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Panel holds lively discussion on Heisnam Sabitri, her Way of the Thamoi


The book under discussion called HEISNAM SABITRI: THE WAY OF THE THAMOI is co-authored by Prof. H.S. Shivaprakash and Dr. Usham Rojio.

TFM Report

Kalakshetra Manipur organised a discussion on the newly published book HEISNAM SABITRI: THE WAY OF THE THAMOI at its premise on September 18 afternoon. The book is co-authored by Prof. H.S. Shivaprakash and Dr. Usham Rojio.

An iconic figure in Manipuri theatre, Heisnam Sabitri is a critically renowned Indian stage performer. She was introduced to theatre as a young child artist by her aunt, theatre actor Gouramani Devi, who was born into a Meitei household in Mayang Imphal, Manipur. In 1969, she and stage director Heisnam Kanhailal founded Kalakshetra Manipur. They were married in 1962. Additionally, she appeared in the 1999 short film Mahadevi Akka, which was nominated for a National Film Award for best anthropological film. Sabitri, a former Sangeet Natak Akademi member nominated by the government, received the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honour, in 2008 for her services to Manipuri theatre.

Richard Gough, a theatre professor at Wales University in the UK, described Sabitri as “a living national treasure” and “[a] continuous poem…in action” (2014) after seeing her perform on stage. This book is a priceless addition to the field of performance and theatre studies. It outlines the first-person viewpoint of Heisnam Sabitri and her husband, Heisnam Kanhailal—two illustrious inventors of Indian theatre in the 20th century. It examines the various facets of theatre in the context of “thamoi,” a distinctively Meitei concept.

Prof. H. S. Shivaprakash is a retired professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi. He is a multidimensional academic who also writes in Kannada and English and has won awards as a poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. The inspiration to write about Sabitri’s contribution to Sabitri-Kanhailal productions and Manipuri theatre originated from his intimate association with Sabitri and Kanhailal during the completion of another book on their theatre.

Dr. Usham Rojio is a playwright, theatre director, and English teacher with a PhD in theatre and performance studies from the School of Arts and Aesthetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. His knowledge of Manipuri language, culture, and theatre is crucial to this undertaking. He assisted in putting this book’s words together by serving as an interpreter between his co-author and Sabitri.

Prof. Nongthongbam Premchand, Former Director, EMRC, Manipur University was the discussant of the book on the program.

Dr. Usham Rojio emphasises the significance of the book while providing a brief background of the book’s writing process. Through this book, he highlighted their contribution to the field of theatre scholarship. The book offers fresh perspectives on acting technique and theatre philosophy by studying the great actor Heisnam Sabitri. According to Dr. Rojio, the chapter “Body-Breath-Spirit and Voice” is an intervention in the body-mind psychophysical theatre discourse.

The significance of Sabitri-Kanhailal’s theatre in India and beyond is emphasised by Prof. H. S. Shivaprakash. He claimed to have never seen a theatre like it. Even while their theatre is culturally specific, it is also universal. Despite being simple, Sabitri’s description of her work is rife with important philosophical ideas. Her words allow us to observe their dedication to their theatrical productions. He claimed that Sabitri-Kanhailal’s theatre ought to have served as the benchmark for Indian theatre. But regrettably, it is not.

As a discussant, Prof. Nongthongbam Premchand praised the authors’ excellent work. He appreciates the simple, yet profound language of the book. Many people will enjoy reading the book. He claimed that it is a significant addition to the theatre community. This book will be a valuable resource for aspiring performers and budding theatre professionals.

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