By Vani Tripathi
The Meghdhoot amphitheatre at the Sangeet Natak Akademi is one of India’s first open theatre. It’s one of the finest spaces for live performances, with a banyan tree right at the centre of the stage. For many, it is not just a performance space but also a living legacy of founder director of National School of Drama (NSD) Ebrahim Alkazi. So, there is no greater way to honour Alkazi than by dedicating the theatre complex to him close to heels of on his 90th birthday, that was celebrated last year.
But the news seems to have created some misunderstanding regarding the theatre, with many assuming that it has been renamed. However, that’s not the case and Meghdoot remains — a name that was coined by Alkazi himself after the famous play by Kalidasa. Not just the open-air theatre but the entire complex of the four theatre has been dedicated to him. So, henceforth, it would be referred to as ‘Meghdoot Alkazi Rangpeeth’. There shouldn’t be any controversy around this. In fact, it’s a great privilege to honour the great thespian in such a manner.
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Many a time we find honouring and acknowledging people for their contribution only after their death, it’s a great move by the Akademi to dedicate the space to him, as it was Alkazi who pioneered everything and took Indian talent global.
The move has been done in consultation with his various people from theatre community, including his students who felt it would be a fantastic idea to dedicate the complex to him while he is still amongst us, that is why this idea is so unique in so many ways.
There is nothing like celebrating his legacy — as generations of artistes are thankful to Alkazi Shahab and his contribution to theatre. I’m one of his last batch of students in drama but whether it is Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Rohini Hattangadi, Anupam Kher and many others — generations of theatre people are indebted to the works of Ebrahim Alkazi Shahab. They have benefitted from his teachings as a theatre guru and the tremendous training they received in the ever possible arena in doing theatre is unparallel.
So, it is a very positive move, and we are very grateful to the Sangeet Natya Akademi for doing this. In fact, it has been in the pipeline for many months now around his 90th birthday. A few of his students had suggested why not have a chair in his name. To me, it seems the Akademi just took notice of that and decided to dedicate the theatre to the man who designed, conceptualised and made what Meghdoot theatre is today. It’s a positive, inclusive move that should be dissected and looked down upon.
There is nothing wrong in it, and it’s an honour for theatre artistes in the country to perform in Meghdoot and what better tribute than this for Alkazi Shahab.
As across India, his 90th birthday was celebrated with exhibitions, film shows and theatre fests, this is just one such fantastic addition in that. This dedication will be succeeded by a performance by Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) Bhai, his daughter Heeba and many other of his students will take part and share their experiences. It is celebrating the history, the legacy of not just him but generations of theatre artists in India that have learned under him.
In fact, to me, it is a great opportunity for the younger generation who had just heard his name, but was not so much aware of his works and contributions will get a better chance to be enlightened. And there is no politics in this — this dedication is not political at all, Sangeet Natya Akademi is not a political body. Why should anything be read from anything at all? Because it’s neither pro-someone or anti-something, it’s a fantastic dedication to the living guru of our time. And most importantly, it is his students who continue his legacy — and generations of actors, writers and directors of theatre who have contributed to the works of Alkazi Shahab. It would bring back the focus on the craft that he created, the aesthetics, the art that he created in the discourse.
As a theatre personality, I would like to say I’m extremely privileged and honoured having being taught by him directly as one of his last batch of students. I feel privileged that he taught me so much about life more than theatre — and I’m indebted for the rest of my life to my guru.
(As told to Shreya Das)
Vani Tripathi is an actor, producer and theatre artiste who has also served as national secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party.