Kolkata bar dancers see ray of hope
Mitali’s spell of good luck took a wrong turn in August 2005, when the Maharashtra government decided to close down dance bars across Mumbai, rendering more than 75,000 like her jobless. With the Supreme Court now allowing the dance bars to reopen after eight years, she is heaving a sigh of relief.
Mitali, mother of a 12-year-old son, lost her husband in a road accident when she was 20, just a year after their marriage. She was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. When her son turned two, she took up a friend’s offer of joining a dance bar in Chembur, a suburb in eastern Mumbai, where some of the top dance bars were located during their heyday.
By the time her son turned three, Mitali had accumulated around Rs 23 lakh, owing to her good looks and dancing skills, which attracted much of the clientele at Lotus, the bar where she danced, albeit under a different name. Her employers still do not know her real name and she refused to give away her stage name to the Deccan Herald. “My stage name is like my armour. I used to dress and eat well. I even bought a second-hand car. My family knew I worked in a corporate company as secretary to the chairman and the pay was good,” she said.
While Mitali’s family thought the chauffeur-driven car was from her office, someone like Rukmini, who came from an upper-middle class family, used to drive around in a Honda City she bought from the nearly Rs 3 lakh she made in a month. Rukmini went to Mumbai as an aspiring actor, wanting to live the lives of fellow Bengali beauties, Bipasha Basu and Koena Mitra. Relegated to two-bit roles as the heroine’s college mate or friend in birthday parties, besides some insignificant roles in TV serials, she soon found her way into Topaz, one of the trendier joints.
The dance bar at Grant Road in south Mumbai, which enjoyed near-iconic status, became Rukmini’s playground. Her natural bronze hue and hazel eyes enticed men, making them shower wads of Rs 100 and Rs 500 on her. She was not even among the bar’s top dancers but that did not stop her from earning enough to rent a two bedroom apartment in the posh Lokhandwala neighbourhood where starlets live.
Hard times started with the closing of the dance bars. Unlike Mitali – encumbered with the responsibility of a young son and running the households of both her parents and that of her aged in-laws – Rukmini, however, stuck to Mumbai, continuing with small-time modelling assignments and bit roles on TV. While Mitali’s income went down from Rs 60,000 to a mere Rs 15,000 in a month, Rukmini sometimes had to ask her father in Kolkata for money to pay rent. She has also shifted to a locality in Andheri East.