A classic tale: Manik Raitong

Posted in Notebook

The story of this film is an immortal folk tale often told among the people of the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, Joannes Lamare tells us more…

In the beginning, God created sixteen families who lived with him in the abode. The members of these families could come to the earth and go back at will across a golden bridge. Then seven of the families decided to stay back on earth, and the golden bridge was destroyed forever. These seven families came to be known as the Seven Huts (Hynniew Trep). The Huts lie in the origin of their existence, and the divine heritage left behind by the ancient people.
The story of Manik Raitong takes place in an unnamed and unknown place in this ancient confederation of the Khasi States.
Manik is a poor village boy whose most treasured possession is his flute on which he plays haunting tunes. Lieng Makaw, a young girl from the same village, is his sweetheart. Manik’s father dies, leaving Manik and his sister, Bida to face many hardships. He also leaves a large burden of debts on Manik’s young shoulders. To avoid becoming a bonded laborer, Manik decided to give up playing his flute and work very had to repay the debts. It is Lieng who makes him play on his flute again one day.
On the day of the local festival, Manik plays his flute and the girls in all their finery danced to the tunes. Watching the dance, the local chief, The Syiem, is enchanted by the fresh beauty of Lieng. At home the Syiem’s sister has been nagging him daily to get married. She is tired of looking after her home all by herself. Lieng with her untouched youthful look appeals to the Syiem, though he himself is neither handsome nor quite young.

A friend of the family goes to Lieng’s house to negotiate the marriage. It was a great honor for Lieng’s parents. Also, they dare not refuse the Syiem. Lieng is heartbroken. As the last resort she rushes off to see Manik who told her that he had already heard the story. And as he had nothing to offer her, he accepted the fact that Lieng should marry the Syiem. Lieng is numbed by the shock of his rejection. The marriage took place with the usual pomp. But the unhappy Lieng can show no warmth towards her new husband. On the wedding night the Syiem has to leave his queen to attend the matters of the state and the marriage remains unconsummated. Later, when the Syiem tries to win over his bride, Lieng remains mute and unresponsive. For days the Syiem and his sister try to talk her out of her silence and depression. But Lieng remains aloof and apathetic. Tired of her continued coldness, the Syiem one day loses his patience and lashes out with anger. For the first time Lieng responded but with anger. Next day the Syiem goes on a two days journey to visit his outer domain. Angry and hurt by Lieng’s attitude, he arranges to send her back to her home in the village.
Back in her village, Lieng still refuses to come out of her shell. She keeps to herself, no longer sharing the happy relationship she used to have with the other village girls. At night she hears the plaintive flute of Manik and sits relentlessly on her bed. One stormy night the flute was silent. She strains her ears but she hears nothing but just the noise of the torrential rain outside. Disturbed and worried, she quietly slips out of the house and for the first time since she was back at the village, goes to Manik’s lonely house. The long suppressed emotion can be held no longer and Lieng and Manik made love while the rain pours outside his little hut.
Soon a boy is borne to Lieng. When the Syiem comes back from his sojourn, he is full of hope that his wife will soften towards him after this long separation. He was horrified to find that Lieng has already had a child in the meantime. Bringing Lieng back to the palace, the Syiem insisted on knowing the man who has fathered the child. But Lieng refused to say anything at all. The Syiem then decided to test all the men in the community. The child does not react to any men. When Manik arrives, and making no attempt to hide his crime, comes and picks up his child, who is obviously very excited to see him. Manik knew that he has offended the moral code of the land and is ready to be punished for it.
A funeral pyre was lit. Manik plays his flute for one last time, when sticking his flute in the ground, jumps into the funeral pyre. As the flames rose over him, Lieng ran forward calling Manik’s name and throws herself into the pyre. The flames consume the unhappy lovers as the sun sets in the far horizon.
A simple tale, redolent with sadness, Manik Raitong brings with it the enchantment of a long forgotten world. Manik’s romance with the unhappy queen carried echoes of many other tragic romance found among the folk tales in different parts of the country. The inherent sense of fatalism in folk cultures finds expression in Manik’s calm acceptance of his tragic destiny. It is not only Manik who has transgressed the unalterable laws of social conduct. Lieng, who voluntarily went and offered herself to her old lover, was a silent rebellion against her marriage with the Syiem. In the process she violated the codes of her marriage. The punishment meted out to Manik was actually her personal tragedy, her punishment. She could only rush into the flames with him, for without Manik, how can Lieng survive? Neither Manik nor Lieng attempt to escape from this cruel justice. The harsh laws of an ancient land would not break any resistance. They protect even as they destroy, and Manik and Lieng saw themselves as victims of a preordained fate.

In an exclusive interview Joannes Lamare of Meghalaya Times spoke to Sheba Diengdoh, the actress of the 1984 movie, “Manik Raitong”, which literally made it to the 1984 Indian Panorama Award, while she narrated her experience and her role as Lieng Makaw. The movie made in the year 1984 was the first Khasi coloured movie of about 121 minute’s duration under the banner of Neo Cine Production. The movie was screen played and directed by Ardhendhu Bhattacharya and the storyline was from Rishan Rapsang. The camera was ably handled by Bijoy Anand Sabberwal.  The lyrics of the song were written by Skendrowel Syiemlieh and the music was enchantingly composed by Kazu Matsui, a Japanese. The dialogues were done by Humphrey Blah, sound by Robin Sengupta. art direction was undertaken by Ashok Bose. Editing was completed by Prasanta Dey. The lead actors included William Rynjah, Sheba Diengdoh, Gilbert Synnah, Veronica Nongbet, Benjamin Kharkongor and Diamond Matthew.
Sheba narrated that her role in the movie was that the part of Lieng Makaw, the heroine. “It was not uneasy for me facing the camera. As far as acting is concern, somehow I took it in my stride, which came naturally to me. The director explained the situation to me and I put it into action. The shots were taken in one or two takes only”. She stated.

1. What was your role in the movie and what were your experiences? Like acting skills, techniques used,. How did it feel facing the camera for the first time?
SD: I played the role of Lieng Makaw in the movie. It was not uneasy for me for me facing the camera. As far as acting is concern, somehow I took it in my stride, it came naturally to me. The director explained the situation to me and I put it into action. The shots were taken in one or two takes only.

2.How did you get into the movie industry at that time? Were there any auditions and other formalities as such?
SD: My friends, Narda Das and her husband (L) Ashim Das who are theatre personalities encouraged me into the movie industry. There was an audition and screen test and fortunately I was selected. I was found fit for the role of Lieng Makaw.

3.How did the movie fare? Experiences
SD: Being the first ever full-length feature film in Khasi, it created a great sensation with the locals. The movie won the Indian Panorama 1984 Award (from amongst 21 Indian Feature Films). The Music (Flute Recital) played a significant role (by Kazu Matsui) a Japanese) in that it set the trend of the flute recital too. The movie also represented the Indian Panorama at the Tokyo Film Festival where it was quite popular. It won the Appheia Award also.

4.What are your views with regard to the present movie industry that is booming up in Meghalaya?
SD: I am glad that the movie industry here has presently come up with some well meaning films.
5.What are the Khasi movies that you have watched so far? Your comments.
SD: I have so far not watched any Khasi movie.

6.What influence does movies have on youngsters? Do you think that the movies of today are socially relevant?
SD: Yes they are very much socially relevant.

7.Where do you view the industry ten years from now?
SD: Well, I see that the industry has grown by leaps and bounds.

8.What is your message to the artists and young talents involved in the movie industry?
SD: My message to the young talents is that they should take up more realistic approach in films or in the roles they choose or directed to perform.

9.Your final words and message?
SD: I hope the industry comes up with more well-meaning films so as to entertain and educate the viewers along the way.


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