Ebrahim Alkazi — The man who revolutionised Indian drama

Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry


With his single-minded willpower’ Ebrahim Alkazi (1925-2020) common the contours of contemporary Indian drama by shaping its lexicon by way of an inimitable coaching routine that spelt out Modernism. 

In order to efficiently translate into an Indian surroundings, modernism wanted to mutate as a self-sustaining style, as solely then may it rework the previous and emerge as one thing new. Alkazi was chargeable for creating this modernism, however with out altering the material of society or ideology, however merely by creating new and self-sustaining perceptions.

As head of the National School of Drama in New Delhi he taught us college students that “bringing alive” was theatre’s main function; bringing one thing alive for the viewers, oneself, a personality, historical past and even conceptual thought. Alkazi additionally taught us that “bringing alive” was one thing that required intuition, persistence, creativity, data and energy and was not merely one thing flimsy or whimsical.

He mixed the roles of trainer, director and NSD head for 15 years until 1977, all rolled into one.  He single-handedly common fashionable theatrical sensibility, an innovation not even his most trenchant critics can erase or devalue. As NSD head from 1962 he embodied the novel spirit of the instances, and moulded fashionable Indian theatre by questioning coaching, storytelling, area, language and delusion.  He actually challenged and formulated present theatrical assumptions like nobody earlier than or since.


Alkazi was my trainer on the NSD and I intently noticed  his  artistic processes, driving ardour and voracious urge for food for work, looking for and seeing relevance in little else outdoors it. No scribe or dramaturge has documented his work in any systematic or orderly method, and  no matter has been gleaned in passing is from interpretation, statement and anecdotal tales that resonate in NSDs corridors.

One resolute lesson I learnt within the years he was my mentor, was that theatre work was under no circumstances like becoming a member of a passion class; it was extra like enlisting in a career that necessitated  dedication and, dedication, very like eager to turn out to be a health care provider or a lawyer.

Before Alkazi joined the NSD, its college students have been uncovered to one-act performs that have been extra akin to elementary class-room productions. Even although typically full-length performs have been featured, they have been by no means ever public performances performed out to audiences.  Alkazi, nonetheless, linked manufacturing work to skilled actor coaching in all points of efficiency: from analysing advanced characters to contextualising them traditionally via units, costumes and props. 

In remodeling the contours of contemporary Indian drama, nothing was an excessive amount of or too little for Alkazi. He thought nothing about scooping up a cigarettes stub off the ground, or a dirty paper serviette mendacity from the colleges corridors. This rounded side of coaching was needed for all his college students to understand that from making tea, to swabbing the stage, ironing costumes, arranging the green-room and cleansing the bathrooms, have been as a lot an integral side of coaching as creating a personality.

 Alkazi ,  I recall him telling NSD college students that in any case exhibits actors should make themselves scarce and never wait round for demonstrative kudos  from their audiences.  Curtain-calls weren’t a part of Alkazi’s theatre tradition. In a sure manner each the scholars and actors weren’t allowed to  consider themselves as public figures, or luxuriate within the indulgence of reward. They simply occurred to be professionals, performing theatre. 

During my days as an NSD scholar within the mid-seventies , Alkazi  directed three pays which might be hailed as his definitive work, Andha Yug by Dharam Vir Bharati, Tughlaq by Girish Karnad and Razia Sultan by Balwant Gargi, all of which have been staged on the grand Purana Qila in 1974.

 It was a coup for the School to have secured permission to carry out towards such an imposing backdrop. The depth of the stage was raised as much as 35 toes, on prime of a chasm, linked by seven interconnecting divisions. The brooding purple sandstone edifice, resonated historical past whereas the monolithic arches, columns and stone plinths, platforms and steps have been the place all of the mythic characters got here to life on this sensible drama of future and loss of life.

I recall an incident that made me acknowledge, how exhausting artwork may be. An actor taking part in a soldier in Tughlaq, hurtled down from a parapet in Purana Kila and a damaged leg reduce quick his ‘military’ profession, however under no circumstances did it interrupt the theatrical proceedings., “As no one is dead, we continue,” Alkazi stated matter-of-factly and the rehearsals continued. 

Within a brief interval the NSD grew to become synonymous with Alkazi,, and together with his cosmopolitan background and experience within the visible arts, he uncovered his college students not solely to theatrical arts, but in addition to the world of poetry, portray, literature and cinema. He emphasised the significance of the printed phrase and inspired college students to go to the School’s well-stocked library. Students would even be offered books by Alkazi. I’ve been a recipient of this largess, after which he would test if that they had been learn, or not. Often, he would even test the library information and disgrace us for our lapses, thereby prompting most of us to rectify them.

Alkazi was endearingly referred to as chacha, or uncle by his college students, a considerably colloquial moniker for a person who epitomised the very best requirements of urbanity and class He was at all times a subject of dialog amongst his college students, who mentioned him threadbare with the identical ardour as they dissected a Chekhov or Ibsen play within the hostel dormitories at night time. He utterly fascinated us all.  

I really feel suffering from the lack of Ebrahim Alkazi,  my most revered trainer. The final time I met him was at his daughter Amal Allana’s dwelling for   lunch in 2018. I had taken two kurtas for him in beige and white. Amal, wished to know, why I had introduced such morose colours, as Alkazi  Sahib  beloved his garments to  be vibrant.  A couple of minutes later he was wheeled in wanting good-looking however frail. I used to be delighted to satisfy him and whispered my respects and fondness for him. He pressed my hand and appeared to speak via delicate gestures, that what I used to be sharing was comprehended and valued by him. His loss is irreparable as he was an enormous on this planet of theatre. Legion of his college students bear in mind him and every one in all us felt as if we shared a particular relationship with him.

 (Chowdhry is a celebrated and internationally acclaimed theatre particular person.)

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