SUMMARY: Local cinemas in Myanmar are slowly rebounding three years after the 2021 military coup, signaling a thaw in public boycotts. Burmese writer Do: Na offers a glimpse of the future of Myanmar cinema which hinges on particular trends that shape mainstream production standards, reminiscent of past eras of rushed filmmaking.
This article was completed under the ArtsEquator Fellowship. Views expressed are solely of the writer/creator.
Three years after the military coup on 1 February 2021, which led to a deep political crisis and full-blown civil war, local cinemas in Myanmar are beginning to see a return of film-goers. This is a sign that the public’s boycott of cinemas has gradually eased over time.
Among the many contributing factors is the popularity of online movie series, which have somewhat enticed the local audience back to the big screen in the post-coup period.
In 2023, the show Eain Htaung (The Marriage) became a major success. It was first streamed on the Mahar Mobile paid movie application, then broadcast on free-to-air channels.
Eain Htaung possesses the so-called “Laung” quality, a popular slang term in today’s Myanmar culture used to describe intense emotions and feelings in everyday situations, including entertainment. Its literal meaning is associated with “burn”, as in a fire burning. There is even a Mahar Mobile original series titled Laung, which suggests the extent of the influence of this word on Myanmar’s movie series culture.
The storyline of Eain Htaung, featuring a young, beautiful villainess interfering with the husbands of other women, has been a constant theme on Korean TV series aired on free-to-air channels in Myanmar.
Essentially, the premises of most Burmese movie series have many parallels with their Korean counterparts, though there are a few unique exceptions. Eain Htaung is like another Korean movie series made in Myanmar, with a Burmese cast speaking in the Burmese language.
Although the fact that marriage dramas are a staple of Myanmar movies and films is nothing new, we are seeing these stories being produced in series one after another in the post-coup period. Like Eain Htaung, they are filled with the drama and conflicts of love and infidelity.
In most of these films, which portray the lower social class, the neat, clean wooden houses with dreamy flowing curtains do not remotely embody the reality of living in Myanmar, or even the signs of human dwellings, such as a slightly dirty kitchen or clothes resting on an armchair.
Canal+ Myanmar FG, the joint venture between Canal+ in France and Forever Group in Myanmar, often misrepresents Myanmar in its series, which are filled with pretensions of the lower social class of a much more developed country.
The coup has disintegrated Myanmar’s film industry, forcing some film professionals to join the armed revolution in the jungles or to leave the country.
Those who stay in the country continue working in the regressive film industry.
Bonanza, for example, once a young and enterprising film company that produced relatively decent films – even the rare action genre – has now found its new playing field in romance movie series and is collaborating with both online and satellite channels. As a business diversification, Bonanza has also launched its streaming application, Hey Play, which usually works with a selection of regular cast members in its shows.
The first Myanmar TV series, The Sign of Love, was aired in 2012 on MRTV-4, a free-to-air channel owned by the Forever Group. For a few years since then, movie series have usually been the preserve of new actors, where they have the opportunity to take on leading roles and, in a few cases, make their way to the big screen. An example of this is May Myint Mo, who started her career in series produced by the channels of Forever Group and began to secure leading roles in big-screen productions a few years later.
These days, with fewer new films being produced than before the coup, an increasing number of veteran big-screen stars are working on movie series. This is beneficial for the development of Myanmar’s film industry, as the old stars act alongside newcomers. There are a few good examples of this kind of collaboration producing promising results, as seen in the father-son relationship portrayed by the veteran actor Nyi Nanda and the young talent Nay Htut in Yangon Nights, the original series on Mahar Mobile.
However, most Myanmar movie series contain many defects in acting styles prevalent in films. Even in the hit series Eain Htaung, the young actress Yadanar Bo’s portrayal of her villainous character Thu Chit Khin is filled with the overacting typical in Myanmar films – and unsurprisingly, it was a major success thanks to the strong support of Burmese film audiences.
How all these trends, the quality and production style of movie series, will influence the future of mainstream Myanmar cinema poses an interesting question.
The mass production reminds us of an episode in the history of Myanmar cinema around the turn of the century when movies were made in a few days – most of which were sloppy comedies – leaving a legacy of a deteriorating film culture that still finds its place in today’s Myanmar.
The lyrics “Thone Yat Ta Kar” (one video in three days) featured in the pop song, ‘Director’, by singer Alex, mocks the reality of movie production in Myanmar at that time. There is a long way to go for Myanmar’s film industry today to move from merely surviving to conducting true business with a sound artistic standard.
Cover image sourced from Mahar Series / YouTube.