One of the oldest drama theatres in the city – the iconic Damodar Hall from Parel – has shut temporarily.
As it turns 101 years old, the trust has rolled out a redevelopment plan for its properties on the land, which includes a school, apart from the drama theatre.
As per the redevelopment plan shared by Anand Mainkar, president of the Social Service League which owns and runs Damodar Hall, the theatre is the first to be demolished for construction of a new school building.
After children are shifted to the new school, the old structure will be demolished to make way for a new drama theatre with all modern facilities in the second phase of the redevelopment.
“We have close to 4,000 children studying in our school building, which houses one CBSE school and a night school offering state-board curriculum. The schools cannot be closed, considering academic loss. Hence, we have decided to close the theatre. We were anyway running with a huge loss post pandemic,” said Mainkar.
“The theatre anyways required heavy repairs as it would get flooded every monsoon due to elevation of roads. Hence, instead of going for heavy repairs, we decided to implement an iconic redevelopment plan, which will change the face of the school as well as the theatre,” he said.
The new school building, Mainkar said, will be an eight-floor structure. “The new Damodar hall will be equipped with all the modern facilities. It had a capacity to seat 750 people, but sometimes, the requirement was for lesser capacity. The new theatre, which will have the same capacity, will have the provision to reduce capacity as and when required to offer the hall to smaller productions at affordable rates,” said Mainkar, adding that the new Damodar Hall will be a ground plus four structure with a huge parking facility.
Built in 1922 by the Social Service League that was founded by Indian Trade Unionist N M Joshi, Damodar Natyagruha, popularly known as Damodar Hall, has been one of the oldest centre of drama and other performing arts in South Mumbai’s Parel, which is historically known for housing the middle-class population of the city – the mill-workers.
The Social Service League is confident to restart with a new structure by 2026. But as the curtains have finally closed at this drama theatre on October 31, few from the Marathi theatre industry and workers from the theatre have expressed concerns on whether this is the end for the Damodar Hall and the cultural activities that it hosted.
Rahul Bhandare, secretary of the Marathi Vyavasayik Natya Nirmata Sangh (association of producers of commercial Marathi drama), said, “The trust has never been transparent about the plan. The existing staff of the theatre was also let go very casually. In the absence of clarity, there are doubts if the theatre will return at the same spot and will be affordable for the middle-class.”
Adding to this, Sundar Parab, who was the manager at the theatre, said, “There is no clarity on whether we will return to our jobs. Instead of absorbing us to any other work, we were just let go with an additional salary of a month.”
Renowned Marathi actor Prashant Damle, who is the head of Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Natya Parishad, said, “We will have to know what the trust’s plan is, especially regarding the staff which worked to run the theatre for several years. We will write to the trust to get clarity.”