Father of Indian theatre, Ebrahim Alkazi, dies

Father of Indian theatre, Ebrahim Alkazi, dies

Theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi, who credited for revolutionising theatre in India, passed away on Tuesday. He was 94. He succumbed to a heart attack at the Escorts Hospital in New Delhi.

Padmavibhushan Alkazi became one of the most prominent theatre artistes in Mumbai during the 1940s and 1950s. Alkazi’s son, theatre director Feisal Alkazi, confirmed that his father passed away on Tuesday afternoon after suffering a massive heart attack. “Everybody remembers him as the father of Indian theatre. He was the first person to bring regional language plays to NSD, he built a strong institutional structure and brought Indian theatre to the world,” Feisal Alkazi added.

However, when he was at the age of  37, Alkazi moved to Delhi and served as the director of National School of Drama (NSD) for the next 15 years (1962 to 1977). Alkazi, who became the longest serving director of the National School of Drama, produced plays such as Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug. Alkazi transformed NSD as the premier training institute for theatre. During his tenure as director of NSD, he mentored generations of actors, including Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri, who went on to become great actors. 

As director of National School of Drama, he transformed the course for modern Indian theatre by linking traditional vocabulary and modern idiom. In Bombay, Alkazi did powerful renditions of Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Chekov and August Strindberg. At 50, Alkazi quit the NSD and theatre and set up the gallery Art Heritage with his wife in New Delhi, and built his collection of art, photographs and books.

What many do not know is that Alkazi was also a noted art connoisseur and collector. He was close to the members of the Progressive Artists’ Group such as FN Souza, Akbar Padamsee and MF Husain — some of who later painted and designed sets for his plays. Born to a wealthy Saudi Arabian father and a Kuwaiti mother, Alkazi was one of nine siblings who had a comfortable childhood in Pune. After the Partition, while the rest of his family moved to Pakistan, Alkazi decided to stay back in India. Interested both in fine art and theatre, as a student at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai he joined Sultan “Bobby” Padamsee’s Theatre Group company. Though he headed to London in the late 1940s to pursue art, he eventually joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Actor Nawazuddin Ziddiqui wrote on Twitter:  “The true architect of the Modern Indian Theatre. The Doyen who possessed the extreme knowledge in all the aspects of ART. The magician who nurtured many greats of theatre. May your brightest spark from the heaven keeps us enlightening #EbrahimAlkazi #RIP.” “The Guru of Gurus so many have learnt from and tried to emulate .. Ebrahim Alkazi – the real father of Modern Indian Theatre  .. may the light you shone keep shining through countless others as it shines through now .. Rest in Peace Sir 🙏🏽 condolences to the family ,” said Randeep Hooda in his condolence message.