Time Out Mumbai- Volume 1, Issue 18
It’s disingenuous for Mumbai’s moral guardians to suggest this was a purer place before the phenomenon of the ladies bar. The city has had a long tradition of cabaret performances dating back to World War II − and many of those shows were far more risqué than the hyped (but distinctly underwhelming) performances in present-day dance bars.
Some of the city’s first “floor shows”, as they were known then, were staged at Eros cinema’s classy top-floor restaurant, where European cabaret troupes entertained homesick GIs stationed here during the war. The cabaret would almost always be one part of an evening’s programme; a feature film, a set by a live band and a dog show were among the other features.
From the middle to the late 1960s, the city’s most classy nightclub, the original Blue Nile located at 35, New Marine Lines, hosted a formidable line-up of striptease artists from Calcutta, but none more popular than sassy Anglo-Burmese siren, Tamiko the Tomato, renowned for her humour and jiggling bosom. Some Mumbai’s most prominent and well-heeled citizens attended these shows (at Rs 50 a pop, it was clearly off limits to most) and since it was the prohibition era, Blue Nile’s guests had to settle for sipping cups of espresso, which was widely considered the height of sophistication at the time. Other venues with regular cabaret shows included the Ritz Hotel’s ultra-exclusive Little Hut as well as the Ambassador Hotel, then owned by the flamboyant Greek bon vivant, Jack Voyantzis, often seen with an attractive female on his arm and a giant Cuban wedged in his mouth.
Even the Indian state acknowledged the value of these performances and through the 1970s, there were innumerable Indo-Turkish cultural exchange performances that brought some of the best belly dancers in the Mediterranean for ticketed shows open to the public at mainstream venues like the Birla Matushree Hall. Not surprisingly, these performances were immensely popular, though the audience would also have to first endure a yawn-inducing lecture on Indo-Turkish cooperation, not to mention a never-ending series of speeches with bureaucrats singing paeans to everlasting Indo-Turkish friendship.
By the late 1970s, a striptease venue in Colaba, also called Blue Nile, sprung into prominence hosting several performances daily and charging customers Rs 150 for each show. No alcohol was served and to project an impression of absolute legality, a large sign greeted patrons as they entered the club: “Under BMC rules drinking water shall be supplied.”
Blue Nile’s management fought tooth-and-nail to remain open, scoring a major court victory over the Mumbai Police (after that, it famously became the only Colaba nightstop exempt from paying hafta). But a series of high-profile raids in the late 1990s broke the back of Mumbai’s last striptease venue, and was finally shuttered two years ago. It has since been converted into a swish bakery.
At the moment, there are no cabaret shows in the city. Until two weeks ago, the closest thing available was a performance by a pole dancer from Belarus at The Orchid in Santa Cruz. But the show has been temporarily discontinued. “With dance bars being such a hot issue at the moment we’ve decided to wait and watch the situation before we decid to bring her back,” says the hotel’s F & B manager. “For the time being we’ve sent the dancer to Mauritius.”