Monday, July 04, 2005

The Opera House that was

Bangalore-Back and Forth
The Opera House that was
Deccan Herald

The Opera House at the end of Brigade Road has been closed for decades. But its owners, having waged a long legal battle, promise to restore it to its original glory now.



He emerged from the shadows of the huge Opera House building that we have all grown up with but never entered. Ramakrishna, a slight and erudite man welcomed me into the hallowed premises of his Opera House. The possibility of getting the true history of the building was exciting.

Gracious era

For decades the building seemed to be crying out for succour and always evoked images of a bygone gracious era. Stories floated around from old timers of the City about the grand dances and soirees held in its premises by the British soldiers, but for decades all one could see was the building getting more dilapidated with each passing year. Recently all the extraneous garment stalls on the periphery disappeared and the makings of a garden began.


Ramakrishna showed me around the cavernous hall by torch light. The wooden floor boards had been pulled up and sold, the staircase with the burnt remanents of its red matting and gracious sweep stood as silent testimony to the vandalism of the tenants. “My father bought the building in 1959 and we have both grown old fighting to get back what was ours for over 37 years. I want to refurbish it to the grandeur of its hey day,” he says. “ I have fought for this building and will never pull it down,” is his response to my prodding about his living on a gold mine.

Upper floor

Negotiating the stairs, which have become dangerous and rickety with a couple of steps missing, we climb up with the light of a torch to the upper floor. “This balcony overlooking the dance floor was divided all around into elegant cubicles where couples wined and dined and took a turn on the floor whenever the fancy took them.”

Looking down one could almost conjure up a sight of the floor filled with handsome soldiers with their beautiful dates dressed in flowing Victorian gowns waltzing to a live band playing maybe the Blue Danube Waltz. At one end a huge stage still stands where probably the Opera was staged, very like those on Broadway. The background painting of trees is still visible though quite faded now after so many decades.

Stage

“Look at those holes in the floor of the stage,” says Ramakrishna, pointing his torch to large open holes while a bat flies past our heads. “That is where the actors made their entry and exit and the tunnel still runs from below the stage to the front of the building,” he reveals.

Movie hall

“For a while the place was used as a movie hall but there are no projectors left, in fact the 60-odd tenants just built up walls breaking down whatever they felt and destroying the original ornamentation. If there is anyone who can give me pictures of what the building originally looked like I would be very grateful,” he adds.

It is a mammoth task. And we look forward to the day when maybe the walls will resound once more to the music and the dancing of a modern-day Opera.

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