Back in the Spotlight 

Theatre director, writer, educationist, counsellor and activist Feisal Alkazi is leaving the pandemic behind to take his brand of theatre to the world.
A still from 'We Need to Talk About Dhruv'. (Photo| Special Arrangement)
A still from 'We Need to Talk About Dhruv'. (Photo| Special Arrangement)

The fastest theatrical production is in Spanish, produced on December 13, 2019, just before the pandemic struck. It took Daniel Lorenzo Sarmiento and Grupo de teatro Albatros only 11 hours and nine seconds. The actors in Os vellos non deben de namorarse got the script at 08:15 and the performance began at 19:15 the same day.

India's doyen of theatre Feisal Alkazi and the Ruchika Theatre Group may not be that fast, but they did produce in six weeks We Need to Talk About Dhruv for Delhi's India International Centre, which wanted to stage its first physical theatre programme in September 2021.

"Ritvik Mohan Bhagat (scriptwriter) and I were curious why so many young people are committing crimes. Last year alone, 2,900 minors were convicted in Delhi - that’s almost 10 a day," explains Alkazi. 

It is crime theatre with a twist. The 16-year-old protagonist Dhruv studies in a prominent public school in Delhi. On a jog one morning in a South Delhi park, his mother stumbles upon the body of her son's classmate, who is from an affluent family. They hire Dhruv's father, a successful lawyer to represent them in court.

As the story unfolds, the viewer is introduced to a host of interesting characters, including troubled teens who are reluctant to talk about the fraught relations between Dhruv and the victim, an eunuch present at the scene of the crime, and Dhruv's long-lost grandfather who is serving jail time. The many plot twists keep the audience engaged through the 85-minute production. And the last 15-20 minutes? 

The lines haven't been written yet. Creative persons are forever looking to break the mould to get audiences to sit up. Alkazi and team purposely created only two-thirds of the script, deciding to call it a "play in progress", because they were not sure where they wanted it to go. About 50 members in the audience stayed back after the show to discuss possible directions the play could take.

"We attempted to portray a variety of themes in this story, including the huge gaps in understanding our children and their unwillingness to communicate with parents, today's quasi-adult teenage behaviour, rifts in marriages, police brutality, media trials and more. It was a lot to pack in, but the play came out tight and the audience was happy and absorbed," he says.

The high priest of indie theatre is also an educationist, activist, and a counsellor with NGO Sanjivini. The group he founded, Ruchika, has staged over 200 plays featuring adult actors and 100 plays with children in Hindi, English, and Urdu.

He has directed 30 documentaries and written numerous books, of which the latest, Enter Stage Right, a memoir of the Alkazi and Padamsee families, India’s first family of theatre, got rave reviews. His first work of detective fiction around a 63-year-old South Delhi resident, Mrs Malhotra, as a plebeian crime solver, currently pending publication, was written during the lockdown.

As an advocate of cultural preservation, Alkazi has embarked on the project BIG or 'Before It Goes', for which he teamed up with photographer Nikhil Roshan, and documentarians Pankaj Rishikumar and Avijit Mukul Kishore, to portray lesser-known cultural practices from around the country such as a festival that celebrates transvestites and transexuals in Tamil Nadu, a distinctive kind of Holi celebrated in Manipur.

The many creative hats he wears often become one.“My role as a counsellor and educator definitely colours my writing. One doesn’t segregate parts of one’s personality. I believe my varied interests contribute to my creativity,” he explains. 

The Ruchika Group and its founder are back to their busy schedule. We Need to Talk About Dhruv will be performed in Bengaluru, along with an English version of his renowned work in Urdu Noor. Next year he will be in Houston for three plays.

"We are in a society where we can question all the norms and rules... I hope my plays convey something of this restlessness," he says. With a 49-year theatre legacy to bank on, Alkazi knows that without restlessness there is no success in creativity. 

Upcoming Play Schedule

  • October 20-21: Both Noor and We Need to Talk About Dhruv will be presented at Ranga Shankara theatre in Bengaluru for a matinee and an evening show on each day

  • November 13-14: Both plays Noor and We Need to Talk About Dhruv will be staged at the newly refurbished Triveni amphitheatre in Delhi.

(Tickets are available on BookMyShow)

Other Ongoing Projects

  • Recording and documenting lesser-known cultural practices from around the country in a project called BIG - 'Before It Goes'

  • A detective fiction series, pending publication, where the sleuth is Mrs Malhotra, a 63-year-old South Delhi resident Counselling sessions with NGO Sanjivini

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The New Indian Express