Mumbai: 24 years on, stage set for Rang Mandir to re-open

Bandra’s erstwhile open-air theatre will re-open on August 13 after a wait of over two decades

Bandra’s Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir is finally ready after a wait of over two decades. Leased to K Raheja Foundation in 1992 by the BMC to redevelop an open-air theatre into a closed auditorium, the site has seen its fair share of controversies. The new auditorium, in the quiet residential lane of St Theresa’s Road, is set to open to the public mid-August.

Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir in Bandra boasts of a 740-seater auditorium. Pic/Sameer Markande
Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir in Bandra boasts of a 740-seater auditorium. Pic/Sameer Markande

Once it opens, it will be the third biggest events venue after St Andrew’s and Rang Sharada in Bandra.

The open-air theatre, named after one of the most famous Marathi singers and stage actors, had run into ruin in the early 1990s and become a haven for drug addicts, say sources. Wanting to refurbish the space in a more functional way, the BMC joined hands with K Raheja Foundation, a part of realty group K Raheja Constructions.

The new look
In its new avatar, Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir boasts of a 740-seater auditorium, with two special boxes on either side of the balcony, designed by a Singapore-based architect. “We have fitted this auditorium with the latest lighting and sound equipment. A closed auditorium is a better fit for this city, its monsoon and a location like Bandra. This way, there is better acoustics and neighbours will not complain of the noise, unlike with an open-air theatre,” says architect Mahinder Chande, chief executive officer of K Raheja and in-charge of this redevelopment.

The upper floors have designated rooms to practise the tabla, the flute, Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, among others.

Tentative plans are in place to offer a course in music.

The auditorium is set to see its first theatre production on August 13.

Bookings are currently on for the auditorium, required to be done three months ahead. On weekends, an eight-hour session per day will cost around Rs 75,000.

Under a cloud
Redeveloped at around Rs 50 crore, the auditorium has seen many controversies over the years on account of the delay. The contract from the BMC stated that the redevelopment had to be completed by the end of 2015. The lease agreement is set to end in six years, and the foundation pays Rs 3.16 lakh per year to the BMC.

Last year, Aftab Siddique, a Bandra-based activist, questioned why the municipal commissioner revoked his previous order against a defaulter of 23 years. Her RTI enquiries led to observations that the contract allowed the foundation to make money from the performances hosted there — a commercial enterprise, unlike their other charitable institutions. According to the contract, the foundation had to pay a fine of Rs 4,75,96,265 for failing to meet the deadline.

Chande, however, dismisses the alleged fine, saying the auditorium was ready by December last year. “We had to wait for various licences. The delay in redevelopment occurred due to internal family disputes, but we did not miss the deadline,” he says. He adds that Rs 1.12 crore had to be paid to the BMC to fill in gaps made while calculating the lease, not as fine. Now, as part of the agreement, the BMC gets to use the auditorium 20 days annually for its own events.

Despite Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir’s past, it looks like Bandra is all set for yet another venue, signalling the northward movement of the city’s cultural and theatre spaces. Many dance and theatre groups have made inquiries in the past few weeks.

Congress corporator alleges loss of Rs 20 cr
The Rahejas approached the BMC around 1991 and offered to build a structure in place of the open-air theatre. Asif Zakaria, Congress corporator from Bandra who has been opposing the Rahejas for many years now, says, “It is a BMC plot that was handed over to the Rahejas for construction. In turn, they were supposed to construct a theatre for public use there. But they failed to do so all these years. When I calculated losses to the civic body, it came up to Rs 20 crore till 2016. But the civic officials brought it down to Rs 1-2 crore, citing that no policy was in place at that time. They calculated simple interest, instead of compound interest. The Rahejas paid that amount promptly and constructed the place. It’s a BMC property where they have built a g+7 structure. Will a common chawl dweller be able to visit it? This is fraud. We will protest using black flags the day it opens.”

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