Pune: Like the Shaniwarwada fort, the Balgandharva Rangmandir in the heart of the city’s J.M. Road area, occupies a central place in Pune’s socio-cultural fabric.The iconic auditorium, named in memory of the legendary Marathi singer-stage actor, has witnessed a Golden age of Marathi theatre and music.The Pune Municipal Corporation’s decision late last month to redevelop the landmark structure, now in its 50th year of existence, has elicited sharp reactions from some of Maharashtra’s most prominent theatre exponents who, whilst welcoming the idea of redevelopment, have cast aspersions on the civic body’s intent and methods.The auditorium was conceived by legendary Marathi litterateur Pu. La. Deshpande in the late 60s. With its superb acoustics and lighting systems it was considered among the best, not just in Maharashtra, but also in India.“I remember how Pu La consulted his peers and also youngsters like us. The excellent sound and light facilities made this the best in the country,” actor and theatre activist Amol Palekar told The Hindu.The PMC’s standing committee chief Muralidhar Mohol while setting aside ₹10 crore to rejuvenate the auditorium had said the plan was to construct three auditoria — for professional theatre, experimental theatre and an open air venue.Mr. Palekar was apprehensive as he said the process was shrouded in complete secrecy. “While redevelopment in itself is a welcome idea, why weren’t any details about the proposal shared with the city’s theatre fraternity. How has the civic body arrived arbitrarily at the ₹10 crore figure? he asked.Referring to the redevelopment of Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi in Mumbai, Mr. Palekar said, “According to me, the experiment was painful and an utter failure as the authoritiesthrew away space meant for developing theatre for purely commercial use. On the other hand we have models like the NCPA in Mumbai, which has two auditoria, an art gallery and several spaces for performing arts. The question is whether PMC is looking at the NCPA model or the Ravindra Natya Mandir model?” asked Mr. Palekar. Echoing Mr. Palekar’s thoughts, renowned theatre exponent Dr. Mohan Agashe, speaking to The Hindu from Goa, said, “I heard the news through the vernacular press. Who will benefit from this sudden move?” Given that the PMC had been steadily whittling down the Rangmandir over the years, its proposal to demolish will not make much difference, said director Atul Pethe.“That the auditorium has deteriorated appallingly over the years is no news. Performing a play today is an ordeal as the conditions are miserable. There are noises emanating from the street, and the sanitary conditions are simply pathetic,” said Mr. Pethe.While agreeing in principle to the idea of redevelopment, Mr. Pethe said in lieu of the demolished structure, the PMC ought to build three theatres with seating capacities of 300, 600 and 1,200 seats respectively to cater to all forms of art. – from experimental to mainstream.Commenting on the PMC’s recent statement that it would seek views of the artistes, Mr. Pethe alleged that a committee, if formed, was generally comprised the ruling party’s sponsored artistes and was generally a sham.He further pointed that the ₹10 crore earmarked for redevelopment of the Rangamandir was “peanuts” given that the PMC’s budget was a whopping ₹6,000 crore.“If PMC indeed has the will, it ought to recruit architects and transform the Rangmandir along the lines of NCPA in Mumbai and take suggestions from rising theatre practitioners like Mohit Takalkar,” said Mr. Pethe, adding that the redeveloped structure should include an art gallery, a rehearsal hall, a book store dedicated to literature about the theatre and a cafeteria along the lines of Prithvi Theatre.Mr. Palekar, too, said the redeveloped area ought to accommodate the needs of every kind of artiste – be they performers of serious plays or populist theatre like the lavani or tamasha.Despite PMC’s assurances that they would seek opinion of the theatre community, activists like Vijay Kumbhar are skeptical about the entire process given the civic body’s poor track record.“For decades, the PMC has been spending money to supposedly renovate the auditorium. However, the results are not visible. The dominant feeling today is that some contractor will benefit from this exercise. But even if that is the case, why target a building like this, which has long been held as Pune’s pride?” he wants to know.PMC authorities, on their part, said they were committed to providing world-class facilities during the redevelopment process.