Columns | Game, Seth and Match
Culture Is Destiny
The national importance of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre
31 Mar, 2023
INDIA HAS HAD a long and, at times, stupendous tryst with the arts. Be it the performing arts or visual arts, our legacy has been stellar. Growing up in Calcutta, a visit to the theatre was par for the course. It was not an outing: it was where you calmed your mind and rested your soul and imbibed the wondrous performances. I vividly remember the film festivals at Rabindra Sadan as also the serpentine queues to watch Sombhu Mitra’s plays. We, for our part, applauded the arrival of the GD Birla Sabhaghar which is where we staged the first performance of IS Johar’s Bhutto.
Kala Mandir was always there as were several small theatres that encouraged the arts. Gyan Manch was our favourite for staging intimate plays and we did stage quite a few. I remember being invited by the late Aditya Birla to stage Bhutto in Bombay and we marvelled at the facilities available in that hall. But sadly, that hall was more famous for hosting annual general meetings than plays. Prithvi was always there, and I am delighted that Kunal Kapoor continues to carry the torch which his parents so luminously created. NCPA, funded and founded by the House of Tata, was the next revelation on the cultural scene in Bombay, but that is now a pale shadow of itself and needs both rejuvenation and re-imagination. I only wish the Tatas had enforced their presence on the Board and the management because in that case, NCPA would have been much classier than it is now. And perhaps, more egalitarian.
This is why the inauguration of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) in Mumbai on March 31 is a defining moment for the Indian cultural scene. It will reshape the way people are exposed to culture and the manner in which it is presented. Nita Ambani has always been committed to the arts and has shown not just exemplary zeal but a rare passion. Today, her daughter Isha is doing the same. The NMACC is going to be the Lincoln Center of Asia, if not the only one of its kind outside New York. The manner in which Isha is looking at curating the NMACC will help a duality in focus: it will revive the amazing hues of Indian culture, be it dance or music, or for that matter, theatre; it will also help younger people understand the vastitude of Western culture. The one thing that Nita and Mukesh always do is build and present on a scale which is unique. What’s more, it is remarkably democratic. Their love for India and Indianness is already well-chronicled and Isha, too, has her heart in the right place as far as cultural openness is concerned.
The manner in which Isha is looking at curating the NMACC will help a duality in focus: it will revive the amazing hues of Indian culture, be it dance or music, or for that matter, theatre; it will also help younger people understand the vastitude of western culture
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It’s important for me to flag the birth of the NMACC because we can’t keep talking about our brilliant civilisational legacy without actually putting our money where our desires are. There are many wealthy people in India and even wealthier corporations, but few take the time or the initiative to carve out what will be a seminal contribution to India’s landscape. I wish more and more people invest in the arts. There’s no point in talking about India’s Amrit Kaal when we are slowly isolating ourselves from the nuances and the kaleidoscope that India’s culture is enriched with. For that, we need spaces where people will gather to soak in and share and then, hopefully, spread. Places that are inviting and not threatening. Places that speak to the heart and the mind, and places which allow us to go into the past while securing our future.
Ultimately, culture is not a commodity: it is society’s DNA and sometimes you need homes to preserve this DNA, and then also allow people to blossom in them. Hence the NMACC will be that home of joy: for the eyes, the ears and the soul. It will be home to everything Indian as it will be to the best of the West. In many ways, it will be uniquely Indian: India has always had the capacity to give and receive the best in the arts.
In the years to come, the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre will be more than just that. It will be a place which will unleash new talent; revere the old and create a bridge not just between the past and the future but equally between nations and peoples. Culture is always borderless, and this Centre will be home to that union of thought and deed.
About The Author
Suhel Seth is Managing Partner of Counselage India and can be reached at email@example.com
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