Question (1-10): Read the following passage and answer the questions that follow. Some words / phrases are printed in bold in the passage in order to help you locate them while answering some of the questions asked.
Currently showing at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is a remarkable exhibition with a provenance that dates back to 1925. That was the year the exhibition’s subject, the legendary Ebrahim Alkazi, was born in Pune into the family of an Arab spice merchant. Titled ‘The Theatre of E. Alkazi — A Modernist Approach to Indian Theatre’, the showcase is a retrospective of the life and works of Alkazi. The driving forces behind it have been his daughter, Amal Allana, a theatre doyenne in her own right, and her husband, the stage designer Nissar Allana. The exhibition continues till later this month, when Alkazi will turn 91. And in a sidelight of curated talks, Allana provides us rare insight into the man single-handedly credited with overhauling the National School of Drama into a legitimate national institution during his long tenure as its director from 1962 to 1977. Of course, before that, Alkazi had an eventful innings in Bombay. Under the aegis of the Theatre Group and the Theatre Unit, he galvanized the English theatre scene in the city.
The exhibition had its first airing in January at Delhi’s Triveni Kala Sangam, where the Alkazi family founded the Art Heritage Gallery in 1977. In this Mumbai outing, the archival material is distributed to the semicircular galleries arranged around the central stairwell at the NGMA. Mock-ups of posters of Alkazi’s celebrated productions adorn the walls of the entrance hall. If cinema hadn’t swamped popular culture with its excesses, and theatre had been much less niche, some of these imprints could have well been the iconic images of their times. For instance, the stricken countenance of Usha Amin on a poster for Medea (1961), or a fetching Alaknanda Samarth pinned to the floor as a man looms ominously over her in Miss Julie (1960), or Rohini Hattangady conferring with Naseeruddin Shah in pitch-dark make-up in Sultan Razia (1974). The original photographs were, of course, in black and white. In these reconstructions, they are overlaid with anachronistic colors and typefaces that could perhaps warrant a rethink. As with any institutional display, the occasional tackiness doesn’t really detract from the substance.
Peering closer, the initials of Alkazi’s Theatre Unit, arranged into a pitchfork, become an unmistakable monogram of quality. Panels emblazoned ‘The Alkazi Times’ present the signposts of Alkazi’s life as news clippings, interspersed with actual microfiche footage — ascensions of kings and Prime Ministers, declarations of war and independence, and even snapshots from theatre history. It is certainly monumental in scale, full of information about Alkazi’s genealogy, childhood, education and illustrious career.
While there is the slightest whiff of propaganda, it is whittled down by Allana’s skills as a self-effacing raconteur during the talks. Her accounts are peppered with heartwarming personal anecdotes that give us a measure of the real person behind the bronzed persona.
We learn of how Alkazi came to take up the reins of Theatre Group after the untimely passing of Sultan ‘Bobby’ Padamsee, the young genius who was one of his formative influences. One of their earliest collaborations was Padamsee’s version of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. The play was barred from performance at their alma mater, St Xavier’s College, because of its risqué material and Wilde’s festering notoriety as a gay felon even in India. It was ultimately performed at the very venue that is now housing the exhibition. Allana is thus able to touchingly fashion the showcase as a homecoming soirée. Later, there I a piquant episode at England’s Dartington Hall. As a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Alkazi had requested Dartington founder Leonard Elmhirst the princely sum of £4 so to return to India by ship. Elmhirst graciously complied. The letters exchanged still exist, and have been preserved (though they are not part of this exhibit).
The galleries themselves, chock-a-block with photographs, come across more like a feat of collation than curation. Yet, within this preponderance of imagery, there are stories that can be pieced together. The clarion call of Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug (directed by Alkazi in 1962) sounded off from the ramparts of Feroze Shah Kotla changed the manner in which Hindi theatre was presented. Its political echoes found resonance in a country undergoing massive blood-letting. Nehru and his mandarins all attended one of the earliest stagings, and the play placed Alkazi firmly on the national stage. His earlier work, though innovative, appeared to cater to the bourgeoisie.
In the NSD years, we see a coalescing of a strident western approach to drama with the ‘theatre of roots’ in India — traditions lying on the cusp of an imminent decrepitude. This amalgamation may have led to the derivative mongrelisation we observe so frequently in today’s contemporary theatre. Yet at that time, it must have provided an active ferment for experimentation.
The photographic stills, it must be said, are mostly posed publicity shots. They capture the calculated repose of a burnished generation of actors, many recognizable faces among them. Some, grainier in texture, but with more character, appear to have been taken midperformance. The living breathing form, theatre’s raison d’être, is almost always absent, raising questions about the kind of archiving that would best serve theatre. In an upstairs gallery, video clips of a Hindi adaptation of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, featuring Zohra Sehgal, are looped in perpetuity. They do provide insight into his working, but are woefully inadequate as a show reel for a man whose career spanned decades. Film, in any case, can never capture the truthfulness of a live form.
Such a display of theatre royalty comes inextricably linked with the idea of privilege, that of wealth, class or language perhaps, but primarily of pioneer-ship. Being the first off the stumbling blocks with his revolutionary ideas for theatre, Alkazi forged new ground at every step. Certainly, the politics of language added lustre to this glory. The power of English as an aspirational tongue has dimmed somewhat in recent times. Its colonial baggage has hopefully been obliterated. One can only speculate about how much these notions were amplified in the late 40s and 50s in a country just delivered from British rule. Yet, the imprimatur of excellence that Alkazi brought to his works does not need to be rationalized to be made sense of. In order to recreate history, it is important to bring together all the elements that went in the making of an epoch. Nissar Allana has recreated miniature facsimiles of sets from
Alkazi’s plays and of the venues he nurtured himself, like the Meghdoot terrace. These are reproduced assiduously from photographs. In one reconstruction, Macbeth’s scope is enhanced in an outdoor set that exudes both Greek grandeur and an artistic sparseness. That those were heady days is an idea one cannot escape from, when we look at how close to Penury theatre practitioners operate in these days.
1. Which among the following is not true regarding the life of Ebrahim Alkazi as discussed in the passage?
A. St Xavier’s College was the institution where Alkazi studied in his life
B. Alkazi was the director of National School of Drama for more than 10 years
C. Alkazi was influenced by a genius who passed away very early in life and Alkazi was very close to him as they worked together as well
D. All the above
2. The exhibition discussed in the passage is being held in –
A. New Delhi
3. What can you infer about the family background of Ebrahim Alkazi from the details given in the passage?
A. Ebrahim Alkazi was the son of a theatre personality very famous at that age and his father influenced him to join theatre as a child artiste
B. Alkazi had no background of theatre as his father was a businessman
C. Alkazi had a relative who was interested in theatre and it was him who introduced him to theatre
D. None of the above
4. Which among the following is not true regarding the exhibition that is going on in Mumbai?
A. The exhibition is the first of its kind in India as such a kind of exhibition has never been held in the country before
B. The exhibition is being organized by a trust which owns all the art and theatre works of Ebrahim Alkazi
C. The exhibition does not show all the letters exchanged between Alkazi and Padamsee
D. All the above
5. Which among the following institutions Alkazi was not a part of?
A. St Xavier’s College
B. National School of Drama
C. Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
D. None of the above
6. Which among the following made Alkazi a national figure as he was accorded the status of being the voice of the masses in India?
A. Razia Sultan
B. Andha Yug
C. Gandhi: The Uncharted Hero
7. Which among the following is similar in meaning to the word piquant as used in the passage?
8. Which among the following is similar in meaning to the word ‘provenance’ as used in the passage?
9. Which among the following is opposite in meaning to the word ‘galvanized’ as used in the passage?
10. Which among the following is opposite in meaning to the word ‘inextricably’ as used in the passage?
Solution Of SET 1 Questions
Solution 1: Option (D)
Explanation: According to the passage, Alkazi could not come to his alma mater St Xavier’s College because the authorities did not allow him to show his play there. Again, he was influenced by Sultan Padamsee with whom he collaborated on their celebrated work Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Another important aspect of his life was that he was the director of National School of Drama from 1962 to 1977 and was instrumental in changing the organization a lot.
These make all the given statements true.
Solution 2 : Option (B)
Explanation: According to the passage, the exhibition is going on at National Gallery of Modern Art and it is about a person who was born way back in 1925 but single-handedly changed the landscape of modern art especially drama and theatre in India. The exhibition had its first outing in Delhi.
Solution 3 : Option (D)
Explanation: As we already know from the passage, the exhibition is going on in National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai and it celebrates the life and works of Ebrahim Alkazi who was born in 1925 in Pune to an Arab spice merchant. He, thus, had nobody in his family to influence him into theatre.
Solution 4 : Option (D)
Explanation: The passage states that the exhibition saw its first outing in Delhi earlier in 2016 whereas the next and present edition is being held in Mumbai at National Gallery of Modern Art. The exhibition is being organized by the daughter of Alkazi and his son-in-law. So, option (1) and (2) are not true regarding the exhibition whereas there is no mention regarding any letter exchange between Padamsee and Alkazi in the passage, so, showing them in the exhibition does not hold ground. This makes all the given options false regarding the ongoing exhibition in Mumbai.
Solution 5: Option (D)
Explanation: According to the information given in the passage, both Ebrahim Alkazi and Padamsee were students of St Xavier’s College as the organization did not give permission to the duo for showcasing Oscar Wilde’s play as Wilde was considered a gay felon in India back then. Again, he was the director of National School of Drama and changed the approach of the organization being there from 1962 to 1977. At the same time, the mention of Alkazi being a student at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England is also there in the passage.
These make option (D) the right choice among the given options.
Solution 6 : Option (B)
Explanation: Andha Yug was directed by Alkazi in 1962 and this was his first attempt to connect to the masses in India. This was also seen by Jawharlal Nehru and other cabinet ministers of the time as all the earlier plays of Alkazi were mainly for the rich class in the society. However, this drama put him on the national stage for the first time.
Solution 7 : Option (D)
Explanation: In the passage, piquant refers to an incident where Alkazi asked for money to return to India from the founder of Dartington and his request was complied with by the founder of the organization. This makes option (4) the right choice among the given options.
Solution 8 : Option (A)
Explanation:The word ‘provenance’ is used in the passage to refer to the fact that the exhibition that is being currently held in Mumbai has its origin in the birth of Ebrahim Alkazi in 1925. This makes option (1) the right choice among the given options.
Solution 9 : Option (B)
Explanation: The word ‘galvanized’ has been used in the passage to refer to the fact that Alkazi was able to form organizations for the development of theatre in India and it is also prominent from his role as the director of National School of Drama. This makes option (2) the right choice among the given options.
Solution 10 : Option (A)
Explanation: The word ‘inextricably’ is used to denote that the theatre of Alkazi was related to the idea of privilege, wealth and class in society and it is very complicated to explain in detail. This makes option (1) the right choice among the given options.