She would lie down on fresh grass, look up at the clouds and have deep conversations with them. Everything she saw around her piqued her curiosity as a child. Nothing would escape her eyes. She would ponder on it for days, even months and sometimes chase it till she could get all the information she needed. Just like that she chased an autodriver, quite literally. Fortunately for her, it ended well. Today, at 32, and a single mother of two, Meena Longjam is the only woman from Manipur to have won a national award when her film Autodriver was selected for the category of best social documentary. The film is the story of a female autodriver and her daily struggles in conflict ridden Manipur.
“Some years back I saw this cute woman at Pangei Bazaar, dressed in a rugged green khaki, wearing a low hat, standing next to an auto with so many passengers. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she was so uniquely dressed. All of a sudden, she drove off with all the passengers seated in her auto. That’s how I began searching for this amazing soul,” says Meena.
Meena Longjam always thrived on adventure. She grew up watching a lot of films like Lucky 7, 3 Ninjas and Shaolin Temple. But her urge for more realistic films started from watching Discovery and National Geographic. Meena went on to do her Master’s in Communication at Madras Christian College, Chennai, where she fell in love with the art of documentary making, something she considers a world apart from cinema. “I believe in portraying the depth of reality, the web of life we live in, where every moment is beyond fictional cinema. I felt the impact or inspiration comes from the real world, so I decided I would portray more significant stories and only through the prism of the non-fictional world, the real world,” she says.
Speaking about the filmmaking scenario in the North East, she says, “There is not a single national statute filmmaking institute that would cater to the skills of film making. The environment and various societal issues have given birth to filmmakers. Almost eighty percent of the filmmakers in the north east are self taught. The nearest filmmaking institute one would barge in would be the SRFTI in Kolkata and Pune.”
When asked how she handled being a woman filmmaker and a mother, she says, “Getting anything done is like running a hurdle race. But there are a lot of advantages too. We women can empathise and build rapport easily and feel very comfortable listening to anyone’s deepest secrets.”
Meena, who also works as a script writer and narrator for Doordarshan, Imphal, hopes to continue to make films on empowerment of women. For those who are oppressed and don’t have the means to shout out their grievances, I would love to stand as their voice – clear and loud, she says.
Reach out: twitter.com/ayerameen