It began, as most great things do, with a dream. It was a dream dreamed by few and pursued by even fewer – that of establishing a definitive arts and culture centre in the country. But the strength of this dream gave it wings, propelled solely by the resolute mind behind it, that of Dr. Jamshed Jehangir Bhabha. Dr. Bhabha keenly felt the lacuna of a pioneering institution to promote and safeguard India’s performing arts tradition. “In India, more perhaps than in any other country, music and related arts constituted a most important part of the country’s 5,000-year-old cultural and spiritual legacy. Music accompanied an Indian from the cradle to the grave; from birth to death,” he wrote in a letter in 1965 to the Dorabji Tata Trust. Despite initial hurdles, the project came to fruition with the full support of J.R.D. Tata and Professor Rustum Choksi, who convinced the Dorabji Tata Trust to make an endowment of Rs 40 lakh towards building the National Centre for the Performing Arts.
“To innovate, to break new ground, to venture on a path not trodden before, is always a difficult and challenging task anywhere, but particularly in a developing country like India with a vast and growing population and heavy demands on its resources to meet the people’s needs.”
– J.R.D. Tata
“The decision to establish (the NCPA) was promoted by the recognition of the pressing need to preserve for posterity and develop India’s rich legacy in the arts, particularly those which depend for their survival on performance and oral traditions.”
“The art has been handed down by oral tradition and kept alive for centuries by teachers and masters…This category of hereditary teachers is fast drying out and disappearing… Thus, the proposed National Centre for the Performing Arts is necessary for the survival and preservation of a great heritage of music, dance and drama.”
– Jamshed J. Bhabha
The inauguration of the Studio, Auditorium and Library at the Centre’s premises in Bhulabhai Desai Road by the Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, took place on December 29, 1969 and was followed by a week-long festival featuring P.L. Deshpande, Yamini Krishnamurti and Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Viewing it as an urgent task, the National Centre recorded the great exponents of Indian classical music for its Archives, thereby saving it for posterity. Between 1969 and 1974, most of the leading exponents of the Hindustani and Karnatic traditions were recorded.
During the 1970s, the NCPA saw many esteemed international performances, including: The German Touring Opera Company, Berlin (1971), Music Group of London (1972), Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin (1973), German Opera Ballet (1973), Stockholm Marionette Theatre (1975), The Royal Shakespeare Company (1976), Sydney Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra, Stuttgart Trio (1978) and the Sydney String Quartet (1978).
The Tata Theatre was formally inaugurated by Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, on October 11,1980
In 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited the Tata Theatre to see a kathakali programme presented by the Kerala Kalamandalam.
The Rodin Exhibition featured in March and April 1983 by the NCPA, in the foyers of its Tata Theatre, in collaboration with the French Embassy and Musee Rodin in Paris. About 100 bronzes,some of which were about 6 feet high and weighed more than a tonne each, were on display in and around the Tata Theatre.
The NCPA Mumbai initiated a series of East-West encounters involving composers who were invited to participate in an inquiry into the possibilities of creative work, drawing from both Indian and Western sources. The project involved seminars and workshops dealing with the fields of music, philosophy, dance, visual arts and drama between 1983 and 1986.
In 1982, The Tata Iron and Steel Company, in commemoration of its Platinum Jubilee, presented the NCPA with the Experimental Theatre. The Theatre was formally inaugurated in April 1986.
In 1987, the Godrej Dance Theatre was constructed. The Godrej Dance Academy, like similar facilities at the outset, was started in the NCPA’s Teaching and Research Block. It was here that many outstanding Master Classes were conducted under eminent gurus like Mohanrao Kallianpurkar and Kelucharan Mohapatra.
On New Year’s Eve 1998, as the Jamshed Bhabha 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 and started by saying “tomorrow we start reconstruction plans”. Jamshed Bhabha Theatre was inaugurated on 24th November 1999
In August 2006, the NCPA formed the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), the country’s first fully professional symphony orchestra, offering two seasons in Mumbai each year, one in September and one in February. The SOI was founded by the NCPA Chairman, Khushroo N. Suntook, and international virtuoso violinist, Marat Bisengaliev,who serves as the orchestra’s Music Director.
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 N. 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
In September 2016, the Symphony Orchestra of India celebrated its 10th anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, the SOI presented a gala concert featuring light classical music including popular waltzes and overtures. The SOI’s Music Director Marat Bisengaliev and Associate Music Director Zane Dalal jointly led the concert. The festive evening culminated with the students of the SOI Music Academy joining the SOI to perform ‘Happy Birthday’ for the Orchestra, as balloons rained down on a delighted audience.
The golden jubilee celebration of the NCPA held across three days in November and December 2019 was a microcosm of all that the organisation stands for. The multi-genre ADD ART Festival brought together the crème de la crème of art and culture including performances by Arturo Sandoval, Zakir Hussain, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Birju Maharaj, Aditi Mangaldas, the Symphony Orchestra of India, Jim Sarbh and many more. The joy of experiencing the arts live was extended to audiences beyond the theatres and concert halls, for performers showcased their talent in the myriad open spaces at the NCPA, as enthusiasts soaked in the cultural vibe while enjoying an array of culinary offerings. Adding art to people’s lives drove the 50th-year celebrations, and the city responded with all its love.