Anaarkali of Aara: Life of a wedding dancer in Bihar

Women stage dancers in Bihar who were seen working as ‘fillers’ during nautanki, a form of operatic folk theatre that travelled from eastern Uttar Pradesh to neighbouring Bihar gradually broke away and began performing — singing and a bit of dancing -- at events. Naach became a regular feature in parties hosted by landlords and upper caste politicians in rustic Bihar. Among the most acclaimed of these performers, were the sisters Chand Rani and Bijli Rani, who used to live in Natwar, a hamlet 70 km from Ara, around three decades ago.

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST 10 Photos
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Live dancer and actor in Bhojpuri films, Pooja Singh Rajput, dancing at a wedding in Aara. Tall and pretty, 26-year-old Pooja is married to the owner of a local orchestra group Ram Kumar Pandey. She says, that one moment, he is her husband and the next, he is an agent for whom she just a woman who is supposed to dance dirty before raucous men to help him make a quick buck. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Live dancer and actor in Bhojpuri films, Pooja Singh Rajput, dancing at a wedding in Aara. Tall and pretty, 26-year-old Pooja is married to the owner of a local orchestra group Ram Kumar Pandey. She says, that one moment, he is her husband and the next, he is an agent for whom she just a woman who is supposed to dance dirty before raucous men to help him make a quick buck. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Pooja plays with her daughter at her home. Pooja, a native of Ludhiana was introduced to Pandey by choreographer of a Bhojpuri music album she was working on. Pooja did not think very highly of live dancing until Pandey persuaded her to give it a shot. Four years later, she married Pandey and became the ‘star performer’ of his troupe. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Pooja plays with her daughter at her home. Pooja, a native of Ludhiana was introduced to Pandey by choreographer of a Bhojpuri music album she was working on. Pooja did not think very highly of live dancing until Pandey persuaded her to give it a shot. Four years later, she married Pandey and became the ‘star performer’ of his troupe. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Pooja’s husband and orchestra owner Ram Kumar Pandey, who has 14 girls on roster who dance all night to Bhojpuri songs laden with sexual innuendos at hotel parties, ‘room parties’, birthday functions and weddings. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Pooja’s husband and orchestra owner Ram Kumar Pandey, who has 14 girls on roster who dance all night to Bhojpuri songs laden with sexual innuendos at hotel parties, ‘room parties’, birthday functions and weddings. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Pooja is unapologetic about her profession and demands respect as much as money. In fact, that holds true for the hundreds of stage dancers who are an integral part of Bihar’s live entertainment trade. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Pooja is unapologetic about her profession and demands respect as much as money. In fact, that holds true for the hundreds of stage dancers who are an integral part of Bihar’s live entertainment trade. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Stage dancer Bebo performs at a wedding in Aara. The history of the dance shows, now a fixture at different kinds of functions across Bihar, is less than 50 years old. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Stage dancer Bebo performs at a wedding in Aara. The history of the dance shows, now a fixture at different kinds of functions across Bihar, is less than 50 years old. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Villagers watch the live performance at a wedding function. Women stage dancers in Bihar were first seen working as ‘fillers’ during nautanki, a form of operatic folk theatre that travelled from eastern Uttar Pradesh to neighbouring Bihar. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Villagers watch the live performance at a wedding function. Women stage dancers in Bihar were first seen working as ‘fillers’ during nautanki, a form of operatic folk theatre that travelled from eastern Uttar Pradesh to neighbouring Bihar. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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It is common for the audience to shower money on dancers. Owners of some orchestra companies keep all the money with them. Others keep half of the amount and give the rest to the artiste. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

It is common for the audience to shower money on dancers. Owners of some orchestra companies keep all the money with them. Others keep half of the amount and give the rest to the artiste. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Ashok Kumar, 31, who runs the event management company Rajdhani Entertainment is one of the most popular artiste coordinators in Patna. Every year during the wedding season Ashok’s agents in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Mumbai and Delhi send him a different set of girls. For the period that they get work through Ashok, the girls are not allowed to smoke, drink, have a boyfriend or exchange their phone numbers with anyone. In return, Ashok takes care of their accommodation, food and gives them assignments worth Rs 3,000-6,000 per night. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Ashok Kumar, 31, who runs the event management company Rajdhani Entertainment is one of the most popular artiste coordinators in Patna. Every year during the wedding season Ashok’s agents in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Mumbai and Delhi send him a different set of girls. For the period that they get work through Ashok, the girls are not allowed to smoke, drink, have a boyfriend or exchange their phone numbers with anyone. In return, Ashok takes care of their accommodation, food and gives them assignments worth Rs 3,000-6,000 per night. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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Dancers Naina Sharma and Shoma Sigdha share a light moment at their house in Patna. In 2005, after the Maharashtra state government banned dance bars, many of the dancers came to Bihar in search of work. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Dancers Naina Sharma and Shoma Sigdha share a light moment at their house in Patna. In 2005, after the Maharashtra state government banned dance bars, many of the dancers came to Bihar in search of work. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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After the launch of YouTube in India and erotic music videos of dui arthiya (double meaning) songs by Bhojpuri folk singers such as Tarabano Faizabadi were put on the site, contributing to the current shape and scale of Bihar’s live entertainment industry. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

After the launch of YouTube in India and erotic music videos of dui arthiya (double meaning) songs by Bhojpuri folk singers such as Tarabano Faizabadi were put on the site, contributing to the current shape and scale of Bihar’s live entertainment industry. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:21 PM IST
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