GUWAHATI: One of the icons of the region, a star in the world of theatre Heisnam Kanhailal of Manipur is no more, leaving a void too large to fill.

The 75 year old theatre artist was suffering from a brief illness when he breathed his last at his hometown in Imphal on Thursday.

Known for his experimental theatre and founder of Kalakshetra Manipur in 1969, Kanhailal was awarded the Padma Bhushan besides a host of prestigious awards for his immense contribution to the world of theatre.

His demise left the people in general and the theatre fraternity in deep sorrow.

Acclaimed filmmaker of Manaipur Aribam Syam Sharma said that Kanhailal’s work is immortal.

“I feel it is like a big tree falling off from the Manipuri art landscape. He was a colossal figure we were proud of. His loss will leave a personal vacuum inside me. But Kanhailal lives on. His works, which are a totally a new approach in theatre, will remain immortal. It is important to carry forward his legacy by the artists of today,” Sharma himself a globally known figure was quoted as saying by the Imphal Free Press.

Kanhailal was born in the year 1941 in Imphal. He began his career in Manipuri theatre with occasional inputs in student drama and club shows. He joined the National School of Drama in 1968.

Following this he set up Kalakshetra in 1969 and that’s how he gave a new identity to Manipuri art and culture.

Kanhailal invented a minimalist school of physical expression with lithe movements and playful form, and a distinctively lyrical style of short masterpieces like Pebet in 1975, which travelled to Japan in 1987 and Egypt in 1991.

Kanhailal was a staunch experimentalist who always believed in re-defining theatre through many of his productions and theories he has been evolving from his intimate experience of theatre.

Paying his tribute, actor Adil Hussain said, “He was one director who was searching deeper truth in Action, Acting and theatre. Rest in Peace Kanhailal jee! Theatre will miss you”.

In 2004, government of India honoured him with Padma Shri award. Again in 2016 Kanhailal won the Padma Bhushan honour.

Among others, he was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in direction in 1985 and Sangeet Natak Akademy Ratna Award in 2011.

Kanhailal was accepted by the critics and viewers in different parts of the world. In 1987 he staged his plays ‘Pebet’ and ‘Memoirs of Africa’ at Tokyo, Toga and Ningata. Then in 1991 toured Cairo with his theatre group where he staged his play ‘Migi Sharang’ in the 3rd Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre. The play was adjudged as one of the six best plays.

His other famous plays include ‘Tamnalai’,’Kabui Keioiba’, ‘Karna’, ‘Draupati’ and Uchek Langmeidong’. His wife Sabitri Devi is also a renowned theatre artiste.

In spite of getting global recognition, he was always down to earth and maintained a simple life.

Manipuri filmmaker Oinam Doren said, “A very humble soul who started a new theatre movement called ‘theatre of the earth’. A kind of theatre that haunt the audience for days. Your legacy will continue in our spirit, in our imagination, in our thought process, in our work. Oja you were dearly loved and will be missed deeply”.

Kanhailal was equally popular among the youth as well. Young Bollywood actor Mrigendra Konwar who passed out from the National School of Drama a few years ago shared his memories with The Citizen.

“I first met Kanhailal sir in 2010 in Karnataka in a theatre village. An aged-man with white mustache and hair who always carried the sweet smile on his face, will remain always in our hearts. He always kept us reminding about our origin -- human civilization and all. It was fun working with him. He was like a child and very innocent in what he said. It was one of the most precious period in my life when we learnt acting from him,” Konwar said.