Dark,dingy rooms,garish disco lights and girls in bright saris and ghaghra cholis shimmying to Bollywood numbers. Half-drunk men encouraging them by hooting and throwing crisp currency notes. This reality may have faded away six years ago with the ban on dance bars in the city,but the vision has been kept alive by cinema even today.
The relationship between Bollywood and dance bars has always been a mutually beneficial one. Dance bars could not have functioned without Bollywood songs,and filmmakers have often used them in films that explore Mumbais underbelly.
Filmmaker John Matthew Matthans Sarfarosh (1999) depicted a dance bar twice and showed a dancer as a police informer. The director,who visited a few bars while working on the film,remembers noticing that the girls became friendly with regular customers over time. Often enough,before organised crime in Mumbai was eradicated,underworld members would visit dance bars for entertainment. This allowed me to club the two factors, he said.
More often than not,the setting albeit glamourised has become the norm for item songs. Numbers like Man saat samundar dol gaya from Chameli (2004),Mere yaar from Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007) and Babli badmaash in Shootout at Wadala (2013) were filmed on sets made to look like a dance bar.
Director Sanjay Gupta,who co-wrote Shootout at Lokhandwala and directed the sequel,argues that dance bars havent been an integral part of the cityscape. They were shut down six years ago and havent been missed. Cinemas version is hardly worth rooting for. Wheres the connection? he quips.
But there are others who would disagree,such as director duo Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK,who shot a sequence at a dance bar for their film Shor in the City,which explored stories from the seamier side of Mumbai.
Madhur Bhandarkars Chandni Bar,which won actress Tabu a National Award,is set in the world of dance bars. There was so much curiosity about these places. When I visited them,I realised their reality was waiting to be told. Their world was misunderstood unlike cabaret bars,there was no nudity or prostitution,but only stories of poverty and desperation, says the director.
Having explored the world through cinema,several members of the industry support the Supreme Courts decision. These places serve as an outlet and perhaps also curb crimes against women, says Matthan.