In 2001, I started exploring the impact of the AIDS epidemic in India. I began photographing patients and staff at Freedom Foundation HIV/AIDS clinics in Bangalore and Hyderabad, one of the few free private run facilities where HIV+ people can seek treatment. At this time, I was also documenting high-risk groups such as truck driver and sex workers.
This effort evolved into a collaboration-The Lives in Focus Project- which documents through interviews, photographs and video the impact of India’s new patent law on the country’s HIV+ population.
In 2003, when in Bombay, I was speaking to a friend of mine who happened to have a childhood friend whose family owned a dance bar.
He got permission for me to take pictures in the bar.
None of the women had any objection to me being there and most of the men who were there to watch the girls did not seem to be bothered but a few strongly objected and one even gestured with his hand in the shape of a gun.
My visit to the dance bar was fleeting. I spent about 3 hours there taking as many photos as I could.
Editor’s Note – Madhu Reddy
Mumbai, the city of dreams, employed nearly 75,000 “dancing girls”. Ever wondered where these dance bars are and what happens behind them?
A glimpse into a world many of us have seen romanticized in Indian movies; the “tawaiff”, a courtesan dancer well versed in the art of dance and music; the patron a pseudo gentleman with keen interest in forgetting his woes, spends an evening surrounded by music. Modern times, this has become the “dance bars”. Away from the romantic renditions of movies, this essay is a brief glimpse into that space shown with respect and sensitivity. It’s not as romantic as the celluloid clones where prince charming finally comes to rescue. Real, dark on the edges with twirling shades of grey. On the surface they might seem performers, moving to a tune, but as one sees closely there is more than what meets the eye. Some patrons might actually have a smile in their heart. Can one believe there is hope?