Heisnam Kanhailal

Born on 17 January 1941 in Imphal, Shri Heisnam Kanhailal is one of the original voices in contemporary Indian theatre. Working at the grassroots since the 1960s, he has crafted an individual idiom of theatre out of traditional resources to give expression to Manipur's discontent and anguish in our times, creating masterly parables of contemporary history. Active in theatre from his schooldays, Shri Kanhailal joined the National School of Drama in Delhi in 1968, only to leave the following year to establish his group Kalakshetra in Imphal. Tamnalai (1972) on the subject of youth unrest was his first play under the Kalakshetra banner, which set the tone for the work that was to follow. In masterpieces like Pebet (1975), Laigee Machasinga (1978), Memoirs of Africa (1985), Karna (1997), and Draupadi (2000), Shri Kanhailal perfected a lyrical style distinguished by minimal physical expression, supple movement, and a certain playfulness that set off the often grim content. These plays have attracted wide attention and critical appreciation in theatre circles in India and abroad. Shri Kanhailal has since been working with a cross-section of people, actors and non-actors, to create a new theatre focused on Manipur’s plight in the modern world. This experimentation has led to the performance of Nupi Lan, based on Manipur’s Women’s War of 1939, in which market women from Imphal took part. Similarly, Sanjennaha was performed by villagers of Umathel in southern Manipur, and Thanghou Leh Liandou was performed by tribal youths of the Paite community of Churachandpur district. Shri Kanhailal has on occasion directed plays by other playwrights, such as Rabindranath Tagore’s Dakghar. He has presented his plays at many places and conducted workshops in theatre in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Mysore, Guwahati, Agartala, and Patna. He has travelled abroad to Japan, Egypt, and Singapore. For his contribution in the field of theatre, Shri Kanhailal has been honoured with the Manipur State Kala Akademi Award (1982), the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1982), and the Padma Shri (2003). He was also awarded an Emeritus Fellowship (1998) by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Shri Heisnam Kanhailal is elected Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi for his contribution to Indian theatre.