It’s close to afternoon when we meet Reeta (name changed) but the 22-year-old is groggy and just preparing for bed. She got home only by 7 am after a hard night’s work as a chorus singer in an orchestra bar in Mumbai. The aspiring dancer had come to the city in July, after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on dance bars. But two months on, she is still waiting for bars to re-open.
“I am from Agra. The day the verdict was announced, I spoke to a bar owner and asked for a job. I landed here the very next day. But the bars did not open. Finally I got a job as a back-up singer,” she says.
“My father has cancer and I have three siblings to take care of. Going back is not an option,” says Reeta, who is reduced to a lunch of two vadapavs and cutting chai, which she shares with three roommates.
The Maharashtra government had banned dance bars across the State in 2005. The ban was lifted by the Supreme Court after eight years on July 16, 2013, a major embarrassment for the State Home Minister R.R. Patil, who spearheaded the ban. The State has plans to issue an ordinance to re-instate the ban but seems to be in no hurry.
Bar owners to move court
Fed up of the wait, bar owners are planning to file a contempt notice in the Supreme Court. Nearly 90 bar owners have applied for a renewal of their dance bar licenses to the police. “We applied to the police ten days after the Supreme Court verdict but our licenses have still not been renewed. This goes against the verdict so we are going to court,” said Anil Gaikwad, legal advisor to the dance bar association.
“We have received applications but we are awaiting instructions from the State home department, Deputy Police Commissioner Shraddha Raut said.
Before the ban in 2005, there were over 75,000 dancers were employed in dance bars across the city and its satellite towns. Today, the women employed in bars have shrunk to 20,000. Most of them, waitresses or singers at orchestra bars.
Meanwhile, Reeta lives in hope. As we leave her makeshift rented home in a crumbling building in South Mumbai, we come across a huge poster of actor Deepika Padukone on the wall. She smiles and recites the famous dialogue from her movie Om Shanti Om, “Jab woh bolti hain toh log taali bajaate hain, aur agar main bolu toh tamaasha lagata hai. Ye aisli Bombay hai. (People applaud when she talks, but when I do the same, its considered vulgar. This is the real Bombay).