The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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State prop for stage
- Buddha buys hall, CMDA in charge of overhaul

Act I: The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) spends Rs 15.5 crore to revive Star theatre.

Act II: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government comes up with a Rs 12-crore plan of its own for the revival of Minerva theatre.

The 'moral responsibility' of the state to preserve culture has prompted the government's purchase of the north Calcutta hall for Rs 1.25 crore.

A revamp of seating, acoustics, lights and restoration under the supervision of 'some of the best experts' is now waiting in the wings.

Planners and consultants of lighting and acoustics will soon be invited to submit their proposals, with work likely to start from January 2005. The new-look, air-conditioned hall, now lying shut, is to be ready by April 2007, equipped with a swank rehearsal room and greenrooms.

Bhattacharjee has indicated that the project will go to the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), instead of his own information and cultural affairs department. The CMDA, it is felt, is better placed to execute the project, with more experience in engineering supervision. Also, being autonomous, it is easier for it to engage outside consultants.

At Minerva, unlike Star, the original structure will be restored, not demolished.

Architect Dulal Mukherjee has been given responsibility to renovate the Beadon Street theatre. Factoring in his design solution plan, the CMDA has set an initial budget proposal of Rs 9 crore for the renovation and reuse of Minerva.

'We are trying to renovate the hall while retaining its old-world ambience and adding contemporary facilities,' said Mukherjee.

'The fa'ade, which was created a few years ago, is not up to the mark and we will restore the old look,' he added.

Detractors feel public money should be spent on priority areas like roads, drainage or education, but both the civic body and state government have stuck to their cultural guns.

'Preservation of heritage is part of the government's moral responsibility. The chief minister does not want to take help from private bodies for such a project,' explained senior government officials.

'Commercial houses are welcome to get involved as a non-commercial venture,' added an official.

Bhattacharjee wants Minerva to be revived as a government venture, so no bureaucrat has approached business houses for financial support.

While mayor Subrata Mukherjee plans to set up a board of trustees, including the municipal commissioner and stage performers, to plan how to market Star, the new Minerva is being seen as a facility for small theatre and jatra groups.

State-of-the-art sound and light systems will be installed and the acoustics revamped.

The stage, with trap doors and sub-basements, will be overhauled, too. 'We will not change the basic structure of the stage. We have to ensure that it has all the features of a world-class stage,' felt architect Mukherjee.

The information and cultural affairs department is defending the investment, as 50 per cent of the funds needed for purchase of the theatre came from the member of Parliament's local area development fund. The rest of the burden will be shared by the state department and the CMDA.

A rough estimate of costs involved with the revival package is being worked out now, said a senior CMDA official.

'Once we arrive at a figure, we will approach the state for funds,' he explained. A cash-strapped CMDA is desperately seeking funds for its own development projects.

'Under the circumstances, it is extremely difficult for us to arrange funds for a project like Minerva,' the official added.

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