A doyen leaves the stage - Ebrahim Alkazi (1925-2020)

Updated: 04 August, 2020 21:53 IST | The Guide Team | Mumbai

Ebrahim Alkazi, the iconic theatre personality who straddled the art canvas with equal weight, passed away earlier this evening in New Delhi

Ebrahim Alkazi Picture Courtesy: Twitter
Ebrahim Alkazi Picture Courtesy: Twitter

Best remembered for his legacy as director of National School of Drama in Delhi, where he served the longest tenure ever (1962-77), veteran icon from theatre and the arts, Ebrahim Alkazi breathed his last after succumbing to a heart attack in a hospital in the National Capital yesterday. He played a key role in shaping the world of theatre in Mumbai in the 1940s and 50s. Theatre old-timers and chroniclers in the city will recall his imprint on stagings of Shakespeare and Ibsen’s works, as well as Greek tragedies.

Born into Arab parentage in Pune in 1925, Alkazi arrived in Mumbai to study arts at St Xavier’s College. It is where he met Sultan ‘Bobby’ Padamsee (Alyque Padamsee’s elder brother) and joined his English-language theatre group. Later, he headed to England, to study theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in England before returning to Mumbai to begin his own group called the Theatre Unit in the 40s and 50s.

As a 37-year-old, he arrived in Delhi to head NSD and one of his first decisions was the staging of renowned playwright Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug at a time when the Indo-China war was over. Based on the last day of the Mahabharata war, the anti-war play became a landmark production in Indian theatre, and one of the finest examples of off-site theatre, as it was staged amidst the ruins of Ferozshah Kotla fort, and later, at Purana Qilla.

He went on to direct over 50 plays, including works by Girish Karnad and Mahesh Elkunchwar. Some of his famous directorial works were Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Mohan Rakesh’s Ashadh ka ek din and Tughlaq by Karnad. The seminal figure was one of the first to focus on actor training and the criticality of visual impact in theatre production through set design, music, and costume, his daughter Amal Allana recalled during an interview with this newspaper, adding that his sets were like moving photographs.

He started a theatre group at Bhulabhai Desai Road, which was an important cultural hub then, working with friends including MF Husain, who would often paint his sets, Tyeb Mehta and Akbar Padamsee. He had also established Meghdoot Theatre, open-air space in the terrace of his building at Cumballa Hill.

Few are aware that he was also an artist. He returned to art after he retired from NSD in 1977. For his contribution across theatre and the arts, he had been bestowed with several honours including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Direction, the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan, and the Padma Vibhushan.

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First Published: 04 August, 2020 20:46 IST

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