the-south-asian.com February 2004
FAISAL ALKAZI - STAGE-MANAGING CHILDREN by
- STAGE-MANAGING CHILDREN
Faisal Alkazi is a man of no mean resources when it comes to kids and theatre. His latest play has a starcast of 102 child actors. The uniqueness of the play is that in the entire cast 85 kids are physically challenged…
That he is the son of a man popularly known as the father of the modern Indian theatre, weighs lightly on his shoulders. "Though I chose to follow in my father's footsteps I’ve never strived to come out of his shadow to make my name separately," says Faisal acknowledging the greatness of his father Ebrahim Alkazi.
Despite his obvious modesty, Faisal Alkazi himself is a man of no mean resources when it comes to children’s theatre. But then he wears many hats. Besides being a theatre and television director he is also an educationist, counsellor, trainer and costume designer.
Besides, Alkazi is the author of some immensely popular children’s books including The Danger Within: An Activity Book On Occupational Health Hazard, Naina’s Village, The Raindrop, Chilka Lake Adventure and more.
."If I take up a project I like to give it my best shot," says Faisal who is busy rehearsing his new play, Agar Magar that has a cast of 102 child actors and will be staged in Jaipur shortly. The uniqueness of the play lies in the fact that in the entire cast 85 kids are physically challenged in one way or the other.
"Many among the cast are suffering from terminal illness and 30 of the kids are on wheel chairs but they are all rehearsing and are trying to play their characters to the best of their abilities," says the director introducing you individually to his ‘star cast’.
He says that a lot more effort goes into training kids with special needs but at the end of the day the satisfaction is immense. Narrating an incident he says, " Some years ago I did a play that required characters with hearing disability. I asked the principal of a special school to give me kids actually afflicted with hearing problems. The results were excellent. No actor could have been as spontaneous as those kids."
Alkazi who has designed costumes for over 100 plays and four TV serials, feels that the job of a costume designer is laborious and taxing but very rewarding. "Costume designers are integral to a play or a serial or even a film. They enhance the character by making him or her wear appropriate clothes. Look at films like Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Umrao Jaan and Lagaan. The costumes made the characters come alive. "
Ask him why theatre is becoming so elite and a smile brightens up his face. "As far as my knowledge goes theatre has always been very elite. It is only for a select class of people who pay gate money to see the artists perform. Look at the auditoriums in big cities. None has a capacity of over 300. Theatre has always interested fewer people than films and television."
Though he may call it an elitist pastime, he is the first theatre person to direct street plays for the common man, which he has been doing with intensity for over two decades - publicizing social causes and highlighting evils in society. One of his most stunning street plays in the eighties highlighted the heinous Mathura rape case that caused a nationwide sensation. The effect of this play was so strong that it made the Supreme Court of India intervene and come up with a verdict.
"Unfortunately such plays aren’t very popular these days as the media---newspapers and television--are fast picking up social concerns," says Alkazi who taught at the prestigious Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi for over six years.
That theatre is his first love is clear from the fact that he has now given up teaching and has virtually bid goodbye to television to concentrate on the stage. Television, he says, doesn’t fascinate him any longer. "I did television, got fed up as it is still not a very pucca medium. There are many constraints and I feel tied up. I prefer a live audience. I wouldn’t mind people walking out of my plays but I would certainly mind if someone switched channels when my play was on air."
Alkazi doesn’t spare the so-called art cinema as well. He bluntly says that it doesn’t exist anymore in India. "Barring a few names like Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalkrishnan and to an extent Rituparano Ghosh there aren’t any directors who are making parallel cinema. Now with big films flopping miserably, producers are cutting budgets and shifting to issue-based films. But their treatment is purely commercial. Unfortunately that gets passed off as art cinema."
Currently busy with his play Agar Magar with its huge cast he is happiest working with young people. "When I see them smiling or being mischievous I am happy because they are happy. There cannot be a greater feeling," says the man who believes in chasing his simple dream of bringing a smile on the faces of these disadvantaged kids rather than making a big name for himself.
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