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India@75

1962: Ebrahim Alkazi helms National School of Drama

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

1962: Ebrahim Alkazi helms National School of Drama

Ebrahim Alkazi receiving the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for direction from President S. Radhakrishnan in August 1962 in New Delhi.

Ebrahim Alkazi receiving the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for direction from President S. Radhakrishnan in August 1962 in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: V. GANAPATHY

As NSD’s first director, he would cast the mould for modern Indian theatre.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi appointed Ebrahim Alkazi, 37, to head the newly conceived National School of Drama (NSD) in 1962. The multifaceted and charismatic Alkazi was an established name in theatre. As NSD’s first director, he would cast the mould for modern Indian theatre and shape it into an internationally recognised art.

Also read: 1963: ‘Evam Indrajit’ by Badal Sircar staged

Alkazi, who was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, was singularly responsible for creating a radically progressive syllabus and environment that would revolutionise theatre in the country. He introduced creative stagecraft and cutting-edge acting techniques and fostered rigour and professionalism in the institute. People who worked with him say he was known for his strict disciplinary style of teaching but he would also mentor in a manner that influenced students to push their boundaries.

Ebrahim Alkazi left a lasting legacy with the radically progressive syllabus that he created at NSD. Here, in a  2008 photograph.
Ebrahim Alkazi left a lasting legacy with the radically progressive syllabus that he created at NSD. Here, in a 2008 photograph. | Photo Credit: V.V. KRISHNAN

During Alkazi’s tenure, NSD built two theatres that included outdoor seating stages, a novel idea at the time. A repository company was founded, which took productions across the country and abroad. Alkazi’s vision and experience catalysed NSD and its graduates into becoming the best in their trade. Well-known actors Naseeruddin Shah, Rohini Hattangadi and the late Om Puri are alumni of the NSD. “The quality of NSD students is such that the difference between those who trained at the institute and those who did not, is stark,” says a theatre director in Mumbai.

Ram Gopal Bajaj, a former director of NSD, says: “Alkazi modernised Indian theatre. At the same time, however, he made us realise the importance of our own roots.” 

Also read: India at 75: Epochal moments from the 1960s

Feisal Alkazi, Alkazi’s son and a well-known director, said: “My father had a very thorough grounding in theatre. I think he took that experience and created a course that was wholistic and comprehensive. He created a syllabus where you could make a career out of theatre and acting. You can see that today. He brought a tremendous sense of discipline into the arena of theatre training and performance. He made artists responsible towards their audiences. He had an incredible visual sense and emphasised the aural on a stage.” 

“His productions went beyond the word. You see that in Tuglaq, Andha Yug and Look back in Anger. He had the ability to deftly add a few light touches and bring the production to life. I know he would spend hours choosing background noises. For instance, it was important to get the right type of cricket sound for a night scene,” Alkazi said.