Sanctuary for Performing Arts

Sanctuary for Performing Arts
Photo Credit: Dinodia
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Mumbai's National Centre for the Performing Arts is an endangered species in the multiplex jungle

Our Team
July 29 , 2014
03 Min Read

Coming in from the sensory assault that is South Mumbai into the National Centre for the Performing Arts' eight acres of open spaces, low buildings and grassy paths is an uplifting experience, of course. But for me, the thrill is the knowledge that here, in the heart of the business district, in about the most expensive real estate in the world, is a quiet place where poets meet. Located on the southernmost tip of Marine Drive, the NCPA is a metaphor in itself. Despite the odds, art lives! A venue for festivals of dance, drama and music, exhibitions of modern art, sculpture and photography, workshops and seminars, screenings and film festivals, this truly is a breather in the smog.

One of my earliest forays into the NCPA involved a poetry reading in a tiny, dark AV room, where a middle-aged businessman, recently migrated from small-town Orissa, read the first poem he had ever written in English, titled (phonetically speaking) 'Phor My Phather'. Not only was the man indulged, his endearingly mediocre poem was discussed by the 15-strong audience for 10 minutes, biographical details bounced around, visiting cards exchanged, and surely that night, copious self-satisfied Oriya verse entered the world. How fantastic! It was clear that this unpretentious, eccentric, accepting space would be a life-raft forever.

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Through college, like several other students, I would wander into the NCPA, usually alone, experience-hunting. Many evenings were spent watching dull documentaries on the racy lives of Cézanne and Gauguin, sixties and seventies Hollywood classics, or odd, amateur plays in the Experimental Theatre with its cool, dark, industrial/barn feel and balconies that hang 13ft above everything. Sure, there were times when stilted, rehashed, bombastic performances made us want to cry out loud, but then there were always the fantastic chutney sandwiches, not to mention the army of pony-tailed sensitive poets to befriend.

Lots of big things happen at the NCPA as well. The fabulous, 1,109-seat Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium (where I learned that Jane Eyre's Red Room could be a creature of scaffolding and light), with its over-the-top marble staircases and sculptures, baby-blue walls, generous foyer spaces, plush carpets, an orchestra pit and super hi-tech acoustics, is the venue for major international stage productions, operas, ballets and classical music concerts. The less flashy 1,000-seat Tata Theatre (where I saw an entire audience — grown men and all —  weep during a performance of Mahatma vs. Gandhi), is designed in a fan shape around an almost semi-circular stage to meet the acoustic and visual requirements of Indian music and dance. Of course, all of this is very expensive, and like most things worth supporting, the NCPA isn't supported quite enough.

Run by a board of directors (headed by Vijaya Mehta), the NCPA's commitment to traditional and contemporary art, Indian and otherwise, is palpable from the sheer diversity of events. From popular Gujarati plays to electronic mandolin recitals to The Vagina Monologues — there is something for everyone. It's obvious that membership and tickets could never cover the cost of running such a place, and though the NCPA has been principally funded by the Tatas, talk is that other corporates are now being wooed. What this would mean for programming, who knows? Would a bank decide who gets the stage? Would our artists wear branding? But if a fashion show in the opera house means that Kramer vs. Kramer in the Little Theatre — or a room full of geriatric Parsis, tea and samosas with a gardenful of obscure bards belching their verse — can still be a possibility in an otherwise malled-out, multiplexed city, Go Get It, I say. You can always skip the fashion show.

National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point, Mumbai; 022-22833737/ 33838/34500; Box Office and Home Delivery: 022-22824567, 56548135-38


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