LATE THIS AUGUST, the Film Forum of Manipur made a bold announcement. The state’s apex industry guild and regulatory office, which ensures that all films abide by censorship rules imposed by local separatist groups, slapped six of the regional industry’s actors with a six-month ban. The punishment was meted out for failure to support protests for an “Inner Line Permit” system in Manipur. The ILP system, which requires outsiders to get special permits to visit a state, is in force in Nagaland, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, where tribal populations see it as a protective membrane over local ways of life.
The actors, each of whom has about ten to twenty films in the pipeline, argued that they had never received a notice to attend the protests. The Film Forum’s Executive Council refused to accept the excuse. In early September, Laimayum Surjakanta Sharma, the Forum’s chairman, told me over the phone that the ban would hold, although actors were free to act in music videos. “We will see how much they support our campaigns in the near term,” Sharma said, hinting at the possibility of a commuted sentence. “We are giving them a lesson.”
When I met Sharma in Imphal, however, just about a month before the ban was announced, he himself was on the receiving end of separatist-backed censure. We were at the Film Forum’s offices: two plainly furnished rooms inside the state capital’s Shankar Talkies cinema. There were no posters on the walls, just a large banner announcing Sharma as the winner of a local award for film-making. And although Sharma has over a hundred producer and director credits to his name, the slim 52-year-old’s desk, heaped with files, seemed better suited to a lawyer or bureaucrat than the maven of a local film industry.