Behind the Scenes
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As the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's recent restrictions being attempted on the screening of Bigg Boss and Rakhi Ka Insaaf show, politicians have often felt the need to appear puritanical and frown upon things that make "modest" India uncomfortable but, like peepshows, these are secretly devoured by a wide audience. The banning of dance bars in 2005, by Maharashtra's Congress-NCP regime, spearheaded by R.R. Patil (referred to as "Fatso" in Sonia Faleiro's book) was part of such a puritanical drive, to prove, perhaps, that the government was driven by "family values".
Beautiful Thing is a well-researched book on girls who danced at these bars. Told primarily through the spunky Leela from Meerut and her friend Priya, it is disturbing in parts and in the details it provides. The author has spent an admirable amount of time with the girls, watching them and the relationships they enter into. The book's pace is good, and some interesting academic facts are thrown in. The tone is not overtly sympathetic, demeaning or patronising, except in the way some words are used: "business" is "bijniss", "lunch" is "lanch", "booty" is "beauty" and "class" is "kalass". In an effort to go colloquial and provide a flavour of the milieu, a slight whiff of condescension comes in — on behalf of the readers too, it would seem, who are assumed to have better pronunciation skills. Other than this, the approach to writing this book is something the author needs to be commended on.
The story of a poor girl being forced to sell her body to feed herself and her family is an old one. But these are real stories, told simply, and that holds your attention. Most of the girls have been brutalised by their relatives — either raped or sold by them, and in one case, even raped by a son. The way in which Faleiro follows them in and out of the various phases of their lives makes this book worth going through.
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