India’s finest nursery for acting talent resides in the heart of Delhi’s cultural hub, Mandi House. National School of Drama (NSD) was established in April 1959 under the auspices of the Sangeet Natak Academi to promote theatre. In 1975, it was registered as an autonomous body, under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
The initial location was in Nizamuddin West before moving to Kailash Colony and finally was set up at its present location, Bahawalpur House. Since then, NSD has evolved into a unique institution with its own teaching, training and acting methodology that has created a niche for itself in the global space of theatre.
The Alkazi Legacy
NSD has the unique distinction of accepting raw talent and then putting them through a structured yet flexible learning process that exposes them to every facet of self-discovery and expression. The credit for building the foundation on which NSD stands today goes to the doyen of theatre, Ebrahim Alkazi. Taking over as Director in 1962 and remained at its helm till 1977. Known for his vision, he gave theatre a visual appeal while focusing on technical discipline. He directed some of the finest dramas to come out of NSD and included famous productions like Girish Karnad’s ‘Tughlaq’, Dharamvir Bharati’s ‘Andha Yug’, and Mohan Rakesh’s ‘Ashad Ka Ek Din’. He was awarded the Padma Shri (1966), Padma Bhushan (1991) and with India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan (2010).
Ebrahim Alkazi was responsible for developing Hindi theatre and taking it to other parts of India. Some of the finest theatre artists who were lucky to train under him still attribute their talent to his training. Known to be a disciplinarian, he would goad his students to rise at 4 am in the morning and begin training the mind, body and soul for theatre. That was the passion of Alkazi.
NSD has had a succession of talented Directors like BV Karanth (1977-82) who took over from Alkazi, B.M.Shah (1982-84), Mohan Maharishi (1984-86), Ratan Thiyam (1987-88), Kirti Jain (1988-95), Ram Gopal Bajaj (1995-2001), Devendra Raj Ankur (2001-07), Anuradha Kapur (2007-13), and the present Director Waman Kendre who took over in 2013.
Some of the vast talent to graduate from NSD and move on to films have been Govind Namdev, Om Puri, Anupam Kher, Piyush Mishra, Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Raj Babbar, Mita Vashist, Manohar Singh, Pankaj Kapoor, Neena Gupta, Seema Biswas, Satish Kaushik, Raghubir Yadav, Ashutosh Rana, Rohini Hattangaddi, Deepa Sahi, MK Raina, Yashpal Sharma, Tigmanshu Dhulia, and Himani Shivpuri, amongst several others.
One of the finest and publicly recognized graduates from NSD is Naseeruddin Shah. He trained under Alkazi and has performed in several memorable productions over the years. In 1977, he formed a theatre group called Motley Productions, along with Tom Alter and Benjamin Gilani and their first stage show was Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. Naseeruddin went on to acting in cinema and made a niche for himself through a variety of character portrayals. He, along with another NSD graduate Sai Paranjpye, has received the Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India.
NSD is a place brimming with excitement and energy, an environment that is able to bring together actors from various cultural backgrounds from all over India and blend them together to bring out their creative best. NSD’s success has been its ability to channelize this creativity into various forms of expression while retaining individual character of each actor. Students love the atmosphere and will swear by ‘gyan’ received under the iconic ‘Neem ka Ped’, where endless discussions on every topic under the sun takes place.
Varied learning opportunity
Students receive broad-based training in classical Indian and western dramatic traditions, Indian traditional and folk theatre, modern theatre trends in India and abroad, and specialized training in Indian theatrical forms.
The campus has three auditoriums; Abhimanch (seating 350), Sammukh (seating 96) and Bahumukh (seating 75-100). It also boasts of a unique library with the largest collection of books, manuals, scripts and periodicals related to theatre. It has a collection of over 26,665 books, 4000 periodicals, 1064 gramophone records, 616 slides, 889 photographs and around 200 journals.
NSD insists on a proven background in vernacular theatre as a precondition to joining and the standard of selection is high. No wonder, that Bollywood actor and ex-NSD graduate, Manoj Bajpayee contemplated suicide on being rejected by NSD is his first attempt. He subsequently joined it and attributes his talent to the grounding and discipline acquired during his stint there.
NSD Repertory Company
In order to take forward its production and showcase emerging talent, NSD has incubated the National School of Drama Repertory Company. Set up in 1964, by veteran actor, (late) Om Shiv Puri, and later followed by Manohar Singh, Ram Gopal Bajaj, JN Kaushal and Anuradha Kapur. The repertory company has performed over 120 plays based on the works of over 70 playwrights in several countries and many parts of India. The Repertory company continues to showcase itself through traditional and contemporary productions.
TIE – Sanskaar Rang Toli
Another unique initiative from NSD has been the incubation of TIE or Theatre-in-Education, targeted at developing theatrical talent in the age group of 8 to 16 years. Started in 1989, it has now been re-named Sanskaar Rang Toli. They have conducted over 800 performances across India and has been watched by over 5.5 lakh school and college level students.
In fact, this year the Summer Workshop for Student Theatre is being organized from May 21 till June 22 and will be a great opportunity for children to attend and discover their talent.
Bharat Rang Mahotsav
A long awaited event in Delhi’s cultural calendar is the Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Started a decade ago, it has become a much awaited annual fixture that showcases some on the best theatrical productions of the country. This year’s Mahotsav took place between Jan 04 -19 in Delhi. A smaller parallel version is also organized in various cities across India, to promote and present the culture of theatre.
Delhi is indeed lucky to have a unique institution among its midst and the best form of recognition can come from patronizing its productions. Carry on NSD !