For 36-year-old Sheetal, business is no longer the same. A former bar dancer, more than a decade has passed since their businesses were refurbished into “family-friendly” orchestra bars and dance girls turned into singers.
Sheetal, part-time “lady waiter and singer” at an orchestra bar in Byculla near the station, earns less than Rs 200 per day as tip. On the rarest of occasions, it stretches to Rs 1,000, besides her salary of Rs 500 on nights she sings.
The performers are usually divided into two slots, one batch between 6.30 pm to 9.30 pm and the other until 1.30 am.
“Business hours have changed. Nearly 10 years ago, performers in the late hours were rewarded with better tips, but now, since there is always a sense of insecurity even though our business is just singing, customers don’t take the risk,”she adds.
On March 30, 2005, R R Patil, the city’s then deputy chief minister and home minister, ordered the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra in response to complaints that they were “corrupting the youth”. The move rendered close to 50,000 of 75,000 women jobless. They had been employed across 1,250 bars in various capacities, including dancers, servers and singers.
Sheetal says that the first floor of of her one-storey bar has not been operational for more than 18 months.
“Ab drink and drive bandobast ka bahane dete hain. Biwi ka bahana kissi ke pas nahi hain (Now they give the campaign against drink driving as the reason for consuming less alcohol. Nobody gives the excuse of the wife),” she adds.
“Our legs get tired after standing all night and our patience is tested every night. Of the 15 tables, hardly four get occupied. We either play games on our smartphones or look at the door. There is nothing else to do. Our right to be entertainers has been snatched away,” says Sheetal, who practises every morning to ensure she sings well. She needs the money to fund her niece’s education.
Along with three of her colleagues, Sheetal enters the bar at 6 pm. Loud religious numbers are often played at the bar, before the night air is filled with popular Bollywood numbers.
“We split the cab fare, share our make-up and repeat our attire at least thrice a week, depending on the day. Our job requires us to be graceful but the wait for customers kills our mood and our drive to perform,” says Sheetal, before taking the microphone to sing the popular Bachna ae haseeno on the demand of a customer.
“We wear full-sleeve sarees while performing. In music videos on TV, everyone is hardly wearing any clothing and still our bars are perceived as obscene. Give us a chance to police society and we’ll be the best. After all, we’ve been obeying the law for 10 years,” she says.