Aribam Syam Sharma’s Restored Indian Masterpiece ‘Ishanou’ Set for Cannes Classics Debut

Indian auteur Aribam Syam Sharma’s “Ishanou,” which screened at the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes in 1991 is returning to the Croisette in a restored version.

The Manipuri-language film is the only Indian film at the festival’s Cannes Classics section this year.

“Ishanou” (“The Chosen One”), follows Tampha, a young woman with a loving husband and a small daughter, who leads a tranquil existence in the Manipur valley and is occupied with the mundane details of life. Suddenly she begins to behave in a strange manner, talking to flowers, becoming afflicted with dizzy spells and wandering out of the house in the dark of the night. The family tries to find a cure for her malady and finally realize that she does not have a sickness, but rather is responding to the call of a deity who has chosen her.

The story, screenplay and costumes are by M. K. Binodini Devi and the cast includes Anoubam Kiranmala, Kangabam Tomba, Baby Molly, Manbi, Soraisam Dhiren and Baby Premita.

The film is restored by India’s Film Heritage Foundation whose restoration of Aravindan Govindan’s 1978 film “Thamp̄“ screened at Cannes Classics in 2022.

The restoration was a challenging process that took a year. When Film Heritage Foundation conservators checked the negative, they realized that the negative had vinegar syndrome decay on certain reels, mould and warping, broken perforations, scratches, halos on the emulsion and base distortion.

Another challenge was the use of portions of inter-negative in the original camera negative which resulted in wide variations in the image quality, making it very grainy in parts and not matching the other portions of the film. Additionally, there was no sound negative so the conservators had to work on the sound from the two 35mm prints, which Sharma had. The film had been shot on 16mm on a low budget in fluctuating available light conditions as a result of which there were focus and lighting issues that impacted the image.

The picture was restored by Film Heritage Foundation at the L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna and Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd.’s post studios, Chennai, in association with Sharma and Manipur State Film Development Society. The sound was digitized from the 35mm acetate print and the grading was supervised by Sharma. Funding was provided by Film Heritage Foundation with the support of Dr. Richard Meyer and Susan Harmon.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, director, Film Heritage Foundation said: “It has been a challenging journey, but the result has been more than worth it. The beautiful restoration will remind cineastes of the work of a doyen of Manipuri cinema and a renaissance man like Aribam Syam Sharma who has placed Manipuri cinema on the world map.”

Sharma added: “It has been a journey of discovery to work with Film Heritage Foundation and to see my film restored so beautifully and respectfully, and given a new life after over thirty years. I have seen the time and painstaking effort put in by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur over the past one year to work closely with me to ensure that the film is restored keeping in mind my original vision.”

“Ishanou” screens on May 19.

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