Without Prejudice: Epic Tale of a Mumbai Bar Dancer by Devasis
A number of Bollywood films have been set in the famous — and now defunct — dance bars of Mumbai, with many filmmakers focussing on their seedy side while others have touched upon the human aspect of the dancers who, after all, are beings with their own dreams. “Without Prejudice: Epic Tale of a Mumbai Bar Dancer” follows the fate of Munia, a young girl from a nondescript village in the heart of the Chambal Valley, who becomes Pallavi Singh, one of the most famous bar dancers of Mumbai. In his debut novel, author Devasis not only comments on the social stigma attached to the profession of bar dancers in India but also raises some basic questions: Is a woman’s body her own? How far does her freedom extend? What can she do when social traditions, laws of the land and, above all, the prejudice of individuals, bind her down and make her a slave to her own identity?
A thought-provoking read, the book takes you to the time when the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars in 2005 left about 100,000 dancers out of work. The leading lady here has the guts to dream big and picture a life after the ban is lifted. Instead of mulling over spilt milk (read wine), Pallavi is counting her days to break free of her shackles. What starts with the disturbing reality of Chambal — where women are born to be pushed into the flesh trade cloaked as dancers, where rape seems common and men sponge off the earnings of women — moves on to the crime and politics of the Bombay of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a roller-coaster ride with all the requisite elements: Love, money, sex, murder. While its crisp narrative, romantic plot and the unexpected twists make the book a page-turner, it also sheds light on the evolution of dance bars from the days before India’s independence to their current avatar, and vividly describes the training process, initiation rites and codes governing these unique establishments. (IANS)