One day, perhaps, the NCPA’s work may be more important for the country than the work of the steel company,” JRD Tata had famously told Jamshed Bhabha, founder of the institution when the latter apologised for taking up his time. Tata wasn’t entirely wrong about his grand vision given the legacy that the cultural institution has built over the past five decades.
From a humble beginning in a small rented space in Akash Ganga building on Bhulabhai Desai Road, today the National Centre for Performing Arts houses five theatres sprawled over eight-acres on the southern tip of Nariman Point, and hosts over 600 events each year spanning all art forms. Conceived by Jamshed Bhabha and backed strongly by JRD Tata, Bhabha’s concept note for the NCPA stressed the need for a centre to preserve Indian arts and humanities. The Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, while accepting Bhabha’s proposal, put the onus of procuring land on him.
When the state government failed to release land anywhere in Bombay, offering space near the Ajanta Caves instead, Bhabha came up with the idea of reclaiming land from the sea. NCPA’s Trust was set up in 1968 with stalwarts like Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar, Satyajit Ray, Andre Malraux, Vilayat Khan and PL Deshpande on its advisory board. before Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister inaugurated the NCPA, not once but twice. First time in December, 1969 at Bhulabhai Desai Road; and then 11 years later, at Nariman Point in October, 1980, when she launched the Tata Theatre designed by American architect Philip Johnson and acoustics expert Cyril Harris. Then two months before its completion, on the night of Dec 30, 1997, the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre was engulfed in fire and by morning reduced to ash. But like a phoenix it rose again in 1999 and continues to stand as a testament to Bhabha’s leadership and vision.