The World as a Stage in Mumbai’s Royal Opera House

Once part of Bombay's posh nightlife, the country’s only opera house has been returned to its former glory.  
The World as a Stage in Mumbai's Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House was awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2017. Photo by: Stringer/Getty Images

For years Mumbai’s Royal Opera House stood silently in the neighbourhood named after it, biding its time. Inaugurated by King George V in 1911 and completed in 1916, this was the first opera house in India. It was purchased by the Gondal family in 1952, and continued screening films for years until the family closed the baroque venue in 1993.

Almost two decades later, in 2010, the family hired Abha Narain Lambah, one of the finest restoration architects in the country to modernise the 100-year-old building with a structure to match. The Royal Opera House was restored over seven years and finally reopened in October 2016.

In the last few months it has hosted various eclectic acts including Parekh & Singh, an indie pop act from Kolkata, who were also part of the BBC podcast The Arts Hour that chose the opera house as the recording venue for its Mumbai edition. Tinariwen, a Grammy-award-winning band of Tuareg musicians performed here to an enthusiastic audience, many of whom danced to folk guitar solos.

Performances apart, walking into the Royal Opera House is a visual treat. Italian marble floors support arches with ornate gold filigree, lording over marble statues. The glamorous Minton-tiled foyer on level two has chandeliers from the palace of Maharaja Jyotendra Sinhji Jadeja of the Gondal royal family from present-day Gujarat. A new, more modern addition to the space is The Quarter. Also designed by Lambah, it has a cosy cocktail and mozzarella bar, an all-day café, an al fresco restaurant, and an art-deco-inspired 80-seater music club with an intimate, well-equipped performance space.

Along with being a cultural hub, the Royal Opera House is also a symbol of hope for Mumbai whose art deco buildings, merely a few kilometres away, remain burdened with regulation and red tape, struggling to emerge as spaces that can adapt to the changing world around them. ( )

  • Sarvesh Talreja divides his travel time between bustling cities and meditative dive sites. He's occasionally spotted by mountains too.

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