India/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.2 Cultural houses and community cultural clubs

The role of cultural ‘hubs’ is becoming increasingly central to much discussion on urban infrastructures. Although it is true that several downtown theatre and music venues were places to primarily go and see the arts, such places were almost always also locations to ‘hang out’in as well: like the park adjacent to the Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bangalore, the sweets shops in Bengali Market adjacent to the theatre venues in and around Mandi House, New Delhi or the steps of the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. And so, long before the more ‘formal’ or consciously- located hubs such as the Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai and Rangashankara, Bangalore, provided with adequate cafes and book shops for theatre and cultural centres for people to meet, most cities had such venues, albeit informally.

In a 2009 baseline study of theatre spaces in 10 cities in India, the India Foundation for the Arts showed that among the popular venues in Mumbai were St Andrews auditorium, the Sophia Auditorium, Shivaji Mandir, Karnataka Sangha, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, the Mysore Association, the Probodhan Thakeray Hall and Ravindra Natya Mandir. They showed that the use of performance venues appears to be tied to the language in which they perform. Marathi theatre groups prefer to perform in the Shivaji Park Dadar areas (Shivaji Mandir).  The Malayalam group they interviewed (as well as the Kannada group) restrict their performances to Karnataka Sangha in Matunga. All of these venues were importantly proto-hubs for artists and generally theatre lovers to hang out in and around.

In Chennai, the report found that spaces like Museum Theatre (which is used for other government events) and Alliance Française ranked among the most popular venues both for Tamil as well as English groups. According to an actor from Koothu-p-pattarai, when Alliance Française gave out their venue for reasonable rates, there was more theatre activity. Both have an added draw – Museum Theatre is a heritage structure built in the colonial times and has been the favourite venue for veteran groups like the Madras Players and the Alliance Franciase has had a strong association with theatre ever since it was set up in India.

In Bangalore, the report found that Kannada groups preferred the Ravindra Kalakshetra which was the primary host to theatre until the end of 1970s, whereas Rangashankara is a favorite because of its location in South Bangalore and the facilities it offers. Newer and more ‘adventurous’ groups (both English and Kannada) explore alternative spaces like Seva Sadan and Centre for Film & Drama (CFD). Because of the pressure on places like Rangashankara and Ravindra Kalakshetra, groups have expressed the need for other intimate theatre spaces, especially in the various residential areas. The Alliance Française is another major venue, used primarily because of the location which draws an English-speaking audience. In another league altogether are the large venues which are patronised by large cast productions: Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Ambedkar Bhavan and the Christ College Auditorium. 

The Alliance Francais and the Max Mueller Bhavan-Goethe Institut, in most instances, provided among the first significant locations for formal hubs, including art exhibitions and film screening spaces, along with inexpensive cafes. India has had a long tradition of music and dance associations, who programme performances through the year, usually either at small venues or even in private homes. Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai would between themselves have perhaps hundreds of such associations.

Chapter published: 22-04-2014