Ibrahim Alkazi: The Forerunner of Indian Contemporary Theatre

Ibrahim Alkazi: The Forerunner of Indian Contemporary Theatre
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Ibrahim Alkazi, the legendary director of Indian theatre breathed his last at the age of 94 on 4th August. He died of a heart attack in a private hospital in Delhi. Ibrahim Alkazi worked with many Bollywood actors.

Faisal Alkazi, son of Ibrahim Alkazi, confirmed his death. Faisal said that Ibrahim Alkazi died at 2.45 pm on Tuesday afternoon after a heart attack. He was admitted to Escort Hospital two days ago.

Ibrahim Alkazi is known for bringing a kind of new revolution in theatre in India. He was one of Mumbai's most popular theatre artists from 1940 to 1950.

The young Alkazi began his theatrical career in the English-language Theatre Group of Sultan “Bobby” Padamsee, a pioneer of the English theatre movement in India. When Alkazi initiated his own Theatre Unit in 1954, he began to revolutionize Indian theatre by taking a professional and technically informed approach to all aspects of the craft, from stage management to character delineation to lighting and props.

At the age of 37, Ibrahim Alkazi moved to Delhi and held the post of director at the National School of Drama for 15 years. He was the first person to have served the National School of Drama for so long. He introduced cutting-edge training methods, academic rigour, technical discipline, and international standards in an attempt to professionalize the already-vibrant Indian theatrical scene.

While living there, Ibrahim Alkazi taught the nuances of modern theatre to students and artists. Ibrahim Alkazi produced many popular plays like Girish Karnad's 'Tughlaq', Dharamvir Bharti's 'Andhayug'. Ibrahim Alkaji taught the nuances of acting to many actors including Bollywood veteran Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. 

Initially, of course, he had to make do with more mundane settings. “There was an open space behind the tent-wallah’s house, we picked up stones and built a little makeshift stage there, lined with cow dung and with a thatched roof.” Later they would move to a more sophisticated venue - the Rabindra Bhavan building near Mandi Chowk – but those early days were heady ones.

The breakthrough came one memorable evening at the Ferozshah Kotla stadium, where he got permission from the Archaeological Survey of India to stage Andha Yug, a powerful drama set in the immediate aftermath of the Mahabharata War. “Pandit Nehru came to watch it, and naturally this meant a coterie of diplomats and huge crowds followed him.” So makeshift was the setting that at one point in the play, when a group of characters are required to move towards the audience, Nehru’s bodyguards came forward to counter the threat. It was an extremely successful performance on the whole, even though it ended with the Prime Minister gravely warning Alkazi to “watch out for snakes” when he staged his productions near old monuments!

Alkazi believes his greatest strength as a director was his desire to keep adding to his knowledge: “The thing to know is that you don’t know enough.” This is a remarkable philosophy for someone of his age and experience to adopt, but he still follows it tirelessly; much of his time is spent reading, researching, and learning new things about his areas of interest. “He was always extremely well-read, a walking library,” director Vijay Kashyap, who worked with him on such productions as Tughlaq and Razia Sultan, told me, “and yet he never used high-flowing words- he explained everything in very simple language.”