Lembi Leima (2023): A tale of a brave and honest woman
'Lembi Leima is stylistically shot and edited at an even pace', writes Indian film critic, Dipankar Sarkar.
Noted Indian film critic and and alumnus of FTII, Pune, Dipankar Sarkar reviews Manipuri short film, Lembi Leima (2023).
Lembi Leima is a forty-three-minute Manipuri short film that narrates the tale of a woman attempting to bring out the truth of how people in power are exploiting the citizens of a village, even at the risk of putting her life in danger. There are few short films from northeast India that portray a woman in such a powerful lead role with a socially relevant and concerning theme like this. This is a film made in an effort to show how a selfish and patriarchal society handles the women in its ranks who refuse to accept their terms and conditions.
The film begins with a public announcement made by village head Probin Kumar, aka Taibungo, that in exchange for land from the village property, the government will provide loans and subsidies to plant palm in and around the village. This will help the village prosper. A pregnant inspection officer, Surjabala, has been appointed to examine if the soil is fertile enough for the plantation. Taibungo appoints his confidant, Nando, to look after Surjabala and inform him of her activities. After examining the soil, Surjabala comes to the conclusion that the soil is not fertile for plantation. But before she could submit her report to the government officials, Taibungo and the villagers framed her in a false case and attacked the guest house where she had lodged. Surjabala runs for her life and hides in a cave that possesses some mystical power.
One of the important aspects of the film is the way it highlights how a lack of education can make individuals slaves to people who are authoritative. There is a sharp contrast between the two characters, Nando and Surjabala. Nando did not leave his village for higher education and got under the wings of Taibungo, who had exploited the young boy for his benefit. Surjabala is an educated woman, and her company opens up Nando’s eyes and allows him to differentiate between the right and the wrong. At the same time, the film also informs the viewers about the detrimental notions people have about christening a woman as a witch to facilitate their selfish motives. It imparts the message that social evils are bad and must be eradicated from society.
Lembi Leima is stylistically shot and edited at an even pace. Mayank Pratap Singh has a grasp on the story and does not use preachy dialogue to advance the narrative. The performances by Bala Hijam, Bijou Thaangjam, and Khonykhar go with the flow of the story. It is a well-conceived short film, but the treatment of the subject has nothing new to offer. It is not a melodramatic film but works better on the strength of its sentimentalist approach. The conclusion of the film is a traditional one in which good triumphs over evil. However, if we would like to ponder over the theme, the short film offers enough food for thought and also creates a kind of socialism awareness. Hence, it is worthy of viewing.
Image: film stills