(Last Updated on : 28-04-2012)
Sabitri Heisnam was a Manipuri theatre
actress who was born in a rural area of Mayang Imphal in 1946. She was initiated into the performing arts by her aunt, the distinguished actress C. Gouramani. She toured the villages as a child artiste in Elangbam Joychandra's popular travelling opera troupe. In that troupe she was performing the lead in Nimai Sanyas in 1955 for over 1000 shows.
Late fifties and early sixties saw her on the proscenium theatre continuing as one of professionals. She toured widely in Manipur while performing the role of Nimai (Gouranga) and was widely acclaimed as a child artiste. Next she got the role of Queen Chintamani in the play Shri Vasta- Chintamani and now she became a representative actress of her age.
She was already famous when Kanhailal approached her to take the leading female role in his play Layeng Ahanba. Their acquaintance started then onwards and they got married in 1962. Someone may even remark that their union had been pre-ordained. Sabitri, now in her late fifties, is still going strong, a real helper of her husband, an illustrious actress with so many laurels on her head. Her major performances in the field of alternate theatre of Kalakshetra Manipur include the characters of;
* Ekhoulangbi in Ekhoulangbi (1970)
* Widow mother in Tamnalai (1972)
* Old woman in Kabui Keioiba (1973)
* Mother Pebet in Pebet (1975)
* Tribal Woman in Laigi Machasinga (1978)
* Mi in Memoirs of Africa (1985),
* Thambam in 'Migi Sharang' (1990)
* Radha in Karna (1997) and
* Draupadi in Mahasweta Devi's Draupadi dramatistsation (2000)
Her acting in these roles had sneered a permanent niche in the hearts of the spectators. Married to H. Kanhailal, she began her professional career in Manipuri theatre
in the 1960s, with groups such as Aryan Theatre
and Student Artistes' Association. However, she immersed herself in the experimental genre with the mother's role in Kanhailal's TamnaLal or "Haunting Deities" in 1972. Her body, gestures, movements, and voice became representative of the Manipuri woman. It was deeply pained within, full of love and generosity, but ferocious and awesome when provoked. She carried this language into her major collaborative works with her husband, as the mother bird in Pebet in 1975, Mi in Memoirs of Africa in 1985, and the eponymous Draupadi
in 2000. In his group Kalakshetra, Kanhailal produced the vision and Sabitri the expression. She serves as President of the Theatre Women Artists Association of Manipur
For her performances and contribution in the field of theatre as an actress she has received various honours and awards in and outside the country. She received Manipur State Kala Akademi for acting in 1988, National Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
for acting in 1991.
Best actress award by the panel of critics in the 3rd Cairo International Festival of experimental theatre in 1991. And she has also been honoured with Nandikar Award in 2002 at Kolkata
on the occasion of the year of women empowerment by Nandikar, Kolkata in collaboration with the Department of Child and Woman Development, Government of India as well as Padma shri award
by the Government of India
in the year 2007.