All the World’s a Stage

Behind the Stage Lights of 3 Iconic Theatres in Mumbai

For many, growing up in Mumbai means access to several wonderful places and experiences. There’s Marine Drive with its twinkling lights and welcoming sea view, Bandra with its myriad tiny lanes packed with bungalows and family homes, and Juhu, where the beach becomes everyone’s playground, to name just a few. As I grew older and entered college, my interests changed. I now wanted to spend my time expanding my horizons. Cinema halls such as the Eros and Sterling tempted us almost every day with the latest blockbusters. And I fell madly in love with theatre. We soon made it a point to visit all the theaters in the city, scouring their schedules for plays and performances, and embracing the magic of the stage. 

Prithvi Theatre

You can’t mention theatres in Mumbai without immediately thinking of the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu. In 1944, at the height of his career, the actor Prithviraj Kapoor had a dream. He wanted to build a base for his theatre company that acted as home and as a catalyst for creativity and dramatic expression. To this end, two plots of land in the suburb of Juhu were earmarked for this venture, and construction began in earnest. However, due to Prithviraj Kapoor’s ill health, this grand plan never quite took off. Several years later, in 1975, his son, the actor Sashi Kapoor, and his wife Jennifer set up the Shri Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial Trust and Research Foundation. As part of the foundation’s efforts to promote Hindi theatre and actors and aid theatre workers, the Prithvi Theatre was inaugurated in 1978. 

Operating on a completely non-profit basis, even today, the theatre continues to highlight dramatic talent through daily plays and performances, regular workshops and summer camps, and even film screenings and poetry readings. 

After more than a decade, I recently visited Prithvi for a marvellous play by Naseeruddin Shah. I was glad to see that nothing had changed. The theatre still welcomed everyone with its wide open foyer. I later found out that the decision to not enclose the theatre space with a gate was a deliberate one. The space was designed by architect Ved Segan, who designed the complex in such a way as to encourage and attract people into its orbit. You are immersed in an intimate setting as soon as you enter Prithvi. The stage may be smaller than expected, but as you find your spot in the semi-circle arrangement of seats, you become part of the experience. The actors move freely within the audience, and the acoustics transport you in the moment. 

It’s no surprise that Prithi imposes an extremely strict no-late-comer policy. No entry is allowed after the third warning bell, and if you have to leave mid-performance, I’m afraid you have to stay out for the duration of the play. I feel a lot more places in Mumbai could benefit from the rules. I would suggest you go earlier than planned. There must be time made for at least one Irish coffee from Prithvi Cafe before your show (and one during intermission and maybe one post-show; we don’t judge). Find yourself a bench amidst the trees and fairy lights, have a sip of that delectable brew, and enjoy eavesdropping on the wonderful conversations around. You will be knee-deep in drama before your play even begins! 

Prithvi Theatre can be reached by train, bus, or auto rickshaw. If you are getting your own vehicle, keep in mind that parking is not available at the venue, so plan accordingly. There are plays every day (except Monday), and the schedule for the month is available at Tickets range between Rs. 150 to Rs. 1000; last-minute tickets are available at the counter before each show. But don’t count on this. I definitely recommend pre-booking for a show you want to see. The cafe is open daily between 11:00 am and 10:00 pm, as is the bookshop within the premises. 


At the far end of the bustling business district of Nariman Point lies a crescent of calm. The National Centre for the Performing Arts, or NCPA as it is referred to, provides that much-needed dramatic and cultural respite amongst the drab office minions that mill amongst the corporate towers around. 

The NCPA was built in 1969 as Dr Jamshed Bhabha’s passion project and JRD Tata’s. They envisioned a place in Mumbai that attracted all types of art. The NCPA provides space for world-class theatre, groundbreaking cinema, dance recitals, music performances, an art gallery, and a library and reading room. Over the years, the best and the brightest of legends have performed on its stages, and its roster only continues to grow. 

With five theatres of varying sizes within the leafy compound, the NCPA has the best equipment and on-site lighting and staging experts. Large productions such as operas, symphony orchestras and ballet performances have been staged here. The official website – – states that the NCPA hosts over 600 performances yearly. 

The five different theatres are each built with a unique design and purpose in mind, The Tata Theatre, for example, was built in a post-modern style by famous American architect Philip Johnson. The Jamshed Bhabha Theatre looms imposingly at one end of the 340,0000 square foot complex. Seating 1000 people, the vast auditorium both impresses and amazes. At a recent play, I stood in awe of the vast chandelier above, and the peacock-blue walls and marble staircase set the stage for the drama to follow. But my favourite space in the NCPA remains the Experimental Theatre. This intimate space has only 264 seats staggered around and above the stage. These can be moved into any configuration, depending on the performance. Many an evening has been spent tucked into my seat as the audience around becomes part of the production. Pure theatre magic at play. 

The NCPA can be reached by all means of public transport, There is also parking within the venue and around. I suggest you go early and stroll down Marine Drive before your show. The bracing sea breeze and chatter of the crowds only add to the magic that awaits. 

Opera House

In 1908, two men envisaged a space, the type of which was never before seen in Bombay. Jehangir Karaka, a businessman and owner of a coal company and Maurice Bandmann – a performing artist from Calcutta, came together to build the first opera house in the city. As plans for this Baroque masterpiece continued, the foundation stone was laid by none other than the reigning King – George V, in 1911. Construction continued till 1915, and the final structure combined an imposing blend of Indian and Western architectural elements. 

The Royal Opera House, as it was known as, soon became the talk of the town. The city’s who’s who flocked to its gilded seats and exclusive theatre boxes. At first, it only staging operas, but it soon changed its focus to other dramatic performances. By the mid 1930s, the Opera House was known as a cinema and a venue for fashion shows and musical concerts. 

Come the 80s and, its popularity had significantly declined. The maintenance and upkeep of this grandiose structure also suffered due to paucity of funds until it finally closed down in 1993. As children, we drove by its crumbling facade, only imagining what it must have looked like in its heyday. Fortunately, in 2008, the government of Maharashtra declared that it would restore this cultural institution to its former glory. Eight years of restoration and renovation work continued under the guidance and expertise of conservationist Abha Narain Lambah.

Finally, in October 2016, the newly restored Opera House was revealed to the public. To add a further feather to its cap, in 2017, it won the Award of Merit from UNESCO, recognising and appreciating the restoration efforts involved. Today, the Opera House boasts a seating of 575 spread over three levels. The world-class sound systems ensure the best acoustics at every spot in the auditorium. To add to its stylish new avatar, there is a jazz bar on the same premise and an all-day cafe. Apart from musicals and concerts, the Opera House hosts workshops and theatrical productions to appeal to all ages and walks of life. While the exteriors may still be imposing, there is a new casual warmth in its approach to the arts. It is A space that no longer just caters to the elite but throws open its doors to anyone passionate about art and entertainment. A welcome addition to Mumbai’s social scene indeed! 

This was a commissioned piece but all views expressed are my own

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