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Dance bar effect: Will Mumbai's nightlife regain its zing or cause social problems?

Only a few seasoned erstwhile patrons of these joints still living in Mumbai strike a discordant note.

, ET Bureau|
Jul 21, 2013, 07.06 AM IST
Only a few seasoned erstwhile patrons of these joints still living in Mumbai strike a discordant note.
Only a few seasoned erstwhile patrons of these joints still living in Mumbai strike a discordant note.
Mumbaikars are getting a ready for a reunion. The SMSes and mails that followed the Supreme Court verdict on Mumbai dance bars were tinged with nostalgia. Those who moved out of the Maximum City are waiting for the final decision on the matter before booking their tickets for a reunion with old pals. Some wives are also curious to take a peek into the much romanticised and equally maligned inner world of these bars.

Mumbai’s young, who never got a chance to shower Rs 10 notes on these dancing girl s (immortalised in so many Hindi films), are also curious about the whole thing. Only a few seasoned erstwhile patrons of these joints still living in Mumbai strike a discordant note.

“I don’t know how many of these reunion plans would materialise. Do you think any of us really have the time or energy to go for an all-night binge drinking and dancing date,” says a 40-something businessman, who prefers anonymity for obvious reasons.

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He has reasons for his scepticism. It has been almost a decade since RR Patil, Maharashtra home minister, banned these establishments on the grounds of morality. Most regulars are now pushing 40 or 50 and have familial responsibilities. According to our doubting friend, there is no way the old clientele would flock back to these nightspots. Another past frequenter of these places also shares the pessimism: “Eight years is a long time. The city has changed a lot. You don’t have that carefree nightlife in this city anymore.”

He also believes that today’s young, career-focussed Mumbaikars are unlikely to frequent these dance bars. Some bar owners also privately share their doubts whether the business would thrive like it did in the ’90s. Their big worry is whether the middle class would be able to afford the fun. Thanks to “moralistic” politicians, prices of liquor have gone up in the past few years and bars are reeling under pressure.

However, Varsha Kale, an activist on behalf of dance bar girls, has no such doubts. “I have already got so many calls from girls since the verdict was out,” she says. Many girls, who got married, had gone back to their villages or to Gulf countries, are already planning to come back to Mumbai. “They all say there is no place like Mumbai,” she says.

According to her, old dancers will soon get in touch with the owners of the 350 erstwhile dancing bars that are operating as orchestra bars currently. “Even those working in the Gulf are eager to come back as they have so many problems there. They have to wear very short dresses, they have restrictions on movement and money is also not great anymore.”

Shashikant Shetty, general secretary, Association of Hotels and Restaurants (AHAR), says that cost won’t be an issue. “People will pay because it is entertainment. I know many teetotallers who went to these places and just had an energy drink that cost Rs 250,” he says. There was also the parallel economy angle to the whole business. Many businessmen, government officials and policemen usually spent their illgotten, unaccounted wealth in these places.

“Some government official would make Rs 2,000 and decide to splurge it on dancers. He is happy; his wife is also happy because the money hasn’t come from the bank account,” says an amused Kale. are the Frowns

But it’s not just about economics. There is also the social angle. Says Harish Shetty, a well-known psychologist and social commentator: “In an angstridden society, everybody is looking for quick highs. Alcohol mixed with commoditised women provides an easy option. They form a strong relationship with this pseudo family and neglect their own family,” he says.

According to him, he has already received calls from concerned wives and mothers of old patrons of dance bars, who he believes are more likely to get back to their old habits like reformed addicts. As for the young men with girlfriends, he says they too would fall for it.

“There are frequent break-ups as well as career and financial issues. What better place than a dance bar to mourn a break-up or celebrate a new relationship,” he says. He rues the fact that the media are overlooking the soci a l consequences in their effort to over-romanticise dancers and their livelihood issues.

However, S Parasuraman, director, Tata Institute of Social Science, points out that these things happen even without the existence of dance bars. “You can’t use middle-class morality to take away somebody’s livelihood. You can’t punish these girls for the fault of some males who should know better. The society should educate itself better.”

Postscript: The reopening of dance bars can lead to various scenarios for the average male. Young romantics, bred on a regular diet of Hindi films, may fall in love with a dancer. A few may take to crime to finance their night of revelry. And most would be happy to have a place for a late-night drink and go home to their wives. And the girls would dance through the night.

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