It is more than just song and dance

M.T. Shiva Kumar

Live bands started out on an innocuous note

Bangalore: Way back in the 1990s, some restaurants in the city began having live bands — an apparently innocuous form of entertainment — by hiring colourfully attired girls who took turns under psychedelic lights to belt out Bollywood numbers to booming music.

The live bands, which morphed into an alternative to cabarets, caught on with patrons hailing from all classes, including professionals and businessmen, who were willing to pay a staggeringly high cover fee, to enjoy the live music while they were served their choice of alcoholic drinks. It was not long before the city had nearly 150 live bands.

It was also not long before the police caught on what was happening at some of the places: the artistes were performing raunchy numbers bordering on obscenity. The police, convinced that the live bands were a pretext for flesh trade and were breeding anti-social activities, got tough on them.

State ban

When the Maharashtra Government ordered the closure of dance bars in Mumbai in 2005, the Karnataka Government followed suit, fearing an influx of girls trafficked into Bangalore. Citing the then prevalent Excise Rules that prohibited employment of women where liquor is served, the city police refused to renew licences, forcing the live band operators to move court.

The ban cost 1,500 artistes, who had come to the city from various parts of the country, of their jobs.

Though a court order later enabled women to work as bartenders, the police raised issues regarding the artistes’ safety after instances of their abduction and rape.

Dance bars

Today, the live bands appear to have reinvented themselves into dance bars. Unlike in live bands, the artistes merely gyrate to recorded music and double as bartenders. And just like the patrons of live bands, here also the dancers are showered with currency notes, which are swiftly swept up by employees and deposited in a box. The money is later divided between the dancer and the management: the former gets just 25 per cent.

The city police often raid these dance bars and the “skimpily clad” women are arrested on the charge of “vulgar and obscene activities”. Cases are booked against the bar dancers and management under the Karnataka State Excise Licence General Conditions Rules 1967, the Karnataka Entertainment Tax Act 1958, the Karnataka Excise Act 1965 and the Karnataka Police Act 1963 for violating rules relating to sale of liquor, playing of music and indulging in obscene activities.

Suggestive names

Most dance bars — often suggestively named — operate clandestinely with discreet doorways, soundproof rooms and uniformed bouncers. They are spread throughout Brigade Road, Residency Road, Ashok Nagar, Wilson Garden, Sampangiramanagar, Seshadripuram, Indiranagar, Koramangala, Whitefield, R.T. Nagar and Domlur.

But considering that the police keep a close watch on them, they are now moving to the outskirts such as Vijinapura, Devanahalli, Ramanagara, Channapatna, Tavarakere, Nelamangala, Dobbspet, Thalghattapura and Bidadi, said a police official.

Most of the dancers hail from Mumbai and West Bengal and are often from poor and broken families where the girl is the sole earning member.

But, Mohan Reddy, partner of a dance bar, told The Hindu that courts have permitted employment of women in bars.

He alleged that the police raids are merely aimed at extracting more bribe. Recently, an inspector attached to the Ashok Nagar police station, was placed under suspension for his alleged nexus with a live band restaurant.

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