Smita Crishna-Godrej buys historic Bhabha bungalow for Rs. 372 cr

Smita has assured friends that the iconic home where brothers Homi and Jamshed grew up will not be torn down to make way for a highrise and will only be used as a family home.

01-01 Dr Jamshed Bhabha’s Malabar Hill bungalow, Mehrangir, which many in the city had wanted to be preserved and turned into a museum, was sold for Rs 372 crore at an auction on Wednesday afternoon.

Though there was no official confirmation, reliable sources said the bungalow – which Dr Bhabha had bequeathed to the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) – was bought by Smita Crishna-Godrej.

Smita, who is industrialist Jamshyd Godrej’s sister and is married to Vijay Crishna, a director on the board of Godrej Industries Limited, has told friends the iconic bungalow will be used by the family for only residential purposes and will not be torn down to make way for a highrise, as many opposing the sale had feared.

Smita, who was away in Europe on Wednesday, fended off competition from two other bidders, including construction giants Piramals.

Smita is a director in Godrej Holdings Ltd, and Naoroji Godrej Centre for Plant Research and Raptor Research and Conservation Foundation. She is involved in several conservation projects.

Smita takes keen interest in protecting heritage structures, literature and theatre. She is also involved in the functioning of The Udayachal High School in Vikhroli set up by her mother. Fiercely protective of her privacy, she has two daughters Nyrika and Freyan.

Smita and her husband currently live in a penthouse in A Wing of Grand Paradi Apartments at Kemps Corner.

The proceeds of the sale will go to the NCPA, which was founded by Dr Bhabha. NCPA chairman Khushroo N Suntook said the funds raised from the auction will be used to:

1. Realign and modernise the five theatres – Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, Tata Theatre, Experimental Theatre, Godrej Dance Theatre and Little Theatre.

2. Carry out major repairs (waterproofing, replacement of old air conditioners).

3. Upgrade cultural presentations to bring them to international standards.

4. Launch educational initiatives such as opening advance school of training for Indian and international training.

5. Purchase musical instruments (such as cellos, double bass and sitars).

6. Broadcast Indian arts internationally and taking Indian performers to the international stage.

7. Support talented artistes by offering them a platform at NCPA.

8. Move from ‘venue for hire’ to ‘curating’ NCPA’s own productions.

The bungalow’s sale was surrounded in controversy with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) wanting to turn it into a museum celebrating Dr Bhabha’s legacy. However, armed with Dr Bhabha’s will, the NCPA went ahead with the auction.

The deal was sealed around 12.15 pm, two days after the Bombay High Court refused to grant a stay on the sale, but posted the matter for hearing on June 23, saying the auction could be revoked, if required.

The auction was conducted by Richard Madley, better known for IPL auctions. Sources revealed that the Piramals went as high as Rs 371 crore, but eventually gave up the chase.

The ground-plus-three bungalow comprises 13 rooms, a terrace, three balconies, eight servant quarters, three covered parking spaces, an open parking place and two gardens.

Dr Homi Bhabha used to reside on the third floor, his parents Meherbai and Jehangir occupied the second floor, while Jamshed Bhabha and his wife Betty lived on the first floor.

“When I first stepped inside the house three years ago, I could sense that it was a very gracious and welcoming home. Two superbly engineered 13-and-a-half-foot dining tables occupied the living areas on the ground and the first floors. The Bhabhas certainly entertained many a guest,” said Dadiba Pundole, whose auction house, Pundole’s, conducted a public auction of Jamshed Bhabha’s belongings in October 2011.

The same year, select furniture and belongings, including Dr Homi Bhabha’s desk, stationery and his letters to various dignitaries, were handed over to the Tata Central Archives and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, respectively.

HN Vakil, partner at Mulla and Mulla, a law firm representing NCPA, declined to comment