Nita Ambani pours passion for the arts into Mumbai culture centre

The Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre will launch on March 31

Nita and Mukesh Ambani. AFP
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Of the many, many pieces of art that adorn Antilia, the Mumbai home that Nita Ambani shares with her husband Mukesh, the one she is most fond of is Tu by Indian painter S H Raza.

“I gifted this artwork to my husband on his birthday,” Ambani tells The National. “It is inscribed with the words ‘Tujhe zameen pe bulaya gaya hai mere liye’, which translates as ‘You have been called unto this Earth for me’. These are the lyrics from my favourite song Kabhi Kabhie. My husband would sing this song to me when we were younger.”

Ambani is a bona fide culture vulture, and Indian art is a point of both passion and pride for her. Some other pieces she cites as favourites from her collection include: Raqib Shaw’s Radha Krishna depiction; Manjit Bawa’s Untitled Krishna “that has a special place in our temple lobby”; Sabavala's sublime work with pinks and blues “that has stayed in my office for a long time”; and Anish Kapoor’s reflective work, which she describes as magical. “I appreciate how he pushes the boundaries in his practice.

"I am also an admirer of traditional Indian art such as Pichwai and Tanjore paintings. In recent times, my daughter Isha has been my sounding board. I enjoy her sensibilities, her insightful perspectives, and her taste in modern and contemporary art.”

Art aside, Ambani is a patron of classical Indian music and dance. “I grew up learning Bharatanatyam, so I have always looked up to amazing classical dancers, such as Balasaraswati,” she says.

“I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the performances of many great artists, including musicians, theatre actors and storytellers in India and around the world, and I am a fan of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Zakir Hussain. The late Lata didi [Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar] remains a timeless favourite for our family across generations.”

It is little wonder, then, that while the Ambani power couple are renowned for their business acumen (Nita owns the T20 cricket team Mumbai Indians and Mukesh is the chairman of Reliance Industries), it's the opening of a multidisciplinary cultural centre that bears her name that Ambani calls “the realisation of my lifelong dream”.

The Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre, in Mumbai’s bustling Bandra Kurla Complex, will throw open its doors on March 31, with a suitably impressive line-up of performances.

On opening night, playwright and director Feroz Abbas Khan will present The Great Indian Musical: Civilisation to Nation, a theatrical experience celebrating Indian dance, drama, music and art.

On April 1, eminent fashion journalist, costume expert and Vogue magazine's global editor Hamish Bowles will curate the exhibition India in Fashion: The Impact of Indian Dress and Textiles on the Fashionable Imagination. On April 2, cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote and Jeffrey Deitch, former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, will present Sangam/Confluence, a group art show that will explore plurality of expression through the works of 10 Indian and international artists.

“The centre’s opening line-up reflects our aspiration, which is to shine the spotlight on India’s rich and diverse heritage on a national as well as international scale,” says Ambani. “By showcasing exemplary Indian artists, talented young artists and spectacular international performances, we want to provide new experiences to an appreciative audience.

“NMACC has been a labour of love and commitment for my family and me, a testament to our deep-rooted pride as Indians and as supporters of the arts.”

While the entire opening season programme is yet to be announced, Ambani says: “For now, all I can share is that we have some of the most exciting productions from India and across the world coming up at the Grand Theatre.”

The venue’s 2,000-seat state-of-the-art auditorium aside, the centre includes The Studio Theatre, which seats 250; a 1,486-square-metre Art House for exhibitions; and a space called The Cube that, Ambani says, “can be configured in almost any way, and is especially great for independent artists and experimental shows”.

"The beauty of art is in the universality of its appeal and the transformation it enables," she adds. "It sensitises communities and opens our minds to ideas, helps us embrace divergence, and transcends every boundary and label.

“Even during difficult times, such as the lockdown, art brought solace to people around the world. So many of us picked up a pencil or a brush, learnt an instrument, or just danced our hearts out as a form of expression, a mechanism to cope and a symbol of solidarity. As such, the hope with the centre is it continues to celebrate art in all forms for generations to come.”

Updated: March 09, 2023, 9:56 AM