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Rhythm House still tugs at Mumbai’s heartstrings

Inspired by industrialist Anand Mahindra’s tweet, Mumbaiites have united for the cause of restoring and revamping the iconic SoBo store

mumbai Updated: Mar 10, 2018 17:25 IST
Krutika Behrawala
Krutika Behrawala
Hindustan Times
Rhythm House,Mumbai,Kala Ghoda
The iconic music store Rhythm House at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai is set to be auctioned by the Enforcement Directorate.(Hindustan Times)

Even if you’re a cynic, it’s hard to ignore the momentum that Rhythm House Revival project has gained in the 10 days since industrialist Anand Mahindra’s tweet. On February 27, he tweeted: “If the ED is going to eventually auction Rhythm House, how about a bunch of us in Mumbai collectively acquiring it, restoring it & turning it into a performance venue for Rising musicians & a hangout for music lovers? Happy to be part of such a band.”

The iconic music store at Kala Ghoda downed its shutters in 2016, amid falling music sales worldwide. Its shutting tugged at heartstrings, though, because it had been bucking the trend and surviving tech revolutions since the early 1940s, seeing generations of Mumbaiites through the switches from LP to cassette to CD to iPod, YouTube and the smartphone.

Now, amid the PNB fraud, the heritage store bought by the diamond jeweller Nirav Modi is set to be auctioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). And it seems like the Mahindra Group is serious about reinventing the space.

On February 25, Anand Mahindra and VG Jairam, co-founder of Fountainhead Marketing met Vineet Agarwal, regional special director with the ED, to explore their options.

“Agarwal explained the Rhythm House property currently has been provisionally attached by ED and is awaiting of the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) adjudicating authority for final attachment…” tweeted @RhythmHouseRev, a Twitter handle created by the Mahindra Group to keep the crowd-sourced initiative transparent and participative.

“Due process to gain access to the space will take approximately 12 months,” says Jay Shah, vice-president and head of cultural outreach at Mahindra & Mahindra, who handles the Twitter account. “This is just a rough estimate. We will have to be patient.”

The original tweet and the RhythmHouseRev account, meanwhile, have both prompted a flood of interest, suggestions and support.

“We received very encouraging responses from a diverse set of Mumbaikars from around the world — musicians, actors, architects, restoration experts, lawyers, businessmen and others who are intensely in love with Mumbai and wish to see institutions they grew up with retained or restored,” says Shah.

These included composer-singer Vishal Dadlani, who pledged to “happily chip in, curate, organise management”, and stand-up comedian Atul Khatri, who offered to perform for free “for a fundraiser show for this cause”.

Maneck Davar, chairperson of the Kala Ghoda Association that restores heritage structures in the area, replied to the Twitter thread with the association’s willingness to commit Rs 25 lakh for creating a culture space at Rhythm House and maintaining it if it were to be non-profit.

For now, Mahindra and his team are in the process of consulting lawyers to “map out our options in bidding for, or utilising the property for a wider public purpose”.

“We would surely want to retain Rhythm House’s strong connect with music,” Shah adds.

VISIONS FOR A FUTURE

We spoke to lovers of Mumbai, heritage, culture and music about what shape they would like to see a Rhythm House Revival take. Here’s what they had to say:

‘Don’t turn it into a pub’

Louiz Banks, jazz pianist

My dream would be for Anand Mahindra to revamp the property and reopen it as a state-of-the-art music store like Sam Ash or Guitar Center in New York. It could then be afavourite haunt of musicians. Only the Mahindras can do it. But it should not turn into a pub or nightclub. There are enough of those places in Mumbai already.

‘A venue for alternative music’

Taufiq Qureshi, percussionist

Mumbai has several bigger venues that host rock and pop concerts. The city needs a space for alternative music. Rhythm House is an intimate space and would be perfect for hosting fusion, jazz, blues and classical music performances that require a smaller, controlled environment.

‘Let’s make it a musical destination’

Abha Narain Lambah, conservation architect

Rhythm House is a Kala Ghoda landmark. The building’s cantilevered balcony that curves around VB Gandhi Marg and Rampart Row has amazing engagement with the road. In the first year of Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, in the triangular parking lot in front of Rhythm House, there was a performance by Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Since it carries the legacy of being associated with music for decades, it would be great to restore and put it back to use as a musical destination.

‘The original look should be retained’

Brinda Miller, artist and member of the Kala Ghoda Association executive committee

Reviving Rhythm House is a great idea but there’s a long process involved before it can be acquired. The Kala Ghoda Association would like to contribute. I’ve known Rhythm House since the 1960s and the structure has fascinated me. Fortunately, it has not been broken down since being bought over. Even after its revival, the original look should be retained because it’s a heritage space in the art district. I wouldn’t mind if the space was turned into a restaurant, as long as that look and feel is retained.

‘The space should promote newer forms of performing arts’

Sidharth Bhatia, founder-editor of The Wire and author of India Psychedelic: The Story of a Rocking Generation

There are far fewer public spaces for music, arts and culture than a city of this size deserves. Kala Ghoda isn’t about fashion and designer shops. It’s about the arts and access to egalitarian, democratic culture – like the Jehangir Art Gallery and Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which are free and open to everybody. So, Rhythm House should be a meeting place that hosts spontaneous pop-ups and performances by young musicians, not established bands. It should also promote newer forms of the performing arts such as spoken word, and host open-mics. It should serve as a platform for new, young authors – those who may not get traction at a literary festival. Most importantly, it should be a space where all languages are encouraged, and where we can discuss important issues that concern our city.”

First Published: Mar 10, 2018 17:25 IST