Ebrahim Alkazi, who passed away on Tuesday aged 94, represented an India that took pride in its syncretic traditions and sought a cosmopolitan future without abandoning its bhasha past and present. He was many things — theatre director, painter, curator, archivist — but he was primarily a teacher. In his early years as an artist, he was involved with the Progressive Artists’ Groups in Bombay that included M F Husain, F N Souza and S H Raza. But it was in theatre that he found himself.
As director of the National School of Drama (NSD), he had a profound influence on a generation of theatre practitioners. He introduced a cosmopolitan language and practice for the stage that accommodated Sophocles and Kalidasa, Strindberg and Dharamvir Bharati, Beckett and Mohan Rakesh, Osborne and Karnad. His productions such as Andha Yug were stunning in scale and mesmerising in their visual language — they continue to be discussed as benchmarks years after he quit theatre. He left the NSD in 1977, after 15 years as its director, to establish the gallery, Art Heritage, as a space for exhibitions, theatre and discussions. His archive of photographs and other art material reveal a keen sense of history and has inspired numerous exhibitions that provide an intimate look at art production in the years after Independence.
Alkazi was a quintessential Nehruvian era public figure who sought to journey in the wider expanses of global culture. His parents were from the Arabian peninsula, and when most of his family migrated to Pakistan after Partition, he chose to remain in India. He knew his Bharat, of course, which had taught him that art was about making it new, always.
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