On the 14th of this month, December 2011, the University of Hyderabad will award Ebrahim Alkazi the degree of D. Litt. (honoris causa) at a brief ceremony at the IIC in New Delhi. Under normal circumstances we would have preferred to have given it at our convocation in Hyderabad, but that is not to be.
Our University decided to award him the degree a few years ago, and unfortunately it has taken us this long to get around to it. Nevertheless, on the 14th following the ceremony there will be a panel discussion on Theatre Pedagogy in India: Retrospect & Prospect chaired by Professor Mohan Maharishi, with Anuradha Kapoor, Keval Arora, Maya Rao and Shantanu Bose speaking.
Prof. Ananthakrishna of the SN School writes: Born in Pune in 1925, Ebrahim Alkazi had his initial training in theatre at Sultan ‘Bobby’ Padamsee’s English-language theatre company, Theatre Group in Mumbai. In 1947 he went to England to study art but joined in Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London to get trained in theatre. Being a winner of the BBC broadcasting award in 1950 and having recognition from British Drama League for his outstanding work, he was offered several opportunities in theatre in London, but he refused these and returned to India where he worked with the Theatre Group from 1950 to 1954, and later formed his own, independent, Theatre Unit in 1954.
Though all the productions carried out under the Theatre Unit were in English, the directorial impulses were relevant to Indian context and with a new vibrancy in performance in terms of visual language, energy, perfection and design. Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex (1954), Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (1955), Anouilh’s Antigone (1957) and Euripides’ Medea (1960) were the major plays directed by Alkazi with Theatre Unit. He set up a small performance space on the terrace of his apartment with 150 seat capacity to stage the plays of Theatre Unit. To generate theatre literacy and to disseminate new work and trends in contemporary theatre, he founded the monthly ‘Theatre Unit Bulletin’ in 1953 which featured new works in India and abroad, articles and reviews on theatre. In addition to this he started the first acting school in Mumbai, the School of Dramatic Arts, later becoming the principal of Bombay’s Natya Academy.
Alkazi was the founder director of NSD, the National School of Drama, in 1962 and continued as director till 1977. He converted the diploma programme in to a three year course introducing rigorous practice schedules along with equal intellectual inputs. By insisting that all elements of theatre should be seriously considered in order to achieve perfection, through his meticulous research he created true professional standards. Given his proficiency in the fine arts and literature, he emphasised the importance of all components of theatre. The pedagogy he evolved in the National School of Drama was the first of its kind in India, comprehensive and with a scientific approach. He built up the National School of Drama, established its repertory company in 1964 to give its graduates a working space and also as a disseminating unit for meaningful theatre. The productions in NSD during his time created a tremendous impact in Indian theatre.
His contribution to Indian theatre is multifold; he shaped the philosophy of theatre training in NSD, and this later became a model for many other institutions; his productions Ashad ka ek Din, Andha Yug and Tughlak were landmark events in Indian theatre that used unconventional spaces in an innovative manner. The University is very honoured to be able to include Ebrahim Alkazi in our list of honoris causa doctorates.