Today (8th June 2020) is the second death anniversary of Sukracharjya Rabha (1977-2018), whom I lovingly called Sukra Da. He was my senior, my big brother. We both learned theatre from our Oja Kanhailal and Ima Sabitri. He was the founder-director of the theatre group Badungduppa Kalakendra, Rampur, an extended family of Kalakshetra Manipur. Under the guidance of late Heisnam Kanhailal, Sukracharjya Rabha started the theatre festival Under the Sal Tree in 2008 at his village Rampur. The first festival was jointly organized by Badungduppa Kalakendra and Kalakshetra Manipur, the theatre group founded by late Heisnam Kanhailal and Heisnam Sabitri.
In 1963, Kanhailal Heisnam had been expelled from the National School of Drama on for having taken leave without official permission. The real problem, according to scholars like Rustom Bharucha was Kanhailal’s inability to cope with the pressure of being expected to speak, write and work in English and especially in Hindi. These were languages that were unfamiliar and alien to him, just as he was alien in the space where he had arrived, albeit with much hope and optimism, as a student of theatre. Having been expelled, after a period of aimlessness, Kanhailal returned to Imphal finally in 1969 to begin his own work and established his theatre group Kalakshetra Manipur. However, unlike the far-more spectacular Ratan Thiyam, who even went on briefly to become the director of NSD in 1987-1988, Kanhailal remained for a long time on the margins of what was accepted and celebrated as ‘Manipuri ‘theatre practice at the nation’s centre.
Watch Late Heisnam Kanhailal’s classic play Pebet