Fans of Manipur-based award-winning director Aribam Syam Sharma will be a little disappointed with “The Gray Mare,” a delicate story about a spurned lover and a stolen horse that never quite ignites. TV webs keen on exotic locales may want to have a look, but the most likely place to see this slight pic abroad will be at Indian film weeks.
Sanabi is a prize Manipuri pony, whose thoroughbred blood represents the life of the Meities people (inventors of the sport of polo, among other things). Her owner, Ojha Birchandra (Takhelambam Nobokumar), is a retired gentleman who lives in a graceful house with his wife and divorced daughter Sakhi (R.K. Sushila). Latter is a dancer at the State Dance Academy and is used to coming home late.
When her childhood playmate Mangi (Harongbam Deben) reappears, after making money and a name for himself as a thief and a fence, Sakhi brushes him off. But the bad egg has a soft spot for the proud, cultivated dancer. To force her to take notice, he steals her father’s beloved pony.
Simple as the story is, there is nothing expected about the way Sharma shoots it. Maneuvering characters and beast, he sets up an intricate dance of feelings with great narrative economy. Main actors are finely individualized, though the others are a bit of a blur. Sunny Joseph’s cinematography wallows in the lush beauty of Manipur’s hills and dales and emerald fields, and as a nod to high culture Sharma films several classical dances in their entirety.