It’s not everyday that you jump into a life-or-death bicycle race with someone you met just hours ago. But when at the world’s largest mobile experience centre, you channel the enterprising vibe and bullishly push the limits of your body and mind through a virtual reality (VR) experience. I can’t say I came out on the winning end of this fitness challenge called ‘Pedal to Medal’ but when there’s newer, more exciting digital encounters to be had, grace in failure comes relatively easy.
The Samsung Opera House is packed to the rafters with cutting-edge tech experiences that are yet to be found in the rest of the subcontinent. And if ‘opera house’ conjures visions of glass-shattering sopranos, well, you’re not far from the truth. What used to be a British-era entertainment venue has been tenderly refurbished by the South Koreans into something of an innovation hub. Longtime Bengaluru residents recall the heydays of this property from the early 20th century, when expats and the city’s European elite would vie to be seen at balls and concerts at the ‘New Opera’; post World War II, the structure was turned into a Tamil film theatre, until an unfortunate downward slump saw the place overrun by small shops, squatters and excruciating decades of litigation. Since 2018, the dust’s been blown off to create a facility that’s emblematic of Bengaluru’s current inclinations—citizens want heritage restoration projects, and citizens (unsurprisingly) want technology. And so century-old pillars have been spruced up next to modern electricals; the grand staircase is flanked by VR-stocked cubbyholes; and vintage archways lead up to a snazzy room centred around the ‘Internet of Things’. The owner insisted that nothing be torn down when remaking this 33,000 sq ft galleria.
The inside is divided into two levels featuring experimental technology, while the outside houses a spacious amphitheatre that’s packed with families, college-goers and IT professionals on the weekends. The latter is part of a zealous effort to rejig the Opera House’s role as a social hotspot, with weekend fêtes showcasing standup comedy, cooking workshops, indigenous art performances and even Korean pop events.
The experimental technology, of course, is the resounding baritone that keeps visitors glued. I particularly liked the VR kayak experience—with a phobia of deep water, I would never have opted for white-water rafting in real life. There’s also the Whiplash Pulsar 4D chair for the more strong-willed, that makes 360-degree movements to simulate fighter pilots and roller coasters, and an open gaming zone whose panoramic curved monitors are almost always occupied by frenzied players. For a more benign look into technological prowess, the 8K television monitors are a good starting point, followed by a visit to the immersive Home Theatre room, which can be booked for private screenings. The room with the Internet of Things (IoT) is fascinating.Those with doubts about investing in an IoT led household device network could test the waters here.
If I had one quibble, it would be this: there wasn’t enough conspicuous representation about the building’s heritage. A triptych-style photo lineup, or even a brief video presentation drawing parallels with the glory days would have been nice. If not for my guided tour, it’s unlikely that I (or any other first-time visitor) would have fully grasped the weight of the restoration efforts by a mere glance at the architecture. Having said that, if you live in Bengaluru and are aware of the Opera House’s former disarray, the metamorphosis is worth a sentimental visit.
Samsung Opera House, No. 57, Ashok Nagar (at the junction of Brigade Road and Residency Road), Bengaluru, Karnataka.