Amina,29,loves all things neon. She uses the word to describe the colours in vogue nowadays. For eight years,after dance bars downed shutters,she spent time doing pedicures at a beauty parlour in Dombivali. After the Supreme Court order,Amina was back at Vicky Bar,Byculla,this weekend to discuss work.
As the state government explores options to continue the ban,bar dancers are preparing for a comeback.
Inside a dark room,a bunch of 20 women,having travelled from the distant suburbs in crowded local trains,are in talks with owner Anil Gaikwad. Neon is in fashion,too. I only buy outfits from boutiques and have started shopping, Amina says as she discusses a type of cut with another aspiring dancer. Neha,a year older than Amina,is convinced that she needs an anarkali (a style of salwar-kameez).
Gaikwad,also the legal advisor of the Dance Bar committee of AHAR (India Association of Hotels And Restaurants),has begun contacting dancers who had worked in his bar for years. He,however,has had some difficulty in reconnecting with his old employees. Many have retired. While several women are in Mumbai working as waiters or at beauty parlours,many of them have returned to their hometowns. Some have even gone abroad, Gaikwad says.
Meanwhile,the dancers are using every minute to be ready for the big day. Nisha has begun jogging. I even went to a local gym to get back in shape, she says. Amina,though,hopes that her age and outfits will do the trick.
When the ban was imposed,380 bars had performance licences for dance,but in eight years,many have quit the business or have diluted profits as women were limited to singing in orchestras.
Bar Owner Association officials say 60,000 dancers,most of them migrants from central and eastern parts of India,survived through this industry. Old dance bars are increasing CCTV surveillance inside the bars and,according to the association members,owners will ensure that the footage is preserved for a longer duration.
Gaikwad hopes that the security agencies will allow them to operate peacefully. Police would fine us even if the dancer was in a saree. Kyunki ladki ka pet dikhta hai (because her belly is visible),they would say, recalls Gaikwad. The waiting staff has also been briefed and is being trained to collect tips for the dancers,as no customer will be allowed to touch them.
In Chembur,Shilpa Avasthi,known as the master dresser for bar girls,smells business. I have already got an order of 30 blouses in different cuts and over 20 ghagra cholis. My customers have requested me to work with pearls and coloured stone embroidery, says Avasthi. She recalls a time when she had at least 100 dancers as clients.