Ebrahim Alkazi, India’s theater legend, dies at 95

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Born to a wealthy Saudi 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. — Courtesy photo
Born to a wealthy Saudi 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. — Courtesy photo

NEW DELHI — Ebrahim Alkazi, India’s legendary thespian, passed away on Tuesday. He died of a “massive heart attack” at Escorts Hospital in New Delhi, Indian Express reported quoting his son and theater director Feisal Alkazi. He was 95.

Alkazi, credited for revolutionizing theater in India, became one of the most prominent theater artistes in Mumbai during the 1940s and 1950s.

Born to a wealthy Saudi 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 theater, 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.

However, at 37, Alkazi moved to Delhi and served as the director of the National School of Drama (NSD) for the next 15 years (1962 to 1977) — the longest tenure ever in the history of the institute.

On Twitter, many actors, especially those from the theater background paid a final tribute to Alkazi.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an alumnus of the National School of Drama, in his eulogy for Ebrahim Alkazi, said: “The true architect of the Modern "Indian Theatre. The Doyen who possessed extreme knowledge in all the aspects of art. The magician who nurtured many greats of theatre. May your brightest spark from heaven keep us enlightened."

The NSD family also paid a tribute to Alkazi, saying: "NSD Family deeply mourn passing away of Theatre Legend, Padma Vibhushan Shri Ebrahim Alkazi, ex-director of NSD from 1962-77. This is a great loss to the country and especially to the theatre world."

As director of the National School of Drama, he shaped the course for modern Indian theatre, establishing links between traditional vocabulary and modern idiom. In Bombay, now known as Mumbai, Alkazi did powerful renditions of Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Chekov and August Strindberg.

At 50, Alkazi quit the NSD and theater 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 M.F. Husain — some of who later painted and designed sets for his plays. — Agencies


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