Gaiety sits in a narrow section of the Mall Road and you might even just walk by it. It stands just before the largish square in front of the Town Hall. This theatre was formally inaugurated with a performance in 1888 and since then has showcased productions of many renowned artistes including KL Saigal, Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendall and even Anupam Kher.
The world outside is the mad, bustling town of Simla. You take you ticket, walk inside a door and it closes behind you. The room you have entered is dimly lit and it takes a few minutes for your gaze to adjust to the light and then you can see the stage on one side… low, wooden chairs with green leather covering them all along the central pit of the theatre, and the galleries on either side. The dark blue ceiling with golden designs, the intricate panels along the side of the main seating area… phew… there is a lot to take in.
You make your way to one of the chairs, and sit down till the guide is ready to take you through the history.Dressed in a crisp dark suit, the guide tells you about the history of Gaiety. He tells you stories of its construction, stories about the beautiful plays it hosted, and the well-dressed guests who would throng these very halls. When the British left, these kind of buildings were ignored and fell to great disrepair.
The restoration process at Gaiety began some years ago and they ensured every piece, every little inch was as good as the original. It was restoration work in the truest sense, hard to find across all monuments in India.
While you take in this information, you are surrounded by gorgeous hues of light aqua green, dark
Prussian blue and bright gilded gold decorations - it all looks simple yet so grand. And stylish even today.
There are panels all along the sides of the seating area. They were specifically designed to address the acoustics of the theatre. “You don’t need mikes here,” the guide says with great joy. Behind that panel is a 1 foot deep cushion of air, and all these elements help reflect sound.
As you walk around, you discover little ducts in the wall that were the fireplaces that warmed the audience in the cold Simla winters. You walk onto the stage and look at the old curtain, that still drops down from the ceiling. You explore the green room, walk about the stage, say a few lines in dramatic fashion and click pictures to preserve for posterity. Then reluctantly, you head upstairs. Don’t worry, the treat continues. There are two main exhibits here - one with pictures of the restoration - how it was before the restoration, and the second - a series of pictures from the Indian Independence movement.
You walk out of the theatre filled with stories, the charm of the theatre and the smell of the Raj lingers on.
Close your eyes. Let’s go back to 1888 and the opening performance. The grand theatre throwing open its doors to the people of Simla.
You are wearing a lovely gown of mauve with lace running along the sides or dressed in gorgeous sari representing the elite of your country. Throngs of people dressed in their best clothes.
An equally well-turned out young gentleman takes your hand and guides you into the theatre to your seat. The curtains go up and the show begins…