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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ebrahim Alkazi was a colossus: Theatre artistes remember the legend

Ebrahim Alkazi passed away on August 4, 2020, at the age of 95 after a massive heart attack in New Delhi

Written by Disha Roy Choudhury | New Delhi | Updated: August 4, 2020 7:18:24 pm
Ebrahim Alkazi Ebrahim Alkazi (centre) receiving Harmony Heritage Award 1999 for Lifetime Contribution in Literature, Arts and Culture from Vilasrao Deshmukh, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and Tina Ambani (right). (Source: Express archives)

“I rehearsed on the terrace of the place where Ebrahim Alkazi would have his theatre rehearsals,” theatre director Arvind Gaur of the Asmita Theatre Group recalled while speaking to indianexpress.com. This was around 1993-94, he says, adding that he still remembers how they would often cross paths on the staircase.

“It was very early in my career but he would always make sure to acknowledge me. He was a man of few words, extremely disciplined, and had a charismatic personality. This is a tragic loss for Indian theatre,” he expressed. Alkazi passed away on August 4, 2020, at the age of 95 after a massive heart attack in New Delhi.

As a leading post-independence theatre artiste who revolutionised the art form, Alkazi gave theatre a structure and infused a technically informed approach. The legendary artiste directed more than 50 plays, including the works of Girish Karnad and the adaptations of Shakespeare. One of his most important contributions was in institutionalising theatre through the National School of Drama that embraced a wider outlook on the art form, from classical Sanskrit drama, traditional and folk art to contemporary regional drama.

“He was very much the engineer of modern Indian theatre. I know a lot of people who have worked with him. They all adored him and said he was the most wonderful teacher. The hallmark of a great teacher is that he does not just teach you in a classroom but also inspires your way of living. His legacy will live through all the people he trained. He was a colossus,” actor and theatre director Lillete Dubey told indianexpress.com.

Ebrahim alkazi Ebrahim Alkazi passed away due to cardiac failure. (File photo)

In pictures: Remembering theatre doyen Ebrahim Alkazi

Alkazi’s artistic prowess was not just limited to theatre. He was a great connoisseur of art. He founded the Art Heritage Gallery in New Delhi and was among the first promoters of modern artists like Maqbool Fida Hussain, Tyeb Mehta and Akbar Padamsee. “One thing that I really admired about him was that he was an artistic human being in more ways than one; it wasn’t just theatre. He was akin to a Renaissance artist. He loved art; he had the most fabulous collection. He was a legend,” Dubey said.

Theatre director and playwright Atul Satya Koushik added, “Remembering him just for setting up of National School of Drama would be doing injustice to his stature. Most of the great theatre actors we see on stage and screen have been his students in some way or the other and they all talk of him in a very reverential tone. What we have lost today is something permanent, something undoable; all we can do as a part of Indian theatre family is to keep taking it to higher grounds and make sure it reaches out to the masses. That would be our true tribute to Ebrahim Alkazi’s legacy.”

Alkazi believed in the power of art to transform the world. His daughter and theatre director Amal Allana said, “He always talked about how the source of art should be appreciated and valued. It also came down to a democratic understanding of right as art is not isolated from life. Art reflects the time and he always stressed on bringing a change through his works and not just a narrow work of art.”

His son Feisal Alkazi added, “He was a perfectionist in everything he did, whether theatre, painting, as an art connoisseur or a wonderful educator. His works continue to inspire the young and old.”

Several other theatre artistes, Bollywood actors and other celebrities also expressed grief on his demise.

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