Fiona Fernandez: Bring back the open-air venue

Mar 05, 2018, 06:07 IST | Fiona Fernandez

We'd love to see more of the city's premier cultural landmarks host open-air events to support the performing arts

Shubha Mudgal performing at Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya. File Pic
Shubha Mudgal performing at Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya. File Pic

"Isn't it such a lovely idea, Mrs. Patel, to have a classical music performance in this setting?" her septuagenarian companion exclaimed, as a gentle sea breeze pervaded over the manicured lawns of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya. "Indeed, Mrs. Kolah, this has to be one of the most scenic venues that I've been to for a concert in the city, in a long, long time," she remarked, making space for her Prada tote in the adjacent chair. Yours truly, seated a row ahead, was privy to this exchange, and couldn't agree any more.

The occasion was the closing ceremony of India and the World: A history in Nine Stories, a mammoth exhibition that ran in the museum for four months. The venue, and fittingly so, was the sprawling green cover that greets every visitor to the stunning dome-outlined landmark. The stage was a minimalist set-up with zero obstruction to ensure the audience had a clear view of the stage, and finally, the artiste for the nite was Shubha Mudgal, accompanied by Anish Pradhan and a few other talented musicians. The performance was an hour-long dedication to varied compositions of the Baramasi, where veteran classical musician's vocals soared and lilted across the space. Soulful and picturesque, with the sky painting a pretty portrait above us, we couldn't have asked for a better finale. The incessant honking at the nearby Colaba junction and the fact that we were bang in the middle of a busy shopping district on a Sunday evening seemed liked a distant echo.

Towards the end of that mellifluous evening, as the Indo-Saracenic landmark looked splendid, bathed in the glow of the night sky and the arc lights, a question popped up in the head. Why not have more such open-air venues (including this one) across the city to host performances? It's no secret that we are woefully inadequate when it comes to such spaces – big or small. Banganga Tank's iconic music festival doesn't seem to be on the radar (at least, since we last checked) while the Elephanta festival is a pale shadow of its heady days, when boat loads of the city's cultural czarinas and the Page 3 set would make a beeline to the island to bag a front row seat to watch Mallika Sarabhai or Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia perform against the backdrop of the historic stone sculptures.

We recall this one time, when even that little jewel of a space in Juhu, Prithvi Theatre, had changed its café into a makeshift open-air venue for a musical performance. It was nearly 15 years ago, and we can still recollect the magic that filled the air as Ustad Zakir Hussain's wizardry mesmerised us. Such is the incomparable pull of an open air concert that even a matchbox sized venue doesn't matter to the public. In fact, we'd like to believe that in space-starved Bombay, the audience is far more empathetic in such matters!

As we left the venue that evening, the thought lingered on. If Bombay wishes to put itself out there as a serious, culturally inclined city, such initiatives will go a long way in not only raising its stock but also offer aficionados another, much-needed avenue to celebrate the arts in the outdoors.

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