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Ebrahim Alkazi, Doyen of Modern Indian Theatre, Passes Away

Alkazi, the longest serving director of NSD, enriched the country’s theatre canvas by introducing the best of cultures, writers and playwrights of India and the world to theatre audiences.
Ebrahim Alkazi,  Doyen of Modern Indian Theatre, Passes Away

Theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi. Image Courtesy: The Indian Express

New Delhi: Ending an era of legendary modern Indian theatre, Ebrahim Alkazi, 94, breathed his last in the capital on Tuesday. He is survived by his daughter Amal Allana and son Feisal Alkazi, both eminent theatrepersons.

Dad died this evening at 2.45 pm after a massive heart attack. He was admitted to the Escorts hospital the day before yesterday,” his son Feisal Alkazi said, according to PTI.

Alkazi was the longest serving director of the premium National School of Drama (NSD) and has mentored and polished a generation of actors, such as Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Manohar Singh, Uttara Baokar, Surekha Sikri, Ratan Thiyam, among others. 

The visual splendour of some of his plays, such as Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq, and Dharmavir Bharti's Andha Yug, staged amid the ruins of Delhi’s Purana Qila and Firoz Shah Kotla are remembered by theatre-goers and actors alike.

As NSD director, Alkazi carved out what is termed as modern Indian theatre by linking it with the best of theatre, playwrights and writers across world. Thus, Indian theatre was also gifted the plays and stories of Shakespeare, Beckett, Chekov, Ibsen, Ionesco, Shaw as well as Greek tragedies.

At the age of 50, Alkazi quit NSD and set up the gallery Art Heritage with his wife, Roshan, in New Delhi, and built his collection of art, photographs and books, writes Indian Express. At one time, he was close to the members of the Progressive Artists’ Group such as FN Souza, Akbar Padamsee and MF Husain.

Alkazi’s broad theatre canvas its cross-cultural richness can be credited to the trajectory of his life and his passion for theatre and arts, which began with the famed spice route. Born into an Arab family, he came to India in the 1920s as his father was a spice merchant.

Bombay, during his formative years, was a throng of cultures — from Arabs, Pathans and Chinese to Parsis and Goans. Alkazi is one of nine brothers and sisters and his father moved the family to Pune, where the climate was better, and would travel from Bombay to be with them every weekend. Alkazi studied at St Vincent’s High School in Pune, where the Fathers found that he had an aptitude for drama,” Indian Express writes.

Thereafter began his theatrical journey from Bombay, where he met Sultan Padamsee and formed the Theatre Group, and then moved to England in the Royal Academy Dramatic Art or RADA in London. He returned to Bombay and formed a group, Theatre Unit, and also edited a journal on theatre and arts.

According to Indian Express, Alkazi was first offered directorship of the freshly minted NSD at the age of 29, but he refused as he was wary of government role and funds. But immersed in theatre and passionate to the core, he set up at “theatre school in Bombay and began to teach and stage Hindi adaptations of plays such as Antigone and the work of playwrights such as Moliere. Eight years later, at the age of 35, Alkazi arrived in NSD” says the IE report.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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