Feisal Alkazi’s Enter Stage Right

Title: Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi Padamsee Family Memoir

Author: Feisal Alkazi

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2021

The tremendous vitality and ferment in the Western music scene was very much a part of our growing up. From the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, from Janis Joplin to Joan Baez, from The Who to Santana, lyrics of protest set to unforgettable melodies and dense instrumental tracks were to be heard, absorbed and danced to.

And did we dance! Every Saturday night a bunch of my friends and I could be found ‘grooving’ for at least four hours at the newly opened The Cellar in CP (as Connaught Place was known) or Wheels at the Ambassador Hotel. The Cellar was the beginning of the discotheque culture in Delhi, and we were among its first patrons, adorning the ceiling with our names etched in smoke! Foreign hippies in their lungis and tee-shirts, high on ganja or whatever else, brought an edge of curious excitement to our Saturday nights. After all, we were the Dum maro dum generation! The Cellar was situated in the basement of Regal building and the excitement and apprehension of being in Connaught Place at night lent its own thrill to every visit.

 Wheels near Khan Market drew a different, older, more sedate crowd, the yuppie professionals of south Delhi, whom we could elbow off the floor with our vigorous dance moves. In a Gadda da Vida and Hotel California were our favourite dance tracks. We did this from the ages of seventeen to twenty-three. Seven years on the dance floor every Saturday night! Talk of Saturday Night Fever? The phrase could have been coined for us.

All four of us were children of practicing artists and performers. Books lined the walls in all our homes, divans were draped with handloom bedspreads and the walls covered with contemporary art, arresting photographs, classical sculpture or an occasional African mask. Food was often a Burmese dish of noodles and soup called Mahmi, or a detectable Bohri mince pie or best of all, hot chicken patties from Wengers.

Our parents were friends, part of a large and growing circle of artists, who had chosen to gravitate to Delhi and to live in or around Nizamuddin. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, M.F. Husain among others were part of this charmed circle.

 The ‘younger’ lot of artists, somewhere in age between our parents and us, were Eruch Hakim and Nasreen Mohamedi. We would occasionally drop in at their barsati-cum-studio apartments, to watch them create their black-and-white drawings. Nasreen introduced us to green tea, Eruch was always ready to roll a joint.

There was an amazing camaraderie and willingness to help one another within the artist community. They were beyond friends, they were family. When the Mehtas relocated from London to Delhi, they stayed with us for the initial month. When Pablo’s parents travelled to the US for a year, as Richard won the prestigious Rockefeller scholarship, Pablo stayed with us. Going out of your way to help a friend in a very tangible way was an integral part of my mother’s personality.

Husain was already an icon in Indian art, an artist who stood apart with his characteristic white beard, long paintbrush and bare feet. Tyeb was more quiet, the ‘intellectual’ of the group who had recently returned from several years spent in London, Krishen had only just given up his regular job in a bank to become a ‘full-time’ artist.

Husain enjoyed gathering many of these families together, bundling us into his Fiat with his iconic horse painted on it, and dragging us off to see Helen dancing in Inteqam at Golcha Cinema in Old Delhi, followed by a meal at Flora in Jama Masjid. He knew exactly what time Helen’s dance sequence was, so a large group of us would walk into the hall minutes before the dance, and exit immediately after it was over. A compliant management and Husain, the charming smooth-talker, made such a privilege possible.

It was my first encounter with Old Delhi at night with its crowded lanes, women in burqas, the smell of frying kababs, the flavours of dum pukht biryani and the call of the azaan. I wondered if this was similar to Mohammed Ali Road in Bombay where my father grew up. It was an alien, exotic world aeons away from my Westernized, though bohemian, childhood in south Bombay. Little did I know at the time that I would soon spend ten years working in Old Delhi!

About the Book:

Bombay, 1943. The young Parsi actress who was playing Salome in the newly founded Theatre Group’s production of Oscar Wilde’s eponymously titled play drew the line at performing the Dance of the Seven Veils, a sort of ‘Biblical striptease’. So director Sultan Padamsee’s 19-year-old sister Roshen stepped in. And met the handsome, intense Arab who played the male lead-Ebrahim Alkazi. In 1946, they were married. Thus was forged one of the greatest alliances in the world of theatre and art in post-Independence India.

Ebrahim Alkazi took English theatre from its early beginnings in Bombay to national and even international acclaim as he directed and acted in more than a hundred plays, ranging from Oedipus Rex, Murder in the Cathedral and Macbeth in the 1950s, to Ashadh Ka Ek Din, Andha Yug and Tughlaq in the ’60s and ’70s. As director of the fabled National School of Drama from 1962 to 1977, he launched some of the finest actors of our times, including Om Shivpuri, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Rohini Hattangadi, Manohar Singh and Uttara Baokar. The chief costume designer and seamstress for all his productions was Roshen Alkazi. In 1977, when Ebrahim and Roshen decided to open Art Heritage in Delhi, it gave a new dimension to the world of art, as the leading artists of the day, including M.F. Husain, Krishen Khanna, F.N. Souza, Tyeb Mehta, K.G. Subramanyam and Laxma Goud, flocked to this space that was not just a ‘commercial’ gallery, but a foundation for documenting and preserving the arts. With more than 50 rare photographs, Enter Stage Right is the story of theatre in India as it has never been told before…to be treasured by theatre buffs, and savoured by anyone who loves a good story.

Author Bio:

Educationist, theatre director and activist, Feisal Alkazi has carved out his own niche with his group, Ruchika. He has directed over 200 plays with adults in Hindi, English and Urdu. He has also directed over 100 productions for schools all over India, and in the field of disability, he has directed 30 documentary films and produced several plays.

Photo credits: Ram Rahman:15-Feisal Alkazi and friends in The Cellar, a discotheque in Delhi 1975

Alkazi Theatre Archives: Jaffer Padamsee and Kulsum with Sultan_Bobby (standing right), Roshen (standing left), Bapsi (seated centre), Zarine (seated right)

Excerpted from Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi. Speaking Tiger Books, 2021.

Click here to read the book review.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s