LOCATED at the southern most tip of Mumbai is the sprawling National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). With its gardens, gallery and five specially-built theatres, this sea-facing cultural centre turns 50 this month.
On its premises are photographs of maestros and artistes who have been associated and performed at NCPA over the years. There is also a chic Beer and Wine Garden, with wooden chairs and tables beautiful laid out. Meanwhile, the Piramal Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition of over 100 photographs that trace its 50-year journey. On display are photos of MS Subbulakshmi, Ut Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Girish Karnad and many others.
Starting from November 29, the NCPA is rolling out a specially-curated three-days celebration of art, music and theatre, titled “NCPA ADD Art Festival”. Khushroo N Suntook, NCPA Chairman and SOI Founder, says: “This is a very thoughtfully curated festival that brings several Indian cultural traditions as well as artistes to NCPA.” This range of artistes that the festival promises is exciting. Theatre director Roysten Abel, who returns to Mumbai with The Manganiyar Seduction, is looking forward to be back at NCPA’s Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, which he believes is the best indoor venue.
The opening act was on Thursday evening with a 90-minute gala concert by Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI). “We wanted to offer an evening of favourites that are well-loved by our audience and also to have an inclusive show. Our first season had ballet in it and we have invited the same ballet group (Abay Kazakh State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet) back. We got a mixed choir of more that 100 artistes from all over India,” says Zane Dalal, associate music director, SOI, and added that “the idea is to celebrate the togetherness that this hub for artistic excellence represents”.
The NCPA, initially conceived by Jamshed Bhabha, was built to further the cause of art and culture in India. Speaking at the opening of NCPA’s Working Programme in 1969, at its temporary premises at Bhulabhai Desai Road, industrialist JRD Tata had expressed the desire “to build a prosperous society”. “We do not want it to be merely a materialistic, a consumer, society. Apart from that, a nation like ours with its ancient civilisation cannot afford to neglect the cultural heritage handed down to it over the centuries.” He found support in the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was present at the inauguration. Gandhi said: “We have no doubt that our classical and folk music and art are some of the things which we simply must preserve in order to keep our individuality.”
During the last 50 years, NCPA has added performance spaces and tweaked them to meet the cultural requirement. In fact, its theatre spaces have remains one of its kind in the city, especially Jamshed Bhabha Theatre (JBT) and Tata Theatre.
However, the NCPA has its challenges to deal with. It has been a struggle to draw the audience from the suburban areas. High rentals of its theatres is another issue. Suntook says: “One of the biggest challenges has been to reach out the audiences. We have the best musicians but there should be more enthusiasm around it. However, most of the audience looks for a big name rather than quality. We have been reaching outing through digital medium to draw the youngsters even as we offer membership (there are 4000 members) at a reasonable price.” For now, he hopes this festival will pull in more crowds.