Manipuri documentary, Highways Of Life directed by Amar Maibam, has been screened at several film festivals in the past year, winning several awards and accolades.
It won the Best Film Award at the 8th Liberation DocFest, Bangladesh and was also selected at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, and had won the Best Indian Documentary at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival, 2020.
The documentary also won the Cinema of Resistance Award at the 14th Signs Film Festival in Kerala.
At the 13th Manipur State Film Awards, the film was awarded the Best Non-Feature Film, Best Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing awards.
In conversation with The Story Mug, Amar Maibam speaks at length about his journey as a filmmaker, about Highways Of Life, and the projects to come.
TSM: When did the bug of filmmaking bite you?
Amar Maibam: On an April afternoon in 1984, twelve years after the first Manipuri feature film was released, the 1st Manipur Film Festival was held in a grand style at Asha Cinema, Imphal.
My father took our family to the screening of his debut feature film, Sanakeithel (Golden Market), which was followed by the state film award ceremony.
A loud applause followed after my father's name was declared as the winner for the best director and the best editor and that sonic applause energizes and fascinates me even today.
I believe this is the moment that inspired me to the world cinema without even my knowing.
TSM: What has been your training like?
Amar Maibam: It was April 12 (Wednesday), 1989, after more than a year of rehearsal and pre-production, the artists, technicians and well-wishers of my father started flocking to our residence for the muharat of his third film, Cheklapaikhrabada (When The Bird Flew Away).
This was the time when my father presented me with a small automatic still camera and asked me to shoot his film shooting moments whenever I felt like shooting it, but only after he said "roll camera" until he said "cut".
This was my first lesson in cinema, and since then I have been involved in most of my father’s projects.
Later, I did a course in cinematography from Kolkata, a film appreciation course from Pune, and several other short courses and workshops on theatre and films.
TSM: Tell something about Highways Of Life.
Amar Maibam: The film journeys a group of truckers as they manoeuvre through the highways, putting their lives on the frontline, ferrying essential commodities to serve the three million people of Manipur in the two intense public movements played out on the highways.
The film was initially developed at a workshop at Imphal titled Imphal Documentor in 2014, organised by Manipur State Film Development Society, Documentary Resource Initiative Kolkata and Television & Cine Foundation Manipur.
Further, it was selected to pitch at Docedge Kolkata 2015. Finally, the film was produced by the Films Division of India.
TSM: How did you hit upon the idea of making a documentary on the life of truck drivers?
Amar Maibam: I was on the high highways, working as a conductor for several years. I encountered several bandhs and blockades, besides bad roads, armed extortion and kidnapping for ransom, which is not in the mainstream media.
After I shifted my gear back to the profession I love, my mind was always on the unpredictable highway story, which hit me hard and taught me many life lessons.
TSM: What were the challenges faced while shooting?
Amar Maibam: My identity was questioned by several people and I was even detained by the police on several occasions while I was filming on the highways.
In one such incident, I was even branded as a fake journalist in the media by the police because I was on the protestor’s side filming them. They felt I am instigating the protestors and I don't have any proof to show them that I am a filmmaker.
But I didn't feel these as challenges as I knew that these kinds of incidents were bound to happen even before filming had begun. It is also a part of the genre that I work on.
TSM: As a filmmaker, how has been your journey so far?
Amar Maibam: Filmmaking is like a roller-coaster journey; I adapt and learn from every film and most importantly, I try to enjoy it even in the worst situation.
TSM: How has been the support of your family?
Amar Maibam: I want to thank my father for inspiring me and now I am lucky to have a homemaker ready to face any obstacles to support a filmmaker.
TSM: Who have been your inspirations?
Amar Maibam: My father MA Singh, Satyajit Ray, and De Sica.
TSM: Tell us about your projects so far and how do you conceive your ideas and stories?
Amar Maibam: Highways Of Life is my fourth documentary. City of Victims in 2009 was my debut documentary.
Currently I am working on a documentary on weightlifter Sanjita Chanu and her brother Bijen, who are fighting for justice on a doping charge.
Apart from their fight for justice, the documentary will also show the bonding between the two siblings.
Till now, most of my films are a reflection or connected to my life.
TSM: Tell us about your team members and their input during the filmmaking process.
Amar Maibam: I am the director and the cinematographer, while Nilotpal Mazumdar is one of my close mentors since my second film and he gives a lot of creative inputs to my films.
Biju Das is the editor and Partha Halder is the sound designer.
TSM: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Amar Maibam: Cinema allows me to learn about the diverse culture of the world. As for me, I prefer realistic films.
TSM: What do you think should be done to create a unified entertainment industry in the Northeast?
Amar Maibam: First of all, we need to strengthen the state film policies and empower cine workers to compete globally. This will automatically will create a unified entertainment industry in the northeast.
TSM: Your message for the upcoming movie/documentary makers?
Amar Maibam: Be realistic and follow your dreams.
The Story Mug, a Guwahati-based blogzine, believes in telling stories that matter.