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There can be no questioning the choice of Ebrahim Alkazi as Roopwedh Pratishtan's first recipient of the Tanvir Award, writes GOWRI RAMNARAYAN as even his critics accept the veteran's unquestionable contribution to Indian theatre.
Alkazi's arresting theatre productions revolutionised theatre.
TODAY honours and awards come cheap. But when seasoned actors of the Marathi stage Dr. Shreeram Lagoo and wife Deepa Lagoo confer an award for lifetime contribution to the theatre, it is recognition of genuine achievement.
There can be no dispute over their choice of Ebrahim Alkazi as Roopwedh Pratishtan's first recipient of the Tanvir Award (December 9, Pune), instituted in the memory of their son who died young. Eminent theatre director Vijaya Mehta presents the award of Rs. 1,00,000 and a memento. Tributes are to be paid by Alkazi's student, Naseeruddin Shah, and playwrights Girish Karnad and Mahesh Elkunchwar whose plays have been directed by the veteran.
More persons know Alkazi by his awesome reputation than by his arresting theatre productions. Girish Karnad's "Thuglaq" was perhaps the best known of his work, its sweep of tragedy heightened against the backdrop of Delhi's Purana Qila. Mohan Rakesh's "Ashadh Ka Ek Din" and Dharmvir Bharati's "Andha Yug" became classics under his treatment. As the director of the National School of Drama (NSD), Alkazi revolutionised Hindi theatre by the magnificence of his vision, and the meticulousness of his technical discipline. The 50 plays he directed established definite norms of production and interpretation. Among those he groomed who became nationally known actors are Manohar Singh, Om Puri, Uttara Baokar, Jyoti Subhash, Suhas Joshi, B. Jayashree, Jayadev and Rohini Hattangady.
Alkazi gave his attention to every aspect of theatre, from sweeping the stage to the interpretation of the text, and research into sets. For NSD, he sought international standards in professionalism, academic depth and specialised skills. Discipline was crucial, minute analysis was mandatory. Accused of westernising Indian theatre, he disturbed and antagonised just as much as he won loyalty and adulation. So confident was he that he could tell his students to walk out of his class if they were bored but to do something purposeful with that time. Controversies had to be part of such a creative martinet's journey, and Alkazi had enough for bitterness. But even his opponents had to accept his unquestionable contribution to Indian theatre.
Elkunchwar recalls how thrilled he was when the great man told him that he wanted to produce the first two parts of his Wada trilogy. "When I went to Delhi for the premiere, I expected an imperious man, but found instead an extremely caring and gracious host." Elkunchwar was also amazed to see Alkazi moving plants and inspecting rest rooms at the theatre, saying that he wanted his audience to have the best ambience for the play. His actors worshipped the ground he walked on and whispered of how the magic of the master had made them different altogether. Elkunchwar also remembers how he told God how to go about His business when he wrote down his responses after the first show and gave it to the director. "Alkazi glanced through the notes, put them in his pocket and thanked me. He was awe inspiring, a guru in the traditional manner."
Pune University's Centre for Performing Arts confers the same prefix when it announces Guru Ebrahim Alkazi's Bhimsen Joshi Chair Oration on "Theatre as Sadhana", to be held a day before the award ceremony. Theatre director Jayadev Hattangady calls his mentor "Natyacharya" as he recalls his disciplehood at the NSD where allegiance to Alkazi could also mean marginalisation from opponents. "They called him an anglophile, though he knew more about Indian art than our cultural czars." Jayadev believes that Alkazi welded pedagogic and creative strains, the oriental and the occidental, to evolve his own methodology of theatre training. "He made great demands. His plays taught you acting, direction and stage management."
Ask Dr. Shreeram Lagoo "Why Alkazi?" and he explains, "Bad theatre was always with us but, in the past, we had at least a few experimental plays, some meaningful theatre. Now it is 100 per cent vulgarity in the name of entertainment. By instituting this award I would like to remind people of the great names of the past, the work they did, the philosophy of the theatre they preached. I would like young people to get a chance to meet and interact with them."
'Dr. Lagoo believes that Alkazi's concepts of production influenced theatre all over India. They revolutionised Marathi theatre, both commercial and experimental. Though he himself had never seen Alkazi's productions, hearing about them from theatre persons had inspired him.
Influencing the young
Are Alkazi's methods obsolete today? "No. They haven't even been studied or grasped fully yet. Listening to such masters would be a gain in itself for the younger generation of theatre workers," explains Dr. Lagoo and adds, "The award is in my son's name, a Farsi word which also means Divine Light. While I think the adjective is a bit strong, I would say that a person like Alkazi is certainly someone who can influence the young."
Says Deepa Lagoo, "I am convinced that we must remind ourselves of the importance of technical training in the theatre which Alkazi emphasised. Nowadays we don't have the discipline of even Alkazi's successors." "
Are there enough luminaries for the yearly award? "I hope so," responds Dr. Lagoo. "The contemporaries of today will become the elders of tomorrow." Wife Deepa adds that next year the Pratishtan will offer an award to an upcoming artiste to travel to repertories in other parts of the country, getting exposure to ideas elsewhere.
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