Cinema presents the stories of man, his life and his society. It assists us to have a better understanding of our own lives, the lives of those around us, and even the functioning of our society and culture. 

Manipur is finally getting introduced to the first film featuring a same-sex relationship and sexual identity this year. The story is based on the real story of a gay youth who was the victim of honour killing because of his homosexuality in Manipur in 2013. 

Award winning Manipuri filmmaker and actor Priyakanta Laishram’s film ‘Oneness’ is creating history!  

“I had the movie idea in mind right after a friend of mine, who is a cousin of the victim told me about the crime. He was brutally killed and disposed of by his family because of his sexuality. My main aim is to convey Ivan Martin’s (name changed) story and by doing so I also want to expose the pressure the gay, lesbian and transgender community faces from their family, the society and the state. Gay Honor Killing is an invisible crime. The sad part is nobody is aware of Ivan Martin’s case. There are no statistics or records of the number of anti-LGBTQ Honor Killings which are perpetrated by relatives who feel the LGBTQ person has brought “dishonor” to the family – that happen in India or other countries that criminalize homosexuality. We hear less about gay men who are threatened with so-called honor killings because we don’t talk about it,” said Priyakanta Laishram. 

Priyakanta Laishram, who is also the writer and director of the film, will be seen in the lead role of Ivan Martin. Famous Manipuri actors Maya Choudhury, Suraj Ngashepam, Harendra Laishram and Sachinker Sagolsem are also part of the cast and will play important roles in the film.  

Laishram also said, “There was a piece of us in each of the characters. It is a tragic story that needed to be told. It took me almost two years to develop and finalise the script. Some of the scenes shocked me while writing. It would have been immoral for me to turn down this film. I wanted to take this responsibility because there must be so many people like Ivan Martin and it’s high time, we acknowledge the pain they suffer and their stories. We don’t live in a dream world and we don’t expect changes to happen all of a sudden in such a deep-seated institution. One step at a time!” 

Laishram, who himself came out as gay in 2019, said he came to know of the incident through the YouTube talk show he began in 2020 amid the first pandemic lockdown. His talk show, “Up Close with Priyakanta Laishram’’, raises various social issues, including those pertaining to gender and the LGBTQIA+ community. 

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“After having listened to my show, the victim’s cousin got in touch with me. She told me that her brother, who belongs to a tribal community, was in a relationship with a Meitei boy. He was 18 years old while his Meitei boyfriend was 21 at the time. The victim’s family got to know about his sexuality when the pair were caught in a hotel room during a police raid. While he had support from his mother and sister, his father and older brother were very religious,’’ said Laishram, who is pursuing a degree in Sociology. 

According to Laishram, the two boys were subjected to conversion therapy by their families. The victim’s cousin told Laishram that the boy was subjected to exorcisms and submerged in water in an attempt to re-baptise him. Laishram says the victim kept a detailed account of what had happened in a journal, which forms the basis of the film. 

According to Laishram, the two lovers got in touch with each other after several months. “The victim’s older brother, who was keeping a close watch, followed him to the rendezvous. That night, after the victim had come home, the brother mixed bleaching powder and ammonia in his milk. The boy died that night. A case was never registered and it was deemed a suicide,” he said.

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“In any case, in tribal areas, it is tribal law that holds prevalence, so there is little that the police can do in such situations,’ Laishram said. 

The Manipuri film industry is highly censored by insurgent groups that act as moral police. In 2022, Meitei-centric valley groups proceeded to ban Hindi Movies in the state. There was also a largescale shutdown of movie theatres in the city of Imphal. Major restrictions were also imposed on the cinema content such as lead actors having to wear only traditional clothes and storylines only having a traditional storyline. Further, dream sequences and fantasies were also banned.  

“It’s not just films, but even music videos. Whether it is a rock or classical or pop music video, the women have to mandatorily wear phaneks (Manipuri traditional clothing), and no other clothing is permitted,’’ said actress Meena Longjam who won a national award for her film “Autodriver’’ in 2015. 

Laishram says it was “exceedingly’’ difficult. “I spent eight months just looking for an actor to play the lead role. Every actor said no because it was the role of a gay man. While I got an actor to play the boyfriend, I had to play the victim’s character in the movie myself,’’ said Laishram, who has also written, produced and directed the film. 

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The filmmaker says it was through making movies that he began the process of accepting himself. “Manipuri society doesn’t understand homosexuality. That’s why this movie is so important,’ he said. 

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