The life and times of theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi
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The life and times of theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi

At 90, Ebrahim Alkazi is one of Indian theatre’s living legends. His ongoing retrospective at the NGMA is a time capsule into the early days of the stage

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Sep 09, 2016 16:10 IST
Arundhati Chatterjee
Arundhati Chatterjee
Ebrahim Alkazi,theatre,HT48Hours
Three Penny OperaTeen Take ka Swaand by Bertolt Brecht. Dir. Fritz Bennewitz. Curtain Call, NSD, 1970

At 90, Ebrahim Alkazi is one of Indian theatre’s living legends. His ongoing retrospective at the NGMA is a time capsule into the early days of the stage

Charles Dickens’s famous lines seem apt for describing the life of theatre doyen Ebrahim Alkazi — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. His is a life in Indian theatre like no other.

Read: 25 years of Rage

Amid much political upheaval, Alkazi became one of the most prominent theatre artists in Mumbai during the ’40s and ’50s. Then, at 37, he left it all, moved to Delhi, and served as the director of National School of Drama (NSD) for the next 15 years (1962 to 1977) — the longest tenure ever in the history of the institute.

Sultan Razia by Balwant Gargi. Dir. E.Alkazi. Rohini Oka as Razia, Naseeruddin Shah as Jamaluddin Yakut. NSD, New Delhi, 1974 (Alkazi Foundation for the Arts)

Naturally, a retrospective on his illustrious career spanning 50 years demands a lot of space (physical space, just to house the material) and attention to detail.

Earlier this year, the Theatre of E Alkazi, the exhibition, occupied three floors of Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi. They wanted to bring it to Mumbai (it was only befitting).

But after facing severe space crunch at city galleries for months, curator Amal Allana, 68, (Alkazi’s daughter) and her husband, stage and light designer Nissar Allana, 69, have somehow “managed” to fit everything — handwritten notes, photographs, recreated sets — inside the NGMA, Kala Ghoda.

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Dir. E.Alkazi. Om Shivpuri as Oedipus. NSD, New Delhi,1964 (Alkazi Foundation for the Arts)

“Theatre doesn’t have proper archives in our country. The material was scattered. We’ve collected all of it over the last 15 years, and spent a couple of years to simply give it a form and narrative,” says Amal. The focus is not just on the now-90-years-old Alkazi, but also on his contemporaries.

One of the highlights is the 60-ft-long The Alkazi Times, a newspaper installation that follows the lives of Alkazi and his contemporaries through time. “He worked with some exponential artists — Akbar Padamsee, MF Husain, Bobby Padamsee, Uday Shankar, Utpal Dutt... Their lives were intertwined. The bulletin, in the true sense, is a documentation of time,” she says.

Hamlet by Shakespeare, Dir E Alkazi. E Alkazi as Hamlet. Theatre Group, Bombay, 1947 (Alkazi Foundation for the Arts)

While you are in the time capsule, you can also take part in a series of vox pop sessions scheduled during the exhibition, and enter a video room to see rare footage of Alkazi in rehearsal.

If you’re interested in theatre in India at any level, this is part of its birth story.

The Theatre of E Alkazi will be on till October 18, 11am to 6pm
At NGMA, Kala Ghoda
Call 2288 1969

First Published: Sep 08, 2016 00:00 IST