“Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasise about a world to aspire to.” The theatre community of Mumbai seems to have taken Willem Dafoe’s words to heart. In a city where the sparkling lights of Bollywood get reams of attention, the theatre scene has carved a niche for itself among discerning Mumbaikars. Theatre thrives in Mumbai, both due to the presence of multiple theatre groups led by stalwarts such as Naseeruddin Shah and Makrand Deshpande, and the efforts of theatre-loving personalities such as JRD Tata and Shashi Kapoor, who established some of the earliest performing spaces in the city.
Prithvi Theatre, Juhu
Founded by legendary Indian actor Shashi Kapoor, in memory of his father, Prithvi Theatre is a bellwether of Mumbai’s theatre scene. Located in Juhu, amidst residences of movie stars, it was built in 1978 in a former storage shed, a labour for love of Shashi Kapoor and his wife, actress Jennifer Kapoor. It stages more than 600 shows annually, with performances by both Indian and international theatre troupes, and also conducts storytelling sessions, chai discussions (in the adjacent Prithvi Cafe) and theatre workshops for children and adults.
NCPA, Nariman Point
Inaugurated in 1969, the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) was the brainchild of JRD Tata and Jamshed Bhabha, who had a vision of building a world-class performing arts centre in Mumbai. Built on reclaimed land, it stands at the very edge of Mumbai’s iconic Marine Drive. The NCPA has had illustrious mentors throughout its existence, such as Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray and noted violinist Yehudi Menuhin. It is also home to the Symphony Orchestra of India, India’s first and only professional symphony orchestra, which regularly conducts performances and works with globally renowned conductors and soloists.
Royal Opera House, Chowpatty
The only surviving opera house in Mumbai, the Royal Opera House, inaugurated by King George V in 1911, reopened in 2016 after being closed for more than 20 years. The theatre originally showcased operas for the British elite, but soon moved to screening films and hosting performances. Post its grand reopening, it has staged performances by Indian and international theatre troupes, along with concerts by orchestras.
Cuckoo Club, Bandra
Located in a small lane in Bandra’s posh Pali Village Enclave, the Cuckoo Club is a contemporary arts venue that hosts a variety of events, from comedy performances to workshops to live theatre performances. Its black box staging area allows for intimate and interactive performances, and it has an adjacent cafe that offers delicious waffles and sandwiches, perfect to grab a quick bite before a performance.