Stage presence : Ebrahim Alkazi
Thirty years after retiring from the National School of Drama, 82 year-old Ebrahim Alkazi remains active in the artistic sphere. Jai Arjun Singh in conversation with the veteran of Indian theatre
So what is it you'd like to know about my dreary life?" asks Ebrahim Alkazi, twinkle firmly in eye. This is high irony, and he probably knows it; you'd be hard pressed to find a life more dynamic than the one lived by this veteran of Indian theatre. From the 1950s through to the 1970s, initially in Bombay and later in Delhi, Alkazi was a flag-bearer of the theatrical tradition, a director who brought new realism and purpose to Indian drama, a teacher who nurtured some of the great talents of the era. And though he retired from the National School of Drama (NSD) 30 years ago, he has remained active in the artistic sphere - collecting and documenting old photographs and paintings, conceptualising and curating exhibitions."
Currently, it is an exhibition of old photographs of Lucknow, from the time of the 1857 Mutiny. The exhibition has moved from Delhi to Mumbai and will go to Lucknow in September. "We try to reach as wide a public as possible," he says, going into his office and emerging with an elegantly produced book, Lucknow, City of Illusions, edited by Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones. Flipping the pages, he explains each photograph, the camera angles - and in the process, giving you an idea of the unerring visual sense that made him such an influential theatre director. "I developed a visual approach to the theatre," he often says, "as opposed to just a literary approach. I was very concerned with how the stage would look, and with the overall design."
Though he walks with a barely noticeable stoop, there's little else to suggest that Alkazi is 82. Dressed in a sharp suit, he still comes to his office, the Art Heritage Gallery in the Triveni Kala Sangam basement, at 11 am every day after spending an hour at the Alkazi Foundation in Delhi's Greater Kailash. His steady, clipped voice could easily belong to a man 25 years younger and he rarely pauses for breath. There's a natural storytelling talent on view when he talks about his life; he has an impressive memory for specifics and his descriptions are vivid. As theatre director Bansi Kaul, one of his students in the 1970s, says, "When Alkazi described a performance, we could imagine it unfolding. He was a charismatic teacher."