A barely 20-year-old Girish Karnad, fresh out of college, would stand in some corner at Ebrahim Alkazi's theatre terrace in Mumbai, erstwhile Bombay, quietly looking at what would be among his first encounters with theatre. The play that had a huge influence on Karnad was a Hindi production of "Antigone" by Alkazi, inspiring the young playwright to choose mythology and history to tell his stories about modern India.
Karnad, who died on Monday at the age of 81, was a fabulous talent who was concerned with the society and politics, Feisal Alkazi, veteran theatre director and son of Ebrahim Alkazi, said remembering the late playwright. "What particularly interesting happened at that time was that my father had done this production of 'Antigone' with Kusum Haider in Hindi and that was one of the first plays that Girish saw.
"And it was the first time he was seeing a mythic story drawing parallels with the contemporary times of Nazi Germany, and it left a huge impression on him," Alkazi told PTI. Karnad, who was known for his style of drawing from mythology and history to weave stories about contemporary sociopolitical issues, then wrote his first play, "Yayati" while studying as Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford.
His early contact with theatre through Ebrahim Alkazi only got better when he wrote "Tughlaq" in 1964, the story of the 14th century Sultan of Delhi, and sent it to the director. "Then my father had it translated into Urdu and the first production was by National School of Drama, directed by Om Shivpuri, my father directed it much later," he recalled.
Ebrahim Alkazi directed the play in 1972 with the grandeur of Purana Qila as its backdrop. The performance till date is considered one of the best theatre productions in the country. "Years later, when my father had left NSD and had returned to work with the repertory company, Girish offered him the script of "Rakta Kalyan" .
"This play was about Basvanna, Kannada poet and social reformer in the Bhakti movement, and his interaction with the ruling state in the 15th century. So my father did the first production of 'Rakta Kalyan'," Alkazi said. Feisal's sister and famous theatre director Amal Allana also worked with the playwright.
"We had a close connection, he was very much a family friend. My sister also worked with him for 'Tughlaq' and 'Hayavadana'. My wife knew him in a very different capacity, her father was part of the film institute (FTII) when Girish was the director." "My wife was telling me this morning she was there at Girish's wedding. She was 16 or something at that time," he remembered.
Karnad was a "formidable talent", whose work will continue to inspire generations to come, said Alkazi.
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