Point of Q: Private Space, Public Performance

Posted on 9 October, 2016 by Team Wishberry

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White Rabbit Red Rabbit at G5A


There is an incredible exhibition about the theatre of Ebrahim Alkazi going on in Bombay’s National Gallery of Modern Art at the moment. It is beautifully curated, wonderfully archived and amazingly, uses all four floors of the gallery; which is understandable given that his career spans 70 years. However, almost all visitors have responded to a small panel that talks about his no wall flat in Kemp’s Corner and the terrace theatre that he built above it. This is understandable, because as a city, we are obsessed with space and real estate.

The 50s and 60s was an era when formal spaces were very rare. The NCPA and Prithvi hadn’t been built yet, and there was only the Bulabhai Desai Institute in Kemp’s Corner where artists could meet and perform. Therefore a whole band of people decided to convert their homes into theatres. Deryck Jeffereis built a wonderfully functional space atop his home at Colaba’s Chotu Terrace. Alyque Padamsee went one step further. His home on Bela Terrace was constructed like a ‘box set’, with plenty of doors to allow actors to cross over from one side of ‘back stage’ to the other. The audience sat in the balcony, and watched a proscenium type performance. Kulsum Terrace, home of Theatre Group Bombay, also in Colaba, was another venue used for performances.

Most of the plays done at these venues were by the groups these individuals worked with. So while public audiences were welcome, they were still private spaces concerning who had access to perform in them.


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Setting up at Harkat Studios


Many years later, Atul Kumar went a step further with his “Theatre-at-home” project. He asked people to host performances of his plays at their residence. This was a wonderfully unique experience and in the three or four that I attended, it was almost better than watching a play in a formal theatre, because of the proximity to the action and intimacy of the audience. Recently, the trend has picked up again. Koogu by Anish Victor and Thoda Dhyaan Se by Mallika Taneja were also hosted in people’s drawing rooms. 

Although there are many institutions that have built and supported spaces in Bombay, most formal performance spaces are by-products, rather than the actual aim of the building. Other than the PL Deshpande, NCPA and Prithvi that were built specifically for performance, and a host of Marathi theatres, most of the regular venues are attached to educational institutions: Sophia’s, Andrew’s Bhaidas, etc. However even these have been found to be booked to capacity and the regular Bombay refrain of ‘dearth of space’ applies to theatre as well.

This had caused Satyadev Dubey to negotiate with the Chhabildas school for use of their large room (auditorium would not be the right word). The result was excellent experimental work that gave birth to some of the finest Marathi Theatre talent. However, the capitalist side of Bombay took over, and the school discontinued the practice for understandable commercial considerations.  

As with the Terrace Theatres of Alkazi and his ilk, smaller informal spaces are the crucible in which great theatre and great theatre people are created. It is important for a city to have plenty of localised ‘experimental’ spaces so that new ideas and narratives can emerge; away from the commercial burdens of the large proscenium houses. This, unfortunately, has been lacking in Bombay for many years…until now.


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A performance of a play at He Said She Said, Image Courtesy: Sanchit Gupta


In a strange happenstance, the last two years have seen energetic contributions from privately controlled spaces, that are welcoming live performance. Sitara Studio, G5A, Clap, Harkat Studio, Cuckoo Club, The Hive, Mumbai Assembly and numerous other small venues have suddenly sprung up. These are all dream projects of driven individuals, who unlike their predecessors are not makers of work, but well-wishers of the arts. They want to see interesting work, and invite and demand that from the troupes that perform there. Bombay theatre today is at its most vibrant because of the number of new opportunities for people to perform. From bars like Barking Deer and Brew Bot to curated theatres like G5A and Cuckoo Club, there is a variety and vibrancy of work never seen before.

Today, a play in Bombay, is not only about the content and the performance, but also about the location. Proximity in a city clogged with traffic, is key. What is even more exciting is how these non-formal venues are being used to create even more exciting theatre experiences.

So if you want a live experience like no other, click the tab of the theatre section of Bookmyshow.com, and am sure you will find something that is interesting, entertaining and most importantly, nearby.


- Quasar Thakore Padamsee

Artistic Director, QTP


About the writer:

Quasar Thakore Padamsee is the Artistic Director and Founder of QTP. He is also a founder of Thespo, an annual youth theatre festival. Quasar has directed and produced many a play since the late 1990s and has been on the forefront of bringing in something new and fresh to the theatre scene.

Quasar Thakore Padamsee is also a theatre columnist for a variety of publications. For the Wishberry Blog, he writes a monthly column called 'Point of Q'. 

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