Saikhom Ratan’s “Beyond Blast”: A moving documentary on Artist Maikel Konthoujam
It is thought that humans are the only intelligent species on Earth. Despite the fact that the highly industrialised and materialistic society of today is killing one another for ideological reasons, surviving a violent war has significant psychological consequences. As a video journalist and filmmaker who lives in a state with armed conflict, Saikhom Ratan is exposed to a wide range of issues, such as the decades-long conflict between security forces and insurgents and incidents of counterinsurgency, which have taken a heavy toll on innocent civilians caught up in the unrest.
Saikhom Ratan whose documentary “Beyond Blast” was selected for the Indian Panorama at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2022, to be held from November 20-28 at Goa, has already won multiple awards in different film festivals. It won the best film on social issues in the 14th Manipur state Film Awards 2022. Here, Parthajit Baruah interviews the filmmaker, Saikhom Ratan about his journey as a filmmaker.
1Q: Please tell us something about your journey as a filmmaker.
Saikhom Ratan: Before I give your answer I would like to thank you Parthajit Baruah for giving me my space in your journal.
My career as a filmmaker began when I was around twenty years old. I didn’t know it at the time but I am passionate about photography. My parents also supported me without knowing anything. I bought a compact non-professional still camera and started clicking to capture various events in my early days. It was 1990 in the VHS era. I still remember when I stepped into the world of filmmaking. One of my local brothers popularly known as Tarun Mangang who is renowned film editor, asked me to assist in his filmmaking. I joined and started accompanying the late Irom Maipak who is a national award-winning cinematographer. I learned basic cinematography and editing from them then I became a professional cinematographer as well as an editor. There were so many people in this field who have always encouraged my creativity, although, at times, I had some doubts about how to become a successful filmmaker without formal study. So I started dreaming of studying in a formal film institute but my dream has not come true in my life due to my insecurities. Although I wouldn't go back, I read many books and frequently watched many good films and participated in many workshops and film appreciation courses. Besides these I found my respected Guru/teacher Aribam Syam Sharma, an acclaimed filmmaker also known as the father of Manipuri cinema. I associated with him for more than ten years and I learned many ways to become a successful filmmaker. In 2003 I made my first short film entitled “Maral” (Who is to blame) based on arm conflict and innocent lives. That was aired by most of the Doordarshan Kendra in the northeast under the royalty program. Further that, I worked on many projects under the Doordarshan commission programme notably “Kongyang” (Bamboo species and they're important in Manipur), “Khunaisida Nupigi Thoudang” (Role of Manipuri women in the society), “Mei changlaba chek” etc. In 2017 I made a documentary film entitled “Unbeatable” for the PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust) Government of India. Recently I completed a TV serial entitled “Tharosangbi” (Life and Hope) for DD Arunprabha. I successfully cinematograph and edited more than 50 feature films and non-feature films, some of the notable award-winning films are AFSPA 1958, “Singnaba” (Challenge) “Heart to heart” and Sana keithel for other filmmakers. In the year 2010 my short film “My cousin’s village” won a special jury award and the best editing award at the 7th Manipur State Film award organized by the Government of Manipur. In 2012 my documentary film “SOS” was officially selected for the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) and UFO 1101 IDFFI New Delhi 2012. And bag the best Cinematography award in the 8th Manipur State Film Award 2013. Presently, 2022 is very special to me because my biographical documentary Film “BEYOND BLAST” has been awarded and officially selected for many national and international film festivals. In these 30 years of my journey, I believed that experimentation is the best way to learn and makes wonderful films.
2Q: How and when the idea of making the documentary, “Beyond Blast” came to you?
Saikhom Ratan: It is believed that humans are the only sensible living being in this world. Although today's highly developed and materialistic world was killing each other under their ideology. Surviving in an armed conflict has a devastating psychological impact. As a video journalist and filmmaker living in an arm conflict state, I experience various issues like ongoing conflict between security forces and insurgents for decades along with incidents of counterinsurgency, which has been taking a heavy toll on innocent civilians caught in the unrest. Intimidated people of the state fear for the worse due to harrowing incidents and are filled with apprehensions about what may happen today or tomorrow. My biographical documentary film ‘Beyond Blast’ is an inspiration for those crimes and uncertain lives in Manipur. It was a chill evening on December 16th, 2007; when I was an active video journalist for Ne Tv Manipur bureau a powerful IED was blasted at Pourabi, a village of Imphal east district which claimed 7 lives with more than 30 injured. When the information comes to me I rush to the hospital with my camera for news reporting. Many casualties are lying on the hospital’s floor full of blood and the sound of sorrow makes me uneasy. After collecting around 10 minutes of footage, I come back to the office and uploaded the file to send to the head office of Ne TV Guwahati. On that day I didn’t know the painter Konthoujam Maikel Meitei was among the injured. The next morning I am going to Pourabi village where the IED was a blast for the follow-up story and I confirmed that a student of Government Art College was injured and his left limb was lost at the spot that was Konthoujam Maikel Meitei. Six years later (2013), I found Maikel in an Art exhibition, he narrated to me about his life and struggle, and he painted consistently on a quest to spread his inner message of peace to the people. I realize that his stories should be known to a wider audience. The story of Maikel is important, because his life and painting are visions for a peaceful world. That is how I came to my mind the idea of making my biographical documentary, “Beyond Blast”.
Poster: Beyond Blast
3Q: “Beyond Blast” is a biographical documentary on Konthoujam Maikel Meitei. What is the approach did you follow in this documentary?
Saikhom Ratan: 'Beyond Blast’ portrays the life of an artist who is a victim of armed conflict in quest for peace. 'On 16 December 2007' a powerful IED blast at Pourabi a countryside of Manipur the north eastern state of India which claims 7 lives' with more than 30 injured, among the injured artists, Maikel overcomes his suffering and wanted to swipe away the dark and fear psychosis of the people through his painting. The harrowing incident of Bomb Blast brought an unprecedented change in Maikel's psyche and the strokes of his brush on the canvas. A winner of various state and national awards, Maikel now paints consistently on a quest to spread his inner message of peace to the world.
4Q: Did you get any trouble in finding the producer of this documentary?
Saikhom Ratan: Finding a producer for the documentary film is not easy but for my documentary Beyond Blast, it is not must hard to find the producer. Luckily I found my producer Konjengbam Sushila Leima who is the former director of the Art & Culture government of Manipur. I asked her to produce this project and narrated the storyline and the concept of this project. She was very impressed about my story and she had already known about Konthoujam Maikel Meitei. After two days she phones me to come and sign the project (Beyond Blast). That’s how I found the producer for “Beyond Blast”.
5Q: Your documentary has already won many awards. But the selection at the Indian Panorama, 2022 (IFFI) is quite special. How do you feel?
Saikhom Ratan: It’s a huge honour to have been officially selected and to screen my biographical documentary Film “Beyond Blast” in the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2022 Indian Panorama the biggest film festival of India. Out of 242 non-feature films only 19 films were selected. I am so honoured to have my filmmaking recognized in this way by the organising committee and the jurors of the selecting committee. Around 90 working days in 5 years were spent making this project, and it means so much to me that the work that I am so passionate about also resonates with my team, especially Konthoujam Maikel Meetei who is my subject. This success is not something that I did alone, and many others deserve to share. I would like to thank my producer ma’am Konjengbam Sushila leima, associate director and sound designer Akee sorokhaibam and also thank my wife Thokchom Noutunmanjuri and beloved son Saikhom Yoihenba for their love and support.
6Q: What is your future plan?
Saikhom Ratan: I will continue my efforts to distinguish craftsmen and look forward to being a successful film maker.