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Mumbai’s Opera House on 2012 World Monuments Watch

The Royal Opera House in Mumbai has been selected for inclusion in the 2012 World Monuments Watch. On Wednesday, the non-profit World Monuments Fund (WMF) announced a list of 67 at-risk sites in 41 countries and territories at a press conference in New York City. 
Abandoned over twenty years ago, the building, located near Charni Road station, has deteriorated over time yet eluded demolition. Fortunately, the structural restoration of the building is now almost complete.  The “treasured places” on the 2012 list illustrate a need to balance heritage concerns and the social, economic, and environmental interests of communities around the world, said World Monuments Fund president Bonnie Burnham. “While these sites are historic, they are also very much of the present—integral parts of the lives of the people who come into contact with them every day. Indeed, the Watch reminds us of our collective role as stewards of the earth and its human heritage,” Burnham said.

Nominated by Mumbai researcher and writer Sharada Dwivedi, it rises prominently at a bustling intersection in Mumbai. Maurice E Bandmann, a renowned entertainer from Calcutta, and Jehangir Framji Karaka, head of a firm of coal brokers, drew up the Baroque-style designs for the theatre. In 1911, permission was sought, and granted, on the occasion of GeorgeV’s visit to Mumbai to use the prefix ‘Royal’. Completed in 1915, the structure hosted operas and live performances until it was converted into a cinema in 1935.

Today, it is the only remaining opera house in India. The façade includes elongated pilasters, Italianate balustrades, and a sculpted frieze across the pediment. The dramatic décor continues in the interior with Minton tile flooring, marble statues, crystal chandeliers, and a gold ceiling. This baroque façade, gilded interiors, and red carpets once welcomed Mumbai’s theatre, opera, and film elite. Now, only a generation later, there is little awareness of its history and significance, seemingly a faded jewel. Continuing neglect will destine the building for ruin, but the current owner, His Highness the Maharaja of Gondal, would like to prevent this from happening, said a press note released on Thursday. Conservation and redevelopment efforts are needed to preserve the Royal Opera House and revive its legacy as an important cultural venue. The Gondal family has appointed conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah for the restoration project.


Source:  Oct 7, 2011, TOI