A decade after refurbishing their businesses into “family-friendly” orchestra bars and turning dance girls into singers, Thursday’s Supreme Court order has left former owners of dance bars on the verge of opening shop once more.
Hope isn’t high on the current state government yet, as the BJP had supported the ban in 2005. “We haven’t forgotten that when the blanket ban was imposed on dance bars flouting all our rights, the BJP, which was then the opposition party, had supported the ban,” said Bar Girls’ Association General Secretary Varsha Kale.
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Unlike Kale, other associations have “cautiously welcomed” the Supreme Court’s decision and feel that the “true entertainment of the middle class” will return but with “many riders.”
“It’s a half-won victory. People’s lives were at stake. A major segment of the ‘entertainment industry’ was closed,” said Anil Gaikwad, owner of Byculla’s Vicky Restaurant and president of the Indian Hotels and Restaurant Association (AHAR). Following the ban in 2005, many dance bar owners converted their licenses into orchestra licenses to continue running.
“We all made severe losses. Having orchestra bars was not profitable as we spent at least Rs 70,000 in taxes per month to keep it running on a very low demand. These 10 years have been a long wait for justice. What is the entertainment in Mumbai besides us?” asks Yaswant Sethi, owner of Priya Bar in Byculla.
“The government wants the city to have a nightlife. Will it go ahead with dance bars?” Sethi adds. Forced to convert four of his dance bars into orchestra bars and family restaurants, Bharat Singh Thakur, president of the Dance Bar Association, said that many like him had to make “tough decisions” in the restaurant business, but have not been successful.
“When dance bars used to run, we had a lot of foreign clientele which wanted a flavour of Mumbai. They would enjoy
the dance but at orchestra bars, language becomes a huge barrier. A lot of people from across the country visited the city to see the ‘dance bars of Mumbai’ they watched in movies,” Thakur admitted.
“There was so much money spent in redecorating and converting my dance bars into family-friendly restaurants. I
even invested in training the girls to sing so that they could have jobs Now the decor will have to be changed again once we know what exactly the government allows,” Thakur added.
Members of associations representing bar owners have demanded that the government meet them so that perceptions about their industry can be rested.
“These ministers have a limited understanding. They come from a different school of thought and change laws that cannot be applied to a cosmopolitan Mumbai. All of us are not bad apples. We aren’t polluting society,” said the owner of a popular dance bar in Dongri.