Paari (2000)


Language: Manipuri / Meitei
Starring: RK Surchandra, Salam Birendra
Director: Aribam Syam Sharma

When young Sanathoi plays the role of of a Sangai fawn in a dance drama, he discovers the world of this rare, endemic deer species in Manipur.

Manipur’s Keibul Lamjao National Park is truly unique. It is the only natural floating park in the world, and it is home to the famed Sangai — the once endangered subspecies of brow-antlered deer endemic to the state.

A medium-sized deer with great antlers, the Sangai walks deftly on the marshy wetlands, earning the appellation ‘the Dancing Deer’. It is intrinsic to Manipuri culture and folklore and is considered the hallowed connection between man and nature. In its more than 200 years of known history, Sangai was assumed to be almost extinct by 1950. In 1953, six deers were spotted in its natural habitat and since then the state government, wildlife bodies and locals have taken extraordinary measures for its conservation. In the 2016 census, the Sangai population stands at 260. Wildlife filmmaker George Thengummoottil’s short documentary The Return of Sangai gives an excellent rundown on the issue.

A unique combination of aquatic, marshland and terrestrial, Keibul Lamjao is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Even as the authorities work aggressively to sustain this fragile ecosystem, they are constantly presented with threats — both natural and man-made — against their conservation efforts. The park is facing twin challenges of poaching and habitat degradation. The constant flooding of the Loktak river on which the national park stands, caused due to the artificial reservoir, results in steady habitat degeneration. With Paari, veteran filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma highlights these threats and their repercussions for Keibul Lamjao’s inhabitants, especially the Sangai.

In Syam Sharma’s story, to prepare for a dance drama on the wildlife of Keibul Lamjao, Sanathoi (Surchandra) and his friends join their teacher on a trip to the park. The young boy is deeply impacted when they come across an injured Sangai fawn, and later shares his concern with his grandfather (Birendra). With Idhou’s (grandfather) fascinating stories about Sangai and new learnings about the species, Sanathoi starts imagining himself as Paari, the fawn he plays in the drama.

As a filmmaker, Aribam Syam Sharma has continuously focused on Manipur’s environmental issues. In Paari, he uses a young boy’s heartwarming guilelessness to make a passionate appeal against man’s interference in nature’s balance. As Sanathoi believes the Sangai he plays in the drama is the same injured fawn who was separated from his parents, he sets out for an audience with the Sangai king in the jungle. The film captures the interplay of imagination and consciousness in a child’s mind beautifully. How folklore and bedtime stories inspire the young to empathise with other beings. For example,when Sanathoi hears the story of the ancient connection between Sangai and Keibul Lamjao, the gravity of their habitat displacement hits him harder.

Aribam Syam Sharma is a pioneering figure of Manipuri cinema credited for placing this fledgling film industry on the world map. Manipuri cinema began in the Seventies and Syam Sharma is one of its founding fathers. His directorial debut Lamja Parshuram (1974) is considered a classic. In a career spanning four decades, this octogenarian has directed 13 features films and several shorts and documentaries. He shot into international recognition with his 1981 film Imagi Ningthem (My Son, My Precious) that received the grand prix at Festival des Trios Continents, Nantes, France. The biggest highlight of his career would be Ishanou (The Chosen One) screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. A son of the soil, Syam Sharma’s films are evocative, deeply embedded in the Manipuri socio-cultural milieu and emotionally rich. Most of his non features (Indigenous Games of Manipur/1990, Meitei Pung/ 1991) are based on subjects inherent to the hill state but have remained largely undiscovered in the mainstream.

Having studied at Santiniketan in his youth, Syam Sharma would have a lifelong association with classical music, theatre and dance. It influenced his career trajectory as a filmmaker, actor and music composer. Paari is a story largely dependent on music and dance forms, and under Syam Sharma’s expert understanding of the subject, it soars. The message — children as the sentinels of nature — is neither didactic nor does it require sloganeering. A simple collaborative art form does the trick.


Watch: Paari (in Manipuri) | Paari (In Hindi)





Aw Aakare Aa / A, B, She (2003)

Language: Odia
Cast: Adyasha Mohapatra, Debu Bose, Diptimayee Panda
Director: Subas Das

Aw Akare Aa

Should one take textbook questions just as they are — set and formulaic? Does our educational system welcome alternative thinking and unconventional questions? For a country obsessed with marks and reserving a child’s competence to result cards, Aw Aakare Aa explores these questions with great simplicity.

If a man eats two sweets in two minutes, then the math says he consumes one sweet in a minute. But what if he gobbles up more than one sweet in that one minute? These are the kind of questions that dog the young mind of Mini (Mohapatra), the protagonist of Aw Aakare Aa. And the conventional curriculum driven education system doesn’t do much to satisfy her curiosity.

A motherless child, Mini is restless and full of questions. On visiting her grandfather in the village, this inquisitive girl discovers the joys and mysteries of nature. Far from the dreariness of classroom teaching, memorizing lessons and appearing for exams, Mini gathers new interests. She excels at flying kites, learns to climb trees and catch fish.

When the world makes her weary, the little girl finds supports in her imaginary teacher, Miss Mini. Away from yelling teachers and boring classes, Miss Mini takes her out in the open fields, where games replace homework, lessons are shared with songs and dance, and learning is fun.

As the little Mini grows up, she still finds herself struggling with a flawed education system — only now as a teacher. Unable to conform to constricted ideas of teaching and learning, she charts a new territory for herself and her students.

Aw Aakare Aa is a sincere effort that questions the drudgery of classroom teaching and emphasizes on the need of harboring unorthodox ideas in the process of learning.

Awards: National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Odia (Year – 2003)

Trailer: Aw Aakare Aa / A, B, She


Tora (2003)

Tora 2003

Language: Assamese
Starring: Mrigakshi, Indrani Chetia, Anup Hazarika
Director: Jahnu Barua

When a land dispute disrupts the harmony between two neighbouring families in a village, the only voice of reason is Tora — a seven-year-old girl.

The film opens with a dream sequence where the titular character (played by Mrigakshi) requests a fairy to help her find a playmate. Tora resides with her parents at the remote end of her village. Surrounded by adults, she has no one to play with. Her wish comes true when their neighbour’s cow births a calf. The little girl finds the friend she had been pining for in the young calf, who she lovingly names Mon. She sings to him, feeds him, and looks out for Mon’s well being all the time. Mon, too, is deeply attached to Tora and follows her around as they play and flit about in the fields.

When their families get into a squabble over a piece of land, Tora is forced to cut ties with Mon. However, she is determined to not let the strained adult dynamics affect her friendship.

Tora is written and directed by internationally acclaimed filmmaker, Jahnu Barua, known for his rich and sensitive portrayal of emotions and relationships. While the dominant theme of the movie is the endearing bond between a human child and a calf, the ancillary plot of human conflict over land and boundaries could well be signalling Assam’s strife stricken history.

The filmmaker’s deep association to his homeland has always reflected in his movies and Tora is no different. The landscapes and social milieu of rural Assam unfolds in an unhurried pace — much like the world it is set in. Tora’s family’s everyday ordinariness is a window into this world. We see Tora’s mother finishing her domestic duties and using her spare time to work on the loom, her father running a shop and also preparing their patch of land for farming — a life of tasks, routine and hard work.

Jahnu Barua’s cinema is gentle, empathetic, and his characters greatly relatable. Through Tora the director tries to view the world and tackle situations that seem significant to a seven-year-old. Like Tora worrying about Mon’s diet when she sees the cow being milked or her reason for disliking a neighbour simply being he asks her arithmetic questions all the time.

A child’s mind is simple and at times it is simplicity that corrects complications.

Alegalu (2012)


Language: Kannada
Starring: Manohara Bhat, Aboobakar Siddiq
Director: Prithvi Konanur

At nine, life looks unkind to Putta and Basu — two school going boys residing in a small fishing village in coastal Karnataka. So they decide to row to an island to meet the fabled spirit, who may have the solution to their problems.

Basu has failed the class test and is struggling to accept his widowed mother’s decision of marrying a distant relative. Putta, on the other hand, is chastised by his mother, who catches him stealing money.

Dejected by their circumstances, the friends confide in each other and rue their helplessness. The boys hope for a change in their fates upon hearing Basu’s grandma’s story about a Panjurli (spirit) residing on an island in the midst of the sea. Anyone who is makes the perilous trip to the island and makes an offering to the holy spirit will see their wishes come true.

In the hope to solve their problems, Putta and Basu decide to venture into the dangerous sea in their small wooden rowboat.


Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival, India (2012)

Roshd International Educational Film, Iran (2012)

Toronto Kids International Film Festival, Canada (2013)

Indian Film Festival, Germany (2013)

Watch: Alegalu (Waves)