The sound of Imphal Talkies

Manipuri band, Imphal Talkies and the Howlers, will perform at the cinema hall they named themselves after, which stopped screening movies sixteen years ago

Akhu Chingambam, a poet, musician, singer and physicist from Manipur started his musical journey on the streets with a guitar, mouth organ and signature tickling humour in haiku. Singing songs of protest and the realities of Manipur on Delhi campuses, he formed the band, Imphal Talkies, in 2008 while pursuing a PhD in physics from Jamia Millia University. By 2012, the band had made waves on television during the second season of The Dewarists. With Karnajit Laishram playing the bass, Sachin Ananda on the guitar, Chaoba Thiyam with the Pena (the indigenous fiddle) and Sunil Loitongbam on the drums, the band was set for a long journey.

Akhu Chingambam plays inside Imphal Talkies
Akhu Chingambam plays inside Imphal Talkies

Cinema and music
The name, Imphal Talkies, came to him from memories of a better Imphal, and its nostalgia, he recalls.

Introducing us to the world of Imphal’s lanes and the talkie, Akhu says that the story of the place started in 1960 as Rupmahal Theatre when the hall was used only for local plays. Later, it began to screen movies and was named Imphal Talkies. While they were teenagers, the hall screened English films, often with adult rating. Later, it was shut and turned back into Rupmahal Theatre that staged plays only in the local language. After all these years, and many performances, Akhu’s Imphal Talkies has finally got permission from the local bodies to perform at the theatre on January 30, sing English songs with a guitar, and bring in a whiff of fresh air. For Akhu, more than anything else, it is coming home.

The talkies now shows only local plays
The talkies now shows only local plays

“It has been a dream for me to perform at the Talkies. The idea has been with me for years but this time, we could make it work out. I’m also planning more events to make Imphal a music-friendly town away from the social turmoil our generation has been witnessing,” he gushes.

The dilapidated sign board
The dilapidated sign board

“Our generation grew up watching films at Imphal Talkies mostly when we bunked school. It is always nice to remember those innocent days. During that time, Imphal was better off socio-politically though I was just a boy who didn’t understand what was going on. You may call it nostalgia but there were rare cases of violence then,” he reminisces.

Imphal Talkies performing at an open-air gig in Shillong. Pics courtesy/Siddharth Haobijam
Imphal Talkies performing at an open-air gig in Shillong. Pics courtesy/Siddharth Haobijam

However, things changed later. “I watched my last film at the talkies in 1999. In the coming years, the hall stopped screening movies and the place was turned into Rupmahal Theatre again, only staging plays,” he
adds. It was the love for Imphal that was Akhu’s first inspiration for music, which later merged into the larger ocean of music and poetry.

“My inspiration is Imphal and the agonies of poverty,” Akhu says. His songs are about rights activist Binayak Sen, Irom Sharmila, historic betrayals, and inequality in the country and draconian laws.

Inspire, sing
His passion led him to the works of Bengal’s radical poet Nazrul Islam. “While discovering Manipuri poets from the ’60s, like Thangjam Ibopishak, Shri Biren, Yumlembam Ibomcha, I also discovered Nazrul. It was an important stage in my life as I was searching for my own medium to create and express my emotions.” And soon he came out with his songs Tiddim Road, India and Eche, which found acclaim across the country.

Akhu has performed at a few gigs in Mumbai too. Though, he is not very excited about the experience. “I have performed only twice in Mumbai, so not much to share. All I can say is that I was not paid for the shows, the gig organisers thought they were giving me a platform to reach out and I was just starting out in those days, I didn’t mind. I was broke and sang, India I see blood in your hands.”

With this performance, Akhu hopes to turn it into a tradition and slowly draw youth and pop culture to Imphal and the Imphal Talkies. “In a place like Manipur where the youth can’t find a platform to express their angst and thoughts, any shut down place is good enough for gigs,” he concludes.

Dedication to the Talkies

A house was burnt down
A man was murdered for stealing a bicycle 
A woman was forced to marry a man
A grenade is found in the sewage canal

Oh Imphal tell me which way you are heading
Oh Imphal sing me a different song this time

They say they gonna screen ‘Point of Seduction’
Also next week it is gonna be ‘Bandit Queen’
And for the second time ‘Alexandra’ will be screened too.

Come follow me, my friend 
Let’s not worry much of Imphal 
Let’s just sit quiet and watch a movie at Imphal talkies
Like those old days
(This was originally written in Manipuri by Akhu and then translated by him too)

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