Theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi, 95, passed away on Tuesday. He died of a “massive heart attack” at Escorts Hospital in New Delhi, his son and theatre director Feisal Alkazi told indianexpress.com. Alkazi, credited for revolutionising theatre in India, became one of the most prominent theatre artistes in Mumbai during the 1940s and 1950s. However, at 37, Alkazi moved to Delhi and served as the director of National School of Drama (NSD) for the next 15 years (1962 to 1977) — the longest tenure ever in the history of the institute.
As director of National School of Drama, he shaped the course for modern Indian theatre, establishing links between 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.