MUMBAI: It was 10.30pm as the taxi pulled up outside a mall in Central Mumbai . Heavy showers had given way to a light drizzle and as the four of us crossed the road, the instructions came from a source: Hide your id cards, don’t say you’re from the Press or from Mumbai. Just tell them you have come from Delhi and walk in confidently .
Next to a restaurant, outside a dark alley, three burly men stood, scanning us. “Show us your id,” one of them said. We parroted what had been instructed: “We aren’t carrying any id, we’re from Delhi.” The id cards had been hidden inside our socks. Our lone bag and umbrellas were stowed away. We had passed the first security check. There were three more to come, as we took a flight of stairs to enter a room with psychedelic lights and live orchestra blaring from speakers. Welcome to Mumbai’s dance bars.
On Tuesday, the SC upheld the Bombay high court verdict to junk the 2005 state government ban on dance bars. The legalities are yet to be completely sorted out for opening of these establishments, but in a city that never sleeps, these bars have never fully downed shutters.
There were at least 25 patrons already ensconced in their seats staring at a raised platform that had four girls wearing tights and tops sitting in sofas with an id card hung around their necks, as one man crooned Jee Le Zara, Jee Le Zara. Behind them, the plasma TV showed the Ashes Test on at Lords.
We were ushered into a corner and asked for orders by liveried waiters and a captain. There are no menu cards here and the cheapest drink is a bottle of beer at Rs 400. It comes with free chakna—peanuts , spicy mixture and a fruit bowl. Everything else costs money here.
Enter the cop
Fifteen minutes into the dance bar environ, and the first sign of trouble came our way as a uniformed police inspector strode in alone, shooting glances at customers. He walked straight into another room. Within minutes, he walked back with the same urgency. “Kuch nahi hoga sir, hum log hain na,” one of the captains said confidently.
Soon enough, the dancers trooped in. In ghagra cholis, showing their bare tattooed backs, some in jeans and skirts matched with tops and some in traditional churidar wearing red lipstick and make-up , a bevy of beauties, all in their 20s, descended on us. Shania and Muskaan jostled with 18 others as they tried to catch the customers’ eye.
But before they could make the first move, the warning signal came again. The girls were asked to rush inside. The same inspector walked in again, this time with a few more officers from the Social Service Branch. We hoped and prayed that none of the officers would recognise us.
“Yeh har roj ka natak hain. Paise ke liye aate hain. I am coming here for the past 10 years. These guys will fix them,” said 36-yearold Vishal, as he nursed his whisky. We sat there with trepidation , mute witnesses to the happenings around us, as we got our first bill. As the clock ticked towards 11.30pm, we had our doubts. But soon, people started trooping in. This time around, they were older, pot-bellied businessmen and executives. As the place started filling up, the dancers came out. We were told the inside room leads to an exit passage that lands up behind in a residential complex; that is where the girls had been whisked away when the policemen came.