Mumbai: Royal Opera House owners excited as restoration enters final phase

Feb 24, 2016, 08:14 IST | Hemal Ashar

The royal family of Gondal, owner of Royal Opera House, is excited as restoration in final phase and confident of October opening

Maharanisaheb Kumud Kumari, from the Palace of Gondal in the Rajkot district of Gujarat, knows most about Mumbai’s landmark Royal Opera House (diagonally opposite the Roxy theatre), which is now in the final phase of renovation, before its resplendent curtains go up in October. "Speak to my mother," says the Yuvraj of Gondal, when asked about the historic building. As one of the wealthiest royal families in India, the Gondals are owners of this Charni Road icon, and are keen the ‘Royal’ in its prefix has real meaning, it is not just a leftover of colonial times or a cosmetic namesake.

Ornate stonework is part of the structure. Pics/SAYYED SAMEER ABEDI
Ornate stonework is part of the structure. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The Gondal-Mumbai connection goes deep. The family had lived in Mumbai years "before moving back to Gondal, a quieter, less polluted place," laughs the Maharani saheb speaking to mid-day on the phone from the palace. The Gondal palace had featured in Salman Khan’s recent flick, ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’, their vintage cars are part of the city’s annual vintage and classic car rally and, of course, the Opera House, "is the Mumbai link we are most proud of," she adds.

The newly restored balconies with grills
The newly restored balconies with grills

"The Royal Opera House was bought by my grandfather-in-law Bhojrajji, in 1952. He had bought it only as an investment. The grand sweep of the building and its history might make people think that there was some romantic reason behind buying the structure, but it was a prosaic decision, driven by commerce," she recalls.

The blue stain glass is new and the woodwork is recent
The blue stain glass is new and the woodwork is recent

Once the Opera House was theirs, it was up to the family to make their investment work. For a while, it did, with movie screenings, but soon, the audience dwindled. "We could not make a go of it; it was a very painful time for us," she says candidly.

Kumud Kumari
Kumud Kumari

The age of VCDs had arrived and even the Royal Opera House, with its grandeur was not enough of a draw. "We decided to shut it down, but never thought of selling it, even when it fell into disrepair."

With the structure, it seems almost sacrilegious though to call it that, getting another lease of life now, the Maharanisaheb is keeping tabs on happenings in Mumbai. She says, "I am here at least once in three months. Maybe, my trips will get more frequent once the Opera House project nears opening."

What enthuses the royals most is the fact that the Opera House will reopen not as a movie house, but as a theatre. "We are going to retain the royal boxes that we had, which are still present in operas. This is phase two, or the final phase of the project, and I am quite confident that we will re-open as projected, in October this year," the Maharani declares rather bravely.

"The palace is also debating whether to put a royal crest on top, just above the curtain. Though we have chandeliers there, we are also mulling transporting some magnificent ones from the Gondal Palace here," the Maharanisaheb signs off, raising visions of a slice of the regal and romance of Gondal, coming soon to an Opera near you, fit for commoners and kings.

The magnificence of the palace
Gondal is in the Rajkot district of Gujarat. It was one of the eight first-class princely states of the Kathiawar Agency during the Bombay Presidency. The town lies on the banks of Gondali river. The Huzoor Palace is the current royal residence, where one wing is open to the public. It is known as the Orchard Palace because of its huge surroundings of fruit orchards, lawns and gardens. There is one railway coach available for public view in this palace, which was a part of the Gondal royal railway. The royal garages have an extensive collection of vintage and classic cars. 

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