“There was a time when they (customers) were ready to throw Rs 10,000 for just drinking juice with me. Now, they smirk. They know Rs 2,000 will do the trick,” Manisha Seth says.
From a popular bar dancer earning over Rs 20,000 every night, she forced herself into prostitution after the state government banned dance bars in 2005.
Disgusted by the new profession, she resolved to use her dance skills and perform only mujras to support a family comprising a seven-year-old son, mother, two brothers and four sisters.
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Sitting on a cot in Faras Street, Kamathipura on Thursday, Seth discusses hiring tailors to stitch new ghagras and blouses again. “If bar dancing starts, my life will become easier,” she says.
At the height of fame, she was renowned for her moves on Bollywood songs like “Choli ke peeche kya hai” and “Angoori badan”, at bars stretching from Mira Road to South Mumbai. Clerks at the bars Topaz and Carnival immediately put her favourite cassettes into music players when she stepped up to perform.
Seth followed her aunt from Agra to Mumbai in 2001 at the age of 16, drawn by the boom that dance bars were experiencing. “I loved dancing, always copied steps while watching TV. Other girls had to undergo training. But I went straight for the performance,” she says.
Old customers mention they had to throw wads of notes just to get her phone number.
Bar dancing was never her first choice of profession, but she learnt to love it. Soon dance bars were banned in 2005. Seth returned to Agra, hoping to one day receive a call that business had resumed. “After two years, I realised I had to find some other work. I tried working as a waitress in Mumbai but it was difficult to stand in one place while music played,” she complained.
That is when an old customer suggested entering prostitution. “Had to do… never wanted it. Nobody dared touch me when I danced in bars. When my time was bad, they thought they could do anything they wanted,” she says, adding she wants to go on record on this.
She married one such man, who paid to marry her and left after a year.
She left prostitution after a year to learn mujra in 2008 — her only available option of earning an income.
Now 30, Seth manages a mujra show every day in her 150- sqft room on Faras Street.
The room’s rent is Rs 20,000 per month and she also has to save for her family in Agra. She earns Rs 600 or a little more every day. Her younger sister has joined her too. Together, they perform in their pink-walled room.
“Women would not be forced to do anything wrong if bar dancing resumes,” Seth claims, smiling at the thought of resuming her old profession.