There are four ways to enter Kala Academy at Campal in Goa’s Panaji. The shortest and the most scenic is when you actually walk past the building on your right, go straight until you sight the Mandovi river, the lighthouse and the hills beyond, walk along the promenade and then walk down the lush green cover towards the open air amphitheatre. On a quiet day, one might see friends chatting on the steps or someone reading a book; other days, young children practising a play or a dance, with or without an audience. More recently, late chief minister of Goa Manohar Parrikar’s mortal remains were kept here for public homage.
When it was instituted in 1970 as a premiere centre for promoting art and culture in Goa, the Kala Academy appointed architect Charles Correa (1930-2015) to design the structure. At the time, the site was a beach front for many old Goan houses. They would go fishing or watch the ships come in. As the building grew to become an iconic landmark, it hosted writers, artists, filmmakers, media and politicians for a wide range of events — from film festivals to classical-music concerts.
Its low horizontal form of three floors, with an open street plan, not only eased visitors into the building, but allowed them to wander into public spaces, from the foyer, the amphitheatre, to the canteen and the gallery, without ever feeling they were inhibited in any way. The extended pergola in the foyer added to the effect. Balcaos echoed in the in-built seating in the foyer and murals there wore Konkani details of Goan streets, not only creating optical illusions but making people believe they were home. The terraces that spread out across the first floor made access easy into classrooms, too.
“The art fraternity of Goa takes pride in the structure as it provides spaces for every form of art, be it western classical music or Carnatic sangeet, repertory company or commercial theatre, dance or literature, drama competitions or folk performances. Be it at the DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas or the International Film Festival of India, I have met some brilliant minds such as UR Ananthamurthy and Ali Sardar Jafri here. The pristine ambience in and around the complex has always been very soothing and inspiring,” says Konkani literature icon Damodar Mauzo, 75.
Nondita Correa Mehrotra, director, Charles Correa Foundation (CCF), recalls how her father was particular about the acoustics in the Dinanath Mangeshkar Kala Mandir auditorium, which has Mario Miranda’s murals on the walls. “Classical Western music and Indian Carnatic music have different reverberations. He got in Robert Newman of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, who helped with the Watergate investigations, to design the acoustics.”
Currently, the threat of demolition and court cases cloud Kala Academy. Classes are being shifted out of the premises and programmes have been stalled. The Frame Conclave on Modern Heritage, organised by Studio Matter and held on August 16-18, was initially planned here. Even as CCF has thrown its hat into the ring to help with renovations, there is growing nervousness around the future of the building.
One is reminded of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem: Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/There’s a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in. It’s possibly in the brokenness of things that Indian architecture will find its answers to its present conundrum of preserving modern heritage.