Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dark side of Indian entertainment clubs,Dubai


What do Miss Seema, Miss Ritu, Miss Kareena and Miss Sonam have in common, other than standing in a cavern in one of Dubai’s most successful Indian entertainment clubs? All of them are young, dressed in provocative mini skirts or diaphanous lehngas and condemned to moving their hips to tuneless renderings of Hindi film songs for seven hours each night, seven days a week

After that, if you believe the goody-goody accounts provided by the girls and their employer, they are bussed demurely home to shared accommodation, where they sleep the sleep of the just. Next quarter, next month or next week, Miss Seema, Miss Ritu, Miss Kareena and Miss Sonam might give way to Miss Anjali, Miss Rita, Miss Sonali and Miss Divya. It doesn’t matter much. ‘‘These aren’t their real names, new girls in the 19 to 27 age group are always available and change keeps everything fresh,’’ explains Sadanand Shetty, the 30-something owner of Dhamaal, which is expanding as an Indian entertainment club chain despite the recession.

Could Shetty’s clubs and the half-dozen or so other such be the dark side of Indian commerce in Dubai, where prostitution is illegal but the police themselves report deporting 4,300 prostitutes in 2006? It would hardly be surprising even though pimping and the sex trade has, till now, been linked with other nationalities, notably Chinese and Russian. Shetty and the girls insist they do nothing more titillating than dancing in skin-tight clothes. But insiders are sceptical. ‘‘I think there is something happening there that isn’t widely spoken about. I do think the girls ply the trade,’’ says a young man who has worked for the club for years.

Another, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said he knew the girls sold their bodies or what would be their incentive to dance well? ‘‘They are not allowed tips on stage.’’

Add to that the Indian population math. The Indian embassy in UAE says about a million Indians live in Dubai and the northern Emirates, ie Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. An estimated two-thirds of this million are lone men because UAE allows workers the luxury of family only if they earn over 4,000 dirhams or $1,100 a month. This sum is beyond the means of most Indians in Dubai because they are overwhelmingly unskilled construction, agricultural or domestic workers, or engaged in skilled and semi-skilled work.

These lone men keep the Dhamaal chain throbbing, so much so that on the weekday night TOI visited, one club was packed with at least 150 enthusiastic customers at 2am. Shetty claims he pays the girls anything between Rs 40,000 and Rs 2 lakh a month as well as full board and lodging ‘‘to dance, do shows, nothing more...they can’t have contact with customers, they can’t even go off with boyfriends because it will damage their reputation — and ours.’’

But some of the girls appeared to be breaking all of Shetty’s stated rules and openly flirting with and signalling to favoured regulars.

Whatever they do — or don’t — India’s female exports to Dubai are hardly unique. With its 180 nationalities, the city-state is brimming over with ethnicity-specific ‘entertainment clubs’. And Shetty says it’s not unusual in seeing the Indian ‘entertainment club’ as a sunshine sector, where each bottle of whisky is priced at 1,000 dirhams or five times its cost.

He insists he acquires a performer’s visa for each of the 14-strong contingent of girls in each club. ‘‘The performers are drawn from different Indian states,’’ says the Mumbaikar with pan-Indian pride, adding ‘‘we have agents looking out for likely candidates”.

Singer Miss Roshni from Kolkata, whose role appears roughly equivalent to that of Mother Superior at a convent, says the girls are looked after tenderly. There is general agreement — and some proof at least — of this. Backstage, the girls are encouraged to snack on home fare such as fresh parathas, dahi, subzi, pickles and gallons of hot tea. Hani, who runs a small business that keeps Shetty’s girls’ hairdos immaculate throughout the evening, says the Dhamaal founder is almost unique in the Dubai entertainment sector. Clearly, even the dark side of Dubai may have its silver lining and hearts of gold.

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