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Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Moral police hit Mumbai nightlife

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC News, Mumbai

A girl in a dance bar in Mumbai
The state government banned dance bars eight months ago

There was jubilation at Topaz, a popular dance bar in India's entertainment capital, Mumbai, after the High Court overturned a ban on bars which hire dance-girls to entertain customers.

Dancing, whistling and joyous screams could be heard over the loud music and for a change, dancing girls here were performing not for an audience but for themselves.

But many were still apprehensive, fearing the state government might impose other bans or bring forward a recent curfew on bars and clubs.

To get round the curbs, many fun-seeking night birds now organise their own private parties to liven up the nightlife.

Recently, I invited myself over to one.

'Gone to sleep'

It was a perfect setting for an all-night bash. A huge bungalow on the edge of the Arabian Sea in Mudh Island, a weekend getaway for the rich and famous of Mumbai.

Ashmit Patel
I'd rather meet close friends and hang out with them than being shunted out from discos at 1.30am
Ashmit Patel, Bollywood actor

There was a spacious floor in the middle of the house, where more than 50 people were dancing.

Music was loud, the enthusiastic DJ was trying to be even louder.

Outside on the veranda, couples were busy chatting. They seemed to be enjoying the light cool breeze from the sea

It was no A-list celebrity media event. But such parties are common in Mumbai, especially after the government began its drive last year against bars and clubs, saying they corrupted young people.

Not so long ago, people in Mumbai boasted the city was open round the clock, now young people complain nightlife has become deadly dull.

"It's almost gone to sleep," says Amit Tyagi, who has swapped clubbing in Mumbai for private all-night parties on Mudh Island.

Bollywood newcomer Ashmit Patel shares his views.

"I don't go out much because of the deadline," the actor says.

"I'd rather meet close friends and hang out with them than being shunted out from discos at 1.30am."

Curfew woes

Bollywood actress, and regular party-goer, Kashmira Shah is also upset with the 1.30am deadline.

A discotheque in Delhi
Discotheques are popular among youth in Indian cities

"Three or four years ago, we would go out after midnight and party till 4am.

"That was an actual night out. Earlier, we would have dinner and then party - now we party and then go eat something," she said.

Indeed, clubbing was part of the city's thriving night culture. Its pulsating nightlife brought people from as far as the Middle East.

Parties organised by the city's gay community had travellers attending from Israel, the UK and the US.

Not any more. The manager of Rock Bottom discotheque, Subhash Bhonsle, says: "The liveliness that used to be there doesn't exist any more. If you go out after 1.30-2am, it's all so quiet."

Asim Khanna, who runs an events management company, laments the dwindling numbers in discos.

"There was a time when 900 people used to come to my parties. Today, even if you want to call 300, they will not come because they feel that the 1.30am deadline is like a curfew where everything shuts down."

Flesh row

The state government's argument is that dance bars and discos are breeding grounds for prostitution and crime.

Home Minister RR Patil has been instrumental in cracking down on bars and discos and police are enforcing his orders with enthusiasm.

Carol Gracias
This model's halter top slipped leaving her topless on the ramp

One enthusiastic senior police officer even suggested waitresses should leave for home by 6pm.

"Women don't need to work in bars. Why do they have to employ female waitresses? They are exploiting women," says Ravindra Sengaonkar.

"Our action is right. I am confident the exploitation will stop."

Moral policing does not stop with the government. Various politicians and political parties supported shutting the dance bars.

They enthusiastically endorsed the curfew hours fixed for discos and bars.

A recent fashion show in Mumbai - where models' costumes slipped or split revealing the breasts of one and the bottom of another - handed the city's moral brigade an opportunity to rant about India's degenerating culture.

A debate in the state assembly on the matter followed two police investigations into what many believe were just accidents.

Moral policing makes Kashmira Shah angry. "Who are they to tell us to be moral? We come from a land that introduced the Kama Sutra to the rest of the world!

"The cops don't have the right to tell me what to wear, whose hand to hold or what I can do."

All the same, regular party-goers say it'll take more than just lifting a ban on dance bars to breathe life back into Mumbai's dying night scene.

Court strikes down dance bar ban
12 Apr 06 |  South Asia
Dance-bar women transfer to Goa
23 Sep 05 |  South Asia
India state bans dancing bars
22 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Bombay's barmaids stage protest
20 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Bombay bars offer 'Bollywood' girls
29 Oct 03 |  South Asia
Gay Bombay comes out
19 Jun 03 |  South Asia

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