To read the story of the NCPA's development from its beginnings in 1965 until today, click on the links below
1965-1975 First steps - the genesis of a pioneering cultural institution for India
It was in 1965 that Dr Jamshed J Bhabha, philanthropist, scion of an illustrious Mumbai family and a leading figure at Bombay House, wrote a letter to the Dorabji Tata Trust outlining the need for a pioneering institution in the area of arts and humanities that would safeguard India’s rich heritage of performing arts for future generations. Dr Bhabha pointed out that in India, perhaps more than in any other nation “music and the related arts constituted a most important part of the country’s 5,000-year-old cultural and spiritual legacy”.
Land had to be found for the new institution, and the Government of Maharashtra in 1965 proposed that in view of the shortage of land in Bombay itself, the arts centre should be built near the Ajanta Caves. Dr Bhabha rejected this idea, favouring a city centre location that would be accessible to all. He came up with the ingenious (if expensive) idea of reclaiming land from the sea, opening up a superbly located site of 8 acres (about 32,000 square metres) at Nariman Point.
With the State Government’s blessing, the site was leased for 99 years for the purposes of research and training in the performing arts, the presentation of Indian and international art forms, the promotion of excellence and the preservation of India’s rich cultural heritage. An initial sponsorship grant of Rupees 4 milion was given by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust to establish the NCPA.
While its Nariman Point site was being developed, a temporary setup was established at 89 Bhulabhai Desai Road, which housed a small auditorium, listening rooms and practice facilities. This was inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 29th December 1969.
1975-1985 American dreams with Indian horizons – the creation of the Tata Theatre
Work on the Nariman Point facilities continued, with the construction of the Little Theatre, a recording studio, a research block, a dance academy, art gallery and offices. These were officially inaugurated on 5 May 1975. Meanwhile, during the late 1960s Jamshed J Bhabha made extensive visits to the US, visiting new arts facilities such as the Kennedy Center in New York and the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles, meeting architects and leading arts figures in America, including Zubin Mehta, then chief conductor of the LA Philharmonic.
Mehta introduced Dr Bhabha to Welton Becket, architect of the Los Angeles Music Center, who subsequently visited Mumbai to advise on the site of a concert hall. It was Becket who persuaded Sir Dinshaw Petit (the third baronet) to donate the splendid 18th century Italian baroque staircase made of white marble at the old Petit Hall, which was about to be demolished to make way for a new house. Becket’s intention was to install it in a modern theatre foyer “like ancient jewels worn on a young lady’s dress”.
Sir Dinshaw also donated four superb Murano glass chandeliers from Venice, which now embellish the Tata Theatre.
Welton Becket’s untimely death in 1969 led to Dr Bhabha returning to the US to seek another architect. It was at this point that he was introduced to Philip Johnson, one of the foremost modernist architects of his day, who now embarked on several trips to India to study the country’s performing arts traditions and to devise a theatre that would provide the most effective stage for music and dance.
Meanwhile, Dr Bhabha had been so impressed with the acoustics of the Kennedy Center’s Opera House in Washington DC that he immediately engaged the theatre’s acoustic consultant, Professor Cyril Harris, to work on the new theatre in Bombay with Philip Johnson. This was achieved with a generous grant of $ 200,000 from the Ford Foundation to cover the costs of providing the basic design for construction.
The 1000-seat Tata Theatre, with its auditorium styled as a classical amphitheatre, superb acoustics, and the audience arranged in fan-shaped seating around a central group of performers to ensure excellent sight lines from every seat in the house, was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 11th October 1980. Four years later, when visiting the Tata Theatre again for a performance of Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville, she remarked to Dr Jamshed Bhabha that she felt it a pity that this theatre did not have an adequate orchestra pit in front of the stage, and that “a National Centre should have a theatre designed to feature opera also.”
1985-2000 Final stages – paving the way for Jamshed Bhabha Theatre
Through the 1980s, the development of the NCPA continued apace. After the Tata Theatre came the Experimental Theatre, a versatile ‘black box’ space which opened up the possibility of presenting flexible creative work by small-scale groups at the Centre.
The Experimental Theatre was established initially by the Tata Iron & Steel Company with a donation of 5 million Rupees, and was officially inaugurated on 25th April 1986.
The Godrej Dance Academy and Piramal Gallery followed in 1987. Originally intended as an exhibition area for the new Centre for Photography as an Art Form, which was established with a grant of $ 75,000 from the Ford Foundation, the Piramal Gallery today presents exhibitions by leading Indian and international photographers as well as the works of young, promising artists.
The next major phase of development of the NCPA came with the construction of the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, a major lyric theatre with the capacity to stage international events on an ambitious scale, whose name celebrates the legacy of the Centre’s founding father. The story of the creation of the theatre, at a time when finances were scarce, reflects something of the undaunted determination of Dr Jamshed Bhabha.
On New Year’s Eve 1998, as the theatre neared completion, the entire edifice was destroyed by fire, the result of an electrical short-circuit. Dr Bhabha called a meeting the next morning, while the embers were still glowing and, without recrimination or rancour, started by saying “tomorrow we start reconstruction plans”. The investigation and cause of the fire were, for him, things of the past. He was interested only in looking ahead.
Jamshed Bhabha Theatre was inaugurated on 24th November 1999, fulfilling at last Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s suggestion, made in October 1984, that the NCPA should build a theatre not only for Indian music but also for performances of opera and concerts by well-known symphony orchestras.
Since 2000 A vision fulfilled – the NCPA today
Today, Mumbai can be proud to have a modern cultural complex that is a home to India’s first professional full-scale orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of India (established in 2006), and which provides a platform for world-class performance both from national performing arts groups and international visitors. In 2008, the Indian premiere of Puccini’s operatic masterpiece, Madama Butterfly, took place at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre. This hugely complex undertaking was produced entirely by the NCPA to worldwide critical acclaim.
Dr Bhabha’s motto in life was “When the cause is good, the means will follow”. The creation of India’s National Centre for the Performing Arts at Nariman Point in Mumbai is a tangible example of this belief.
Dr Jamshed Bhabha passed away on 30th May 2007. He has been ably succeeded as Chairman of the NCPA by Mr Khushroo Suntook, who carries forward the vision and legacy of the Centre’s founding father, with a view to creating an international arts centre for India fit for audiences in the 21st century.
Since 1970 Selected performances – past and present
Theatre Mohan Agashe | Shabana Azmi | Nadira Babbar | Eugenio Barba | Bhakti Barve | Kabir Bedi | Fritz Bennewitz | The Brechtian Ensemble | Peter Brook | P L Deshpande | Neena Gupta | A K Hangal | Rohini Hattangadi | Daisy Irani | Manoj Joshi | B V Karanth | Anupam & Kiran Kher | Shiram Lagu | Anant Mahadevan | Vijaya Mehta | Sabira Merchant | Shombu & Tripti Mitra | Alyque Padamsee | Amol Palekar | Kawalam Pannikar | Shernaz Patel | Smita Patil | Amrish Puri | Om Puri | Royal Shakespeare Company | Naseeruddin Shah | Faroque Sheikh | Anjan Shrivastava | Habib Tanvir | Ratan Thiyam
Hindustani Music Kishori Amonkar | Ashwini Bhide | Ajay Chakrabarty | Hariprasad Chaurasia | Dagar Brothers | Buddhadev Dasgupta | Kumar Gandharva | K G Ginde | Gundecha Brothers | Shobha Gurtu | Gangubai Hangal | Zakir Hussain | Pandit Jasraj | Bhimsen Joshi | Dinkar Kaikini | Ali Akbar Khan | Amjad Ali Khan | Bismillah Khan | Rashid Khan | Vilayat Khan | Moghubai Kurdikar | Mallikarjun Mansur | Rajan & Sajan Misra | Shahid Parvez | Malini Rajurkar | Vijay Raghav Rao | Veena Sahasrabuddhe | Bhavani Shankar | Ravi Shankar | Shivkumar Sharma | Jagjit & Chitra Singh | Parveen Sultana | Padma Talwalkar | C R Vyas
Carnatic Music S Balachander | M Balmuralikrishna | Sheikh Chinnamaula | Palghat Mani Iyer | D K Jayaraman | Lalgudi Jayaraman | Ravi Kiran | D K Pattamal | Palghat Raghu | M S Subbalakshmi | Semmangudi Srinivas | Sikkil Sisters | Umayalpuram Sivaram | L Subramaniam
Western Classical Music Bamberg Symphony Orchestra | Boris Berezovsky | Marat Bisengaliev | Kammerphilharmonie Bremen | English Chamber Orchestra | Festival Arties | Andrei Gavrilov | Larissa Gergieva | Israel Philharmonic Orchestra | Malaysian Philharmonic Chamber Players | Zubin Mehta | Yehudi Menuhin | Munich Philharmonic Orchestra | New York Philharmonic Orchestra | Opera- Barber of Seville | Opera- Madama Butterfly | Opera- La Traviata | Orchestra di Maggio Musicale, Florence | Maciej Pikulski | Ekaterina Solovieva | Vladislav Sulimsky | Symphony Orchestra of India | Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra | Julian Lloyd Webber | West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra