Book Talk: Dance bars show "Bombay Noir"

Wed Nov 24, 2010 11:48am EST
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By Rohan Dua

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A television report on Mumbai's dance bars and the controversy over whether they should be banned or not first piqued Sonia Faliero's interest in the vast network of bars in India's financial hub and the women who worked there.

But the more she learned the more intrigued she became by the complicated world she found in Mumbai, once known as Bombay.

A 2005 ban on the dance bars -- where relatively well-clothed women perform to Bollywood or Indian pop songs -- set off a firestorm about whether the dancers were exploited or simply women seeking a dignified way out of poverty.

The Goa-born Faliero, an award-winning journalist, uses the life of one dancer, 19-year-old Leela, as a way into this underworld in "Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars," released earlier this month.

Faliero, currently based in San Francisco, told Reuters that she felt drawn to people on the margins of society and that how they were treated was likely to determine the future of India.

Q. What sparked the idea for this book?

A. I was interested in the possibilities, and later intrigued by the complex, layered, and hierarchical subculture that is the world of Bombay's dance bars, a world that is occupied not just by bar dancers and bar owners but by cops and gangsters, by politicians and madams, and in its myriad shades perfectly encapsulates the concept of Bombay noir.

Q. Why the name "Beautiful Thing?" Does it refer to the profession or the beautiful countenance of bar girls?   Continued...

<p>Indian bar girls perform at a dance bar in Bombay May 5, 2005. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe</p>