“Haven’t you seen a theatrical performance? People are talking with each other – but as soon as the curtain is raised, everybody’s mind turns completely to the play on the stage – it doesn’t wander away. This is called being absorbed in samadhi.”
– Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Theatre in Delhi today
“How do you watch a play?” This is a frequent question we faced, yet, every time we were stumped. Gradually we realised that, unlike Kolkata or even Mumbai, watching theatre is not a common activity in Delhi. The Calcuttan between us recalls experiences of being taken to watch plays by parents, and sometimes grandparents as well, even as a toddler. But the scene was not the same in Delhi 40 years back. Theatre was not a common activity in the average Delhi household. Not to say that there was no theatre – the countless annual Ram Lila shows would take months of preparation and garner excitement. The kick of a live performance always created a buzz. Yet, watching stage theatre was not a common activity and restricted to niche.
We remember watching plays in a virtually empty auditorium with renowned thespians like Girish Karnad and Zohra Sehgal for company.
Delhi-fun-dos is among the very few theatre blogs in Delhi. We have observed the theatre culture in Delhi closely in the last decade. The theatre scene has gone through a metamorphosis in the last decade. Traditionally theatre would imply heavy pieces based on social issues or popular literature. Enjoyment was the focus but not entertainment. Most audience, who were looking for recreation, would, therefore, veer towards movies from Bollywood and Hollywood as their weekend activity. Cinema halls would overflow with the audience while theatre shows ran dry.
In the last decade, we believe there is a new theatre language in Delhi that is somewhat different from the serious or experiments by National School of Drama, or group theatre movement that originated in Kolkata. In the new format, fun plots, light comedy, glamorous cast and swank backdrops have got entertainment back into plays in Delhi today. Added to that are productions that feature film stars and popular television artists. They are mostly part of productions from Mumbai and would travel to Delhi to stage back-to-back shows over a weekend in Delhi. Aadyam Theatre Festival and Zee Theatre are forerunners in this style that marry glamour with substance. Romantic theatre for couples in Delhi make a unique dating option. One of us is a pucca Delhiite and the other an honorary citizen.
As theatre bloggers in Delhi, we can see an inherent zest for life, joie de vivre as they say that is the credo of Delhi lifestyle. Modern Delhi theatre, the way it has evolved, speaks this language. Plays in Delhi today are inherently Delhi at heart and communicate to Delhiites like never before.
Consequently, there has been a gradual rise in the theatre audience in Delhi. As a result, when we try to get tickets for plays in Delhi this weekend, we are stumped. Most shows run full houses and notwithstanding we feel left out, it still makes us happy. The theatre culture in Delhi has finally taken off!
Theatre halls in Delhi
There are many theatre halls in Delhi, and by theatre, we don’t mean movies. The Mandi House area near Connaught Place and Lodhi Road area in South Delhi are hubs. The cost of watching theatre in Delhi varies between Rs. 100 to 5000 per ticket depending partly on the venue and partly on the production.
Yet, there is still a sense of ambiguity surrounding theatre in Delhi. Many ask us about theatre halls in Delhi. So, here is a list of top places for watching theatre in Delhi. We have stumbled on these auditoriums either exploring listings for plays in Delhi this week or simply while driving down a road. No matter what, we have been enriched in some way or the other through all the plays we have watched.
National School of Drama, New Delhi
National School of Drama (NSD), the premier institute for theatre studies was established in Delhi in 1959. Located in the Mandi House area in the heart of the city, NSD is the nerve centre of contemporary and experimental theatre. Some of the best plays in Delhi are staged here. Their alumni are the who’s who of the acting industry and include Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique, Raj Babbar, Naseeruddin Shah, Neena Gupta, Seema Biswas, Sureka Sikri; the list is endless. NSD houses many auditoriums inside the campus such as Sammukh and Bahumukh, but our favourite is Abhimanch. They also host an annual theatre festival – Bharat Rang Mahotsav in February every year and we almost fulfil our year’s quota of theatre during this time. In fact, the 8th edition of International Theatre Olympics was held at NSD in 2018. NSD has a simple canteen too but it isn’t very well-stocked.
NSD ticket booking : The popular mode of booking a play ticket at NSD is to buy across the counter. The tickets are available from NSD office during working hours once the play is advertised in newspapers. Some tickets, if available, are placed at the auditorium box office an hour before the show. Given the popularity of NSD, chances of getting instant tickets are slim though. Sometimes, like during Bharat Rang Mahotsav, they sell tickets online too. Tickets for plays at NSD are very reasonable and vary between Rs. 100 – 350.
How to reach NSD/ How to reach NSD by metro: NSD is close to Connaught Place, India Gate or Pragati Maidan. You can easily take a cab or drive. They do not have dedicated parking. Most people park on Bhagwan Dass Road or in any of the surrounding lanes. Alternatively, you can park at the authorized parking in front of Mandi House and walk for 5 minutes. The nearest metro station is Mandi House on the Blue Line and this is few metres away from here.
Kamani is one of the biggest auditoriums in Mandi House area, Copernicus Marg. Established in the year 1971, Kamani is now host to many prestigious plays and concerts. There is a canteen on the first floor, and we love the patties and somewhat soggy samosas, just before a show. Needless to say, we have watched many amazing plays at Kamani Auditorium in Hindi, English and Bangla. The Aadyam Theatre Festival, Delhi as well as Mahindra Excellence Theatre Awards or META are held here and we have a series of reviews of plays that we have watched during these festivals. Also, please forgive a little nostalgia; we watched a most memorable duet – Pandit Birju Maharaj’s Kathak with Vidushi Girija Devi’s vocals, aeons back at Kamani. What an enchanting evening that was!
Kamani Auditorium tickets: While there is a ticket counter here, of late we have seen tickets for all plays here are available online.
How to reach Kamani Auditorium / How to reach Kamani Auditorium by metro: Kamani Auditorium and NSD are in the vicinity. You can take a cab or drive. They have limited parking just in front of the auditorium. That gets filled easily and then you may park at the Mandi House parking bang opposite. The nearest metro station is Mandi House on the Blue Line, 5 to 7 minutes walk from here.
Little Theatre Group or LTG Auditorium on Copernicus Marg is adjacent to Kamani Auditorium and shares a common boundary wall. It is one of the oldest auditoriums in Delhi and is a go-to place for a host of school, college programs, new theatre groups, regional productions and moderate size plays. We love the latticework façade and they have revamped the interiors as well. The seats are comfortable and there is a fair amount of leg space. There is no canteen here though.
LTG Auditorium tickets : There is a ticket counter here. However, of late we have seen tickets for most plays here are available online.
How to reach LTG Auditorium / How to reach LTG Auditorium by metro: There is no dedicated parking at LTG, and you can park at the authorized parking in front of Mandi House that is virtually opposite to LTG. For other details, please see relevant paragraph in Kamani Auditorium section.
Meghdoot Theatre, as part of Lalit Kala Academy, is an open air space with an amphitheatre feel. The stadium-like seating arrangement ensures that everyone in the audience has a great view. What we love best is the huge banyan tree practically in the centre of the stage. Sitting in the heart of Delhi, the tree transports us to someplace far far away. The tree adds a strong visual medium to any performance. We had watched a Hindi-Chhatisgarhi rendition of Shakespeare’s The Midsummer Night’s Dream here. The banyan tree was used as a prop in the play. The earthy appeal of the stage was also a very suitable backdrop for folk performances such as Pandavani by the legendary Teejan Bai and Baul Songs by the Baul maestro Purna Das Baul. Thinking of these performances still gives us goosebumps.
Meghdoot Theatre tickets: Most of the events here are open to all or by invite. They are listed in newspapers and on the board in front of the auditorium.
How to reach Meghdoot Theatre / How to reach Meghdoot by metro: This venue is on Copernicus Road, one building before Kamani Auditorium. They sometimes sell refreshments in the complex, but there is no permanent arrangement. For other details, please see the relevant paragraph in the Kamani Auditorium section.
Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts
Shri Ram Centre or SRC on Safdar Hashmi Marg is one of the oldest theatre auditoriums in Delhi and dates back to 1950s. We love the cylindrical shape of the building as well as the old-fashioned semi-circular seating arrangement inside the auditorium. The stage is also relatively low in height and very close to the front-row seats. So a viewing experience here is very up, close and personal. SRC runs theatre courses too and routinely holds theatre auditions in Delhi. We also love the canteen that is adjacent to the auditorium and unless you are familiar, you might just miss that. There is an alfresco seating and notwithstanding they just sell simple snacky items and some beverages, it is a fun place to catch up with friends sitting on rickety stools in the open.
SRC Auditorium tickets: There is a box office outside. However, of late we have seen tickets for most plays here are available online.
How to reach Shri Ram Centre / How to reach Shri Ram Centre by metro: SRC is close to National School of Drama, on a parallel road. So you can easily reach by bus, cab or you can drive. They have limited parking outside the auditorium. The nearest metro station is Mandi House on the Blue Line. SRC is just on the next road.
India Habitat Centre
India Habitat Centre, commonly known as IHC is basically a hospitality complex on Lodhi Road, South Delhi. It has many program spaces and halls. Stein Auditorium is the largest program space here and many prestigious plays, concerts and film festivals are routinely held at this venue. Stein is a large auditorium with a very contemporary feel. Add to that, the place is impeccable and the potent air-conditioning is a life saviour in summers. Word of caution – they don’t allow water bottles and tiffin carriers inside the auditorium. However, drinking water is available in the gallery. We have watched numerous theatres, cinema and programs here. Some have been disappointing, but some of them extremely memorable. IHC is a popular venue for celebrity plays with film or TV star quotient. We watched veteran actor Shabana Azmi in the play “Happy Birthday Sunita” here. IHC holds the annual IHC Theatre Festival and we have watched some fun performances there as well.
In addition, there is a brick-work amphitheatre at the other side of the complex. That is also a great venue to watch plays and cultural programs, provided it is not summer.
IHC also houses a couple of restaurants, our favourite being “All American Diner” and a full-functional food court. So, if you want to grab a bite post-theatre, you are set.
India Habitat Centre tickets: There is a ticket counter in the building adjacent to Stein Auditorium and tickets for a show are always sold here. Additionally, most performances here have tickets available online.
How to reach India Habitat Centre / How to reach India Habitat Centre by metro: You can easily reach IHC by auto, cab or you can drive. They have ample parking space at the basement. The nearest metro station is Jorbagh on the Yellow Line. You may need an auto-rickshaw or a rickshaw from here.
Alliance Francaise, Delhi
Alliance Francaise is well-known for French language courses all over India. Alliance Francaise in Delhi is however popular for many other reasons. They have an exhibition gallery as well as a French–fusion café we love. They also house ML Bhartia Auditorium that is open to outsiders for holding events. The auditorium has wooden seats and can hold about 100 people. Alliance Francaise is perfect for small to medium size productions, maybe college theatre, or productions by new groups. There is no gallery and it is a single storey seating. From experience, we can say that if you are seated in the middle of the hall, you have a good view. If you want to try the café as well, do it before the show since the café closes early.
Alliance Francaise tickets: Most of their productions have online ticketing partners. We have also seen, they set up a ticketing table just before the show.
How to reach Alliance Francaise / How to reach Alliance Francaise by metro: Alliance Francaise is located in Lodhi Estate, a lane off Lodhi Road. You can easily reach this place by auto, cab or you can drive. They have some parking space at the sides of the lane and there is a designated parking area at the end of the parallel lane. The nearest metro station is Jorbagh on the Yellow Line. You may need an auto-rickshaw or a rickshaw from here.
India International Centre, Lodhi Road
India International Centre, also known as IIC, has many spaces for hosting plays, concerts and other cultural events. The CD Deshmukh Auditorium here has a semi-circular stage and accommodates about 200 people. The aisles are wide and we have seen programs sitting on the floor when the seats have been taken. The wood interiors give this place an old-world charm and the moment one enters, it seems as if the air here is steeped in culture. We have watched many events, plays and documentaries here. The Bharatnatyam exponent Gita Chandran and Odissi maestro Sonal Mansingh have enthralled us with their performances many a time in this auditorium.
IIC tickets: Most of the events here are open to all or are held on invite.
How to reach Alliance Francaise / How to reach Alliance Francaise by metro: IIC is located beside Alliance Francaise, on Lodhi Road. You can easily reach this place by auto, cab or you can drive. They have some parking space at the sides of the lane and there is a designated parking area at the end of the parallel lane. On special occasions, parking is allowed on Lodhi Road as well. The nearest metro station is Jorbagh on the Yellow Line. You may need an auto-rickshaw or a rickshaw from here.
Akshara Theatre is a beautiful piece of architecture in the heart of New Delhi. We were so drawn to this space from outside that one evening, many moons back; we walked in to watch their famous Ramayana, probably India’s first Broadway-style production. The beautiful interiors, drawing on traditional style alcoves, stone and wood sculptures in those, stucco paisleys blew our mind. Best was perhaps left for last. Our eyes popped out when we entered the stage area of the auditorium. It had solid wood furniture including audience chairs.
All the furniture was apparently handcrafted by late thespian Gopal Sharman, co-founder of Akshara Theatre.
It is a small space and accommodates maybe 50 people. They have theatre space in the open as well. They sometimes serve hot soup post plays in winter, and that is an added attraction.
Akshara Theatre tickets : Tickets for performances here are mostly available online.
How to reach Akshara Theatre / How to reach Akshara Theatre by metro: Akshara Theatre in on Baba Kharag Singh Marg, beside Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. You can take a bus, auto, cab or drive. There is some parking space available beside the theatre. The nearest metro station is Patel Chowk on the Yellow Line. You would need an auto-rickshaw from here to reach Akshara.
Muktodhara Auditorium, part of Banga Sanskriti Bhavan, on Bhai Veer Singh Marg is a cosy auditorium that holds about 200 people. It was established jointly by Bengal Association New Delhi and Government of West Bengal Facilities. No wonder, it is the hub for Bengali theatre in Delhi. But we have watched plays in Hindi and English here as well. This auditorium is good for informal productions. They have a canteen with limited items. We have had tea and samosa here.
Muktodhara Auditorium tickets: There is a box office on the ground floor. However, of late we have seen tickets for most plays here are available online.
How to reach Muktodhara Auditorium / How to reach Muktodhara Auditorium by metro: Muktodhara is well-connected by bus, auto, cab or you can drive. There is no dedicated parking but some cars can fit on the service lane outside. The nearest metro station is Rajiv Chowk on the Yellow Line. You would need an auto-rickshaw from here to reach Muktodhara.
The Attic, Connaught Place
The Attic is tucked inside Regal Building on the Sansad Marg side. One has to walk a narrow flight of stairs and the first time here takes a little figuring out. It is a small space, but very aesthetically done, like a parlour at home where you can also have small performances. We have watched many enjoyable performances here and not all of them were bright and sunny. One of the last plays that we watched here Night, Mother was on mental health issues and that still haunts us. No canteen or café, but they sometimes serve tea and cookies. And it is Connaught Place with overflowing food options. Therefore we don’t mind.
The Attic tickets: Tickets for the plays here are mostly available online. They also host some excellent walk-ins that are free for all.
How to reach The Attic / How to reach The Attic by metro: Given that The Attic is virtually on Connaught Place, it is well-connected by bus, auto, cab or you can drive. Parking is a bit of an issue. We often park at authorized lots on adjacent Kharag Singh Marg, or Connaught Place A Block, and then walk 5 to 10 minutes. The nearest metro station is Rajiv Chowk on the Yellow Line. A Block metro exit is the closest.
Studio Safdar is eponymous to the thespian Safdar Hashmi. A leftist playwright, director and actor, Hashmi advanced the street theatre movement in Delhi. He was fatally attacked during one of his plays and died the next day at an untimely age of 34 years. Studio Safdar is a cosy informal space for simple or experimental works, mostly with a message. It is one of the rare spaces for performance in this part of Delhi (Shadipur Depot).
Studio Safdar tickets: Most of the performances here are open to all.
How to reach Studio Safdar / How to reach Studio Safdar by metro: Studio Safdar is located at Shadi Khampur, New Ranjeet Nagar. You can take buses, autos or cabs. This is a congested locality and if you drive, parking can be an issue. The nearest metro station is Shadipur on the Blue Line. The place is easily accessible on foot from here.
Pearey Lal Bhawan, ITO
Pearey Lal Bhawan is perhaps the only cultural event space in ITO area. It has a big auditorium – the Gandhi Memorial Hall that accommodates over 600 people. They also have an amphitheatre for about 500 people. Along with plays, it is a popular venue for meetings and conferences.
Pearey Lal Bhawan tickets: Tickets are available online or over the counter, depending on the show.
How to reach Pearey Lal Bhawan / How to reach Pearey Lal Bhawan by metro: This venue is prominent on the main road, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, ITO. It is well-connected by bus, auto, cab or you can drive. They have parking facilities inside the complex. The nearest metro station is ITO on the Violet Line.
Siri Fort Auditorium
Image Source: The Event Boy
Siri Fort Auditorium was built by the Government of India during Asian Games in India in the year 1982. With a combined seating capacity for 2500 people, divided between a main and three smaller halls, it is the largest auditorium in Delhi. We have watched many events here and it is a popular venue for film festivals. We recall listening to Rishi Kapoor at the inauguration of Jagran Film Festival at Siri Fort. However, Siri Fort auditorium also hosts performances and plays, especially spectacular productions that require space. Our most memorable play experience here has to be the classic Russian ballet – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Swan Lake is perhaps regarded as the most popular ballet of all times and the grandeur of this production needed to ambient space that Siri Fort Auditorium provided. We also watched another smaller but memorable piece of theatre – Dreamz Sehar by veteran actor Pankaj Kapur of Karamchand fame. Siri Fort Auditorium has a small canteen where they carry just enough stuff that helps you stave your hunger till the end of the show. We love the machine mixed coffee and flaky patty and samosa they sell here. It is something one finds everywhere. Yet, if they run out of these items during our visit, we are so heartbroken!
Siri Fort Auditorium tickets – Tickets for plays here are available online. For film festivals, one may have to queue at the umpteen box offices inside the Siri Fort Auditorium premise.
How to reach Siri Fort Auditorium / How to reach Siri Fort Auditorium by metro: Siri Fort Auditorium is located in the Siri Fort area of South Delhi. It is well connected with buses, autos and cabs. If you are driving, please be aware there is copious free parking space inside the auditorium and at most times you do not have to park in the fields outside. The nearest metro station is Green Park on the Yellow Line. You would need an auto-rickshaw or a cab from here.
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, popular as JLN, is essentially a sports stadium. Needless to say, it can accommodate more than a whopping 60000 people. JLN was also built by the Government of India for hosting athletic events of Asian Games in 1982. It was majorly renovated before Common Wealth Games in the year 2010 and was the largest venue for this event. In addition to sporting events, JLN is a popular venue for food festivals, concerts and theatrical productions. Many Broadway-style plays, they require space and technology, are held here. In fact, we recently watched a grand production, Raunaq & Jassi at JLN. Director Feroz Abbas Khan has based this piece on Shakespeare’s love ballad Romeo and Juliet. More of a musical, the stage full of actors, singers and dancers made a happy spectacle of this love tragedy. Access to refreshments is not easy inside JLN not counting the occasional ice-cream cart outside.
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium tickets – Tickets for programs and plays here are available online. Makeshift box offices are set up sometimes.
How to reach Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium / How to reach Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium by metro: Prominently located off Lodhi Road, you can easily take a bus, auto or cab to JLN. Please be very careful of the gate number you have to reach. It is a huge area, like a locality; hence if you are at the wrong gate, you may have to walk kilometres. The nearest metro station is ITO Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on the Violet Line. It is bang opposite JLN.
Watching theatre in Delhi is fun
Notwithstanding all these theatre halls in Delhi that we have listed, and there are many more, yet, we think it is still not enough. In a large city like Delhi or in NCR, there should be at least one state of the art auditorium in every area. This would help people who want to watch plays but are unable to travel to the distant auditoriums. It would also humongously stimulate blooming of fresh talent. Watching theatre is a fun activity. There is no retake in theatre and the kick of live performance, we repeat, can be very heady. If we compare movies with theatre, perhaps the latter is a cheaper activity.
If you have not done it before..just try this medium of art. Theatre in Delhi has so much variety to offer, you will surely find a style that would act out to you.
- Play tickets are mostly available on ticketing websites such as Bookmyshow, Insider etc. While they may charge a convenience fee, it may be worth your time to book ahead. If it’s not online, we have taken the trouble of especially visiting the venue some days before the show to purchase tickets. From experience we can say, plays at almost all the above auditoriums run full house. Plus if you are buying at the last minute, you might not get a good seat. And the location of your seat makes or breaks your theatre experience.
- We cannot overemphasise this point. Do keep some extra time on hand when you are starting for a play because you don’t want to reach late. There could be traffic snarls, transport issues, parking woes and even wrongly numbered ticket problems. Any movement during a play, or any live performance, is distracting not only for other audience but also for the actors on stage. So, please be seated at least 10 minutes before the play. This way, you are settled and well-prepared for the experience.
- Most plays refrain photography or flash photography. So please follow the instructions. Flash photography can be very distracting for the actor on stage trying to remember his cue. That is, therefore a big no-no. Also, if you are holding up your mobile and recording, your phone device could be blocking someone’s view. So, please be sensitive to the other audience and refrain if someone objects. Also, please do not engage in verbal duels with another audience. This can be a catastrophe at so many levels. It could spoil everyone’s experience, including yours. So, please be mature and let it go.
- Last but most important, please turn your mobile phones to silent and double-check that is done. Also, when you switch on the phone during a play to check messages, the light from the screen is disturbing so please refrain. And lastly, taking calls in an auditorium is so not done. Please respect the effort of the actors on stage, and your time, effort and money for coming to watch the play. You should not be speaking on the phone for any reason while a performance is on. If it is urgent, please walk out to the lobby and take the call.