Mandi House: The soul of City's culture, art

HISTORICALLY RELEVANT

Mandi House: The soul of City's culture, art

It was on May 1, 1955 that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru opened the doors of Sapru House on Barakhamba Road. The red and white sandstone building resembling a Government office became the headquarters of Indian Council of World Affairs in memory of the great leader, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru.

Least did they know that the Nehruvian passion for World Affairs will translate into cultural performances that will move beyond the premises of this institution and spread over the entire Mandi House, due to its close proximity to Barakhamba Road and a convenient public transport system in place.
As the theatre scene gains momentum in the City with the commencement of National School of Drama’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav followed by Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) next month, Metrolife delves into history to find out why the place is defined as the ‘Cultural hub of the City’?      

“It was in the early 70s that Shankarlal Music Festival used to be organised in the sprawling ground of Modern School, which was just next to Sapru House,” recollects Prof Aditya Mukherjee from Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) informing that the “Indian School of International Studies used to be at Sapru House before being shifted to JNU in 1969.”

In the early 60s, dance performances became a common fixture here. “I remember witnessing a dance performance by Sonal Mansingh, who was a beautiful lady in her youth, when I was five or six years old,” reminisces theatre personality Sohaila Kapur sharing that the venue became a place for various music and theatre performances by late 60s. “Punjabi plays were sta­ged at that time. They were not bedroom comedies but were slightly crude.” 

By the end of 60s, NSD on Bhagwandas Road came into existence and as the timeline entered 70s, the theatre action shifted here alongwith the auditorium of Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts on Safdar Hasmi Marg. “They used to have a basement space where I performed my first play in 1994. Unfortunately they have closed it now,” adds Sohaila pressing on the need of less-expensive theatres. 

As theatre groups mushroomed across the City, need for venues like Kamani Auditorium and Little Theatre Group (on Copernicus Marg) arose. Alongside, a steaming art scene continuously tried to find its place. Though Triveni Kala Sangam was founded in 1949, it focused on making dance an affordable art for afficionados. However, today, it is known more for the various exhibitions held at its four galleries – Shridharani Gallery, Art Heritage Gallery, Triveni Gallery and a basement gal­l­ery run by Art Heritage on Tansen Marg.

Today, there is also a lesser known National Museum of Natural History besides FICCI and the Russian Centre of Science & Culture located on Feroze Shah Road. For those who wonder why the place is called ‘Mandi Ho­use’, the possible reason is the fact that the head office of Doordarshan, located at the same place, originally belon­ged to the Raja of Mandi and probably took its name as ‘Ma­ndi House’, where a new Metro Station will soon  come up.

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