Ebrahim Alkazi: Colossus of modern theatre and arts in India
Born in Pune, Maharashtra, on October 18, 1925, Alkazi hailed from a family with a keen interest in arts. He was the son of a wealthy Saudi Arabian businessman trading in India and Kuwaiti mother. He was one of nine siblings. In 1947, the rest of his family migrated to Pakistan but Alkazi stayed back in India. Educated in Arabic, English, Marathi, and Gujurati, Alkazi was enrolled at the St. Vincent’s High School in Pune and later St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
When Ebrahim Alkazi came to Mumbai from Pune to attend university, he met Sultan ’Bobby’ Padamsee — Alyque Padamsee’s elder brother — and became involved in his Theatre Group.
Thereafter, he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London in 1947. Even though he won laurels for his work there, Alkazi returned to Mumbai, infused with a new zeal to do a different kind of theatre. He joined the Theatre Group, which he ran from 1950 to 1954.
A mammoth career
When Alkazi initiated his own Theatre Unit in 1954, he began to revolutionise Indian theatre. As the director (1962–77) of the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi, he catalysed its emergence as India’s premier theatre training institute. Immediately after he joined NSD, Alkazi realised that he would have to shift from the English-language theatre that he used to do in Mumbai to Hindi in Delhi. He had introduced cutting-edge training methods, academic rigour, technical discipline and international standards in an attempt to professionalize the vibrant Indian theatrical scene.
Alkazi directed more than 50 plays, including works by celebrated Indian playwrights such as Mahesh Elkunchwar and Girish Karnad and several adaptations of Shakespeare. Among Alkazi’s critically acclaimed directorial ventures were Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug (published in 1953), Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1952), Mohan Rakesh’s Ashadh ka Ek Din (1958) and Karnad’s Tughlaq (1964), the last of which is generally considered Alkazi’s finest.
Andha Yug was staged in 1963 when India was still reeling from the loss in the war against China during the previous year. Alkazi’s decision to explore the moral dilemmas of war in a play set on the last day of the Mahabharata war was extremely pertinent to the times.
At the age of 50, Alkazi quit the NSD and set up a gallery, Art Heritage, with his wife Roshan to encourage artists working in contemporary art. However, his commitment to theatre never ended.
Awards and achievements
Alkazi was the first recipient of Roopwedh Pratishtan’s Tanvir Award (2004). For his contribution to Indian arts, Alkazi received several awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Direction (1962) and three Padma awards — Padma Shri (1966), for distinguished service; Padma Bhushan (1991), for distinguished service of high order; and Padma Vibhushan (2010), for exceptional and distinguished service.
He was married to Roshan Alkazi who designed costumes for all his plays, and wrote two books on history of Indian garments. The couple had two children, Amal Allana, theatre director and ex–chairman of National School of Drama, and Feisal Alkazi Delhi-based theatre director. He died of a heart attack in New Delhi on August 4, 2020.
Source: HT, Britannica.com
1. The Alkazi Collection of Photography at Sepia International gallery in New York City is one of the world’s largest private collections of historical photographs. It has images of India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
2. Early on in his career, he became associated with the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, which included MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, artists who painted themes from his works.
3. Ebrahim Alkazi groomed several television and theatre actors including Naseeruddin Shah, Nadira Babbar and Om Puri, all of whom achieved eminence in the fields of cinema, theatre and television.
4. He influenced the younger generation of theatre practitioners. Quasar Thakore-Padamsee said his father, Alyque Padamsee, would tell that Alkazi was a stickler for detail, aesthetic and ‘polish’ to theatre.
5. Ebrahim Alkazi made use of proscenium stages and open-air venues. His designs for the open-air venues were known for their visual nature and for the originality he put into each stage production.