Ebrahim Alkazi, the Father of Theatre in India, received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Delhi Government. He took us through his life’s work- using photographs on a projector.
A perfectionist, the scale on which he envisions and executes performances is consistently immense.
Among some of the anecdotes he shared, were Nehru’s bodyguards rushing to protect him when actors were doing a “मारों पकडके मारो ” scene from Dharamveer Bharti’s Andha Yug at Ferozeshah Kotla. Nehru warned him that there were snakes at old monuments, something he discovered to be true at Purana Kila.
The photographs of the performance of Karnad’s Tughlaq at Lal Kila were imposing. The fort came alive with the men who were attired in the outfits of the age. The steps were carpeted. They belonged to the fort, owned it, seemed to have lived there forever.
On another occasion the guilottine on stage collapsed. The hysterical actors had to be hospitalised.
Choreography of the women in Troy was also stunning. They circled the protagonist, echoing her grief.
The stage for King Lear in Sahitya Akademi was a bare room. The corrugated iron sheets used were deliberately rusted. Alkazi’s attention to detail came through in all his productions.
A particular tree in the Akademi area attracted him with it’s “character” and he staged several open air productions there. One of them was Premchand’s Godaan. He built from a photograph of a villager sipping from a लोटा – he wanted to show the spirit of survival as embodied by his sinewy arm.
In Mumbai, he asked the landlord of a building that he liked for permission to do theatre on the terrace. Several water tanks were removed, Mumbaikars trudged six floors up to see his productions. As the stepped seats where the audience sat were directly above the dressing room, all comments on the productions could be heard.
For a production of Tennessee William’s Suddenly, Last Summer- a “vicious, terrible play” Alkazi got skulls of animals butchered by his cook and perched them on the terrace stage for the desired atmosphere.
A man with a cult following, it is a pity he has not done any productions for the last twenty years, preferring to paint.
A recluse now, it was a treat to hear his adda on theatre and how he had shaped it.
Kudos to Ms. Shiela Dixit for this idea of hers, or else we may never have had this opportunity to learn about this horse from his mouth.