‘ISHANOU’: One question – One answer

Aribam Syam Sharma

Joshy Joseph : “The poem is a muscular and composed thing. It moves like a wave, dissolving the literal. We participate in its flow as it moves from the eye to the ear, to the inner ear, the inner eye.” Poet Edward Hirsch’s lines bring the temporal, physical yet spiritual aspects of cinema, to my mind. Sir, what are your reflections on the art of cinema at this juncture of your life at a ripe age of 88years, when your 1990 Manipuri classic film ‘ISHANOU’, which is being shown at the Cannes Classics section, 2023?

Aribam Syam Sharma : “My feelings and approaches toward cinema would be quite in line with your appropriation of the verses that you quoted. I am not much of a student of poetry, but the imagery of waves and its suggestion of rhythm and lyricism in the poem is something that has been noted in my films by those who have given some attention to them. The poem reflects art as a process, or is it an event, where the inner and the outer is in play and comes to meet. Some in cinema approach it from materiality as in its technical side, some from its spiritual dimension. I do not think it matters as long as it creates something that reminds us of our nature, weakness and potentialities; and speaks to our sense of enchantment. The elements that go into my films are drawn from my tradition, which in turn is a syncretism of two rich traditions.

These two traditions do not relegate the literal to a corner. The literal and the metaphorical, though distinguishable, are not separate. The Lai-Haraoba is not a symbol or enactment of creation, but creation itself. The call of Krishna’s flute is not a metaphor for the call of the Divine or something out of this world, it is a call that is here in this spatio-temporal world. To that extent, I would consider cinema not as a metaphor or a proxy for something more real. It has its own substantiality; it is real on its own terms. There cannot be cinema without the material that goes into it. In India’s North-East, spirit and enthusiasm have made up for want of some of the materiality that goes into the making of cinema. Some critics have wondered whether some of my films have been made from stocks salvaged from bins. The truth is not very far from this conjecture. We wanted to make films; and we have done that somehow. We were fortunately blind to the inadequacy of training, the inadequacy of finance; but it would be a folly to say that these things do not matter. They do matter! The metaphor of the inner eye, inner ear, the outer eye and outer ear in the poem could be stretched to address the need to be open not only to our traditions but also to cinema from other traditions. Events like the screening at the Cannes Classics section of ‘ISHANOU’ give the opportunity for the process of the inner eye and ear to go to the outer eye and ear, back and forth, and so on.


Joshy Joseph is a film maker and writer

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