veteran film maker claimed that the region’s rich and vibrant cultural heritage as his secret recipe of success.

On the other hand, the master filmmaker is equally thrilled about his documentary Manipuri Pony as it traces the historical significance of the Manipuri Pony in the Manipuri civilization including the origin of the game of Polo.

“So, with my documentary – Manipuri Pony, I have tried to trace the foundation of the Manipuri civilisation through Manipur’s indigenous pony breed and the game Polo, which was originated in Manipur,” informed Sharma.

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