On a world stage: Inside the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai

A massive, multi-disciplinary cultural space is now open in Mumbai, with a global outlook and a vision to foster and promote Indian arts

March 31, 2023 06:41 pm | Updated April 01, 2023 06:21 pm IST

‘The Grand Theatre’, dazzling centerpiece of the NMACC

‘The Grand Theatre’, dazzling centerpiece of the NMACC

Beyond the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), The Royal Opera House, Prithvi Theatre and assorted spaces — each with its nostalgic associations and strengths — Mumbai has craved a cutting-edge, world-class cultural centre for years. Well, that gap has finally been plugged, with the massive, dizzyingly grand Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) that opened today, March 31.

This multi-disciplinary centre — half a decade in the making and located in the Jio World Centre in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) — is a marvel of Ambanian futurism and superabundance, comprising four floors of state-of-the-art exhibition rooms and three theatres. As we enter for a preview, the atrium itself is enough to take our breath away and throw us slightly off balance: the space is flanked by a gigantic N. S. Harsha installation ( Seekers Paradise, hundreds of faces staring into the sky) and leads up to a large cantilevered stairway.

“An ode to our nation, the cultural centre aims to preserve and promote Indian arts,” says Nita Ambani, founder and chairperson of the NMACC. “I hope our spaces nurture and inspire talent, bringing together communities from across India and the globe.”

We’re given a tour of The Grand Theatre, the crowning jewel of the NMACC. Haze machines and the impeccable sound isolation of the theatre lend it an air of entering a sanctum sanctorum. Above us, a programmable, lotus-shaped ceiling casts and alternates colours through 8,400 Swarovski crystals.

The 2000-seater theatre, among the largest in India, takes its planning and design cues from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, originally designed by David Rockwell. However, there are also India-specific adjustments, such as the wider curvature of the auditorium and a steeper rake. “In Indian dance, for instance, gestures from the feet to the head need to be fully visible to the audience,” says a representative of the NMACC.

The smaller theatres, called The Studio Theatre and The Cube, offer more intimate, bespoke experiences, and can seat up to 250 and 125 visitors respectively (The Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, which is returning in physical form later this year, will make use of these venues as well as the Grand Theatre).

Dancers poised for ‘The Great Indian Musical: Civilization to Nation’, opening April 3

Dancers poised for ‘The Great Indian Musical: Civilization to Nation’, opening April 3

The centre is kicking things off with a production of The Great Indian Musical: Civilization to Nation, directed by Feroz Abbas Khan. The musical, a sensory journey of India through its arts, would not have been staged in its current form without the technical advancements on offer, Feroz says. The production features 350+ artists and a live score by Budapest Scoring Orchestra. There are also 3D effects achieved via dropping a scrim in front of the proscenium.

“Starting out, we wanted to showcase some of India’s finest performing arts and trace the journey of these traditions linked to the very essence of our country,” the director shares. “As far as the scale of imagination and execution of this musical is concerned, the production would have looked very different if it wasn’t for the theatre we were working in.”

The opening programming also includes ‘India in Fashion’, a costume art show on the influence of Indian fabrics and designs around the globe, from Victorian England to the Hippie trail, and ‘Sangam/Confluence’, an art exhibition showcasing the works of Indian and international artists like Bhupen Khakhar, Raqib Shaw, Cecily Brown and Francesco Clemente. The series, showing at a nominal price from April 3 to June 4, has over 50 artworks co-curated by Jeffrey Deitch and India’s Ranjit Hoskote.

‘Sangam/Confluence’ set to kickstart The Art House gallery at the centre

‘Sangam/Confluence’ set to kickstart The Art House gallery at the centre | Photo Credit: MITSUN SONI

Ranjit, a renowned poet, art critic and independent curator, is especially thrilled about the future possibilities of The Art House gallery at the NMACC.

“This beautiful four-storey space is calibrated to global museum standards, and lends itself well to workshops, educational events and a shifting array of exhibits and installations,” Ranjit says.

He believes The Art House — much like the rest of the NMACC — will enable India and the world to approach each other in a space of “mutuality, experimentation and sharing.”

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