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Extortion calls from militant outfits are forcing Manipur cinema hall owners to down shutters
BROWN NONGMAITHEM | Issue Dated: May 25, 2008
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Moving picture targets It’s a blackout that no place can really afford. In a place such as Manipur it could mean taking away the only form of entertainment that a militancy-hit fringe town has. Following extortion notices from militants, theatre owners in the state recently decided to down shutters, a development that now leaves the state’s cinemagoers quite literally in the dark.

This is the second time that the cinema industry in Manipur is facing a threat from militants. In 2000, it was a ban on Hindi cinema, which militants claimed was against the culture of the state’s people. That ban, however, turned out to be a blessing for the state’s local filmmakers who took it upon themselves to produce a range of Manipuri films to feed the demand. However, that too is yet to attain a status big enough to support the halls through the present hour of crisis.

This time round, cinema owners who already had an uphill task working in grossly adverse circumstances which included imported films and a large number of VCDs making their entry in an already small market, decided to call off their shows after militants demanded that each hall owner cough up Rs 1 lakh.

“Such threats are now new for us,” said W. Lalit, chairman of the Film Forum of Manipur. “We have always asked for and amicable solution. This time, however, we have decided to shut down the halls as we cannot pay up. Many of our members feel turning the halls into shopping centres makes for a better business proposition.”

A hall owner said five days ago, a person who identified himself as the leader of an armed group, called up the proprietors of the cinemas and demanded Rs 1 lakh from each of them.

As a matter of fact, with business dwindling in the recent past, many cinema halls in the state have already converted to shopping centres and schools.

“The caller did not clearly say the name of his group. But he said we would have to face the consequences if we failed to pay them. We do not know whether the demand comes from a genuine group or some imposters. Since we have been threatened with dire consequences, we cannot continue to run the shows in view of the situation in Manipur,” he added. The anguish, under the circumstances, is understandable. “The shutdown will only result in the livelihood of all the people involved in the industry being affected,” said Y. Nabachandra, principal of the Imphal Art College. “If we are to get anywhere, there must be cultural freedom and such sectors must not be targeted. As a matter of fact, these are messages that we creative people constantly try and send out, even through our films.”

Cinema-hall owners have always been at the receiving end of things in the state. In 2000, following the ban on Hindi cinema, hall owners who were otherwise not provided the requisite protection by the government apparatus, ended up having to respond to a government notification on why they were abiding by the directions of banned organisations.

What seemed to have been overlooked was the fact that while on the one hand cinemagoers had faced a series of militant attacks that the administration seemed to be able to do little about, the halls also did not have the finances to switch to constantly screening English films which in any case did not have enough of a demand to make a difference financially.

“It is not possible for us to provide dedicated security,” superintendent of police L. Kailun told TSI, “but as and when they screen films, our people will patrol the area.” He, however, said that while militants trying to physically disrupt screenings may not be a possibility in Imphal, it was not so in the “outlying areas”. On why the administration could not protect the five or six halls in the capital, he said, “One must remember that we provide security to the entire community and cannot look after just the cinema halls.”

In a place such as Imphal, that could make all the difference to the public.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017