Laxmi Malwankar is a sex worker in Mumbai who works on S.V. road and has been part of Mumbai’s thriving sex trade for nearly two decades.
She’s 40, jaded and at some level has a deep seeded loyalty towards Mhatre, the pimp, who takes care of all the girls on that street.
Putul, 22, hails from Bangladesh and Mhatre the pimp has brought her to Laxmi to be taught the ropes. Putul, rebellious as she is, is full of questions about how this system works and why all the men in this system of prostitution profess to provide protection but then end up becoming predators themselves from whom then there is no protection. For Laxmi this is how the world works, it is a patriarchy and her only advice to Putul is to quickly adapt to the ways of this world of men.
Over time Putul is able to convince Laxmi that things need changing. Laxmi though still not convinced enough to take it up as her own cause decided to stand by Tikli thanks to a sequence of irrefutable events that occur on the street. Together they get to be known as Tikli and Laxmi Bomb and start off this mini revolution in which they set up a system for women, run by women, in which the final customer is a man but the women run it the way they want and in almost total control.
How far are they able to go in this endeavor? How tall is their new organization able to grow before it becomes too big a threat for patriarchy to let it exist? Are they able to make a change that is permanent or another flash in the pan?
Does Laxmi, who initially only stands behind Putul’s cause, take this up as her own cause soon enough, realizing that women of the world are sisters in what they go through and their power lies in knowing that? Living in what could well be the strata of society that is most oppressed by Patriarchy, as it doesn’t even officially exist in India, can these girls actually forge a new path for sex workers in the country? Or do they rise only to finally be overcome by a claustrophobic man’s world?
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This is the story of Asawari (also known as Nikita), a small town girl who comes to Mumbai and finds herself trapped in the dance bar circuit. Nikita rises to the top of her field of work only to lose her job with the sudden ban on Mumbai dance bars. Just at the point when the bars are shut down, Nikita had almost saved enough money to fulfil her dream of starting her own Konkani restaurant and getting out of the body trade for good. In order to see her dream for freedom and independence through to fruition, Nikita must make up the remainder amount as fast as she can.
Realizing that most of her peers have resorted to prostitution, Nikita settles for the lesser evil by becoming the keep of a spoilt, rich 22 year old man, named Shashank, who is in the throes of a life threatening Heroin addiction. She makes a deal with the rich kid to be his keep every night for a month in exchange for a large sum of money, enough for her to set up her restaurant and pay a down payment for an apartment of her own.
Nikita has kept love at bay for years to try to maintain some sanity in this otherwise bizarre life in the Mumbai underbelly. Unfortunately, in the midst of this obsessive one-month deal she falls in love with Shashank’s driver (chauffer), Vijay, who is a small town guy himself and has run away from a dark past of his own in Bihar.
BACK SEAT traces their love story, through the streets of Mumbai with the impending doom of Shashank uncovering their illicit love affair.
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The DANCE BAR culture is one of the strongest cultural dimensions of Mumbai’s past. On the August 15th, 2005, Minister R.R. Patil initiated a ban on dance bars citing the demise of dignity as his motivation. Less than a month later, the very girls whose morals so greatly concerned Patil, were newly unemployed, and as the majority continued to be illiterate and have no professional skills, they were also unable to acquire alternative means of sustenance.
Despite his initial promise of rehabilitation, Patil retracted, leaving an immigrant population of an estimated 75,000 to choose between returning to their villages and starting from scratch, or turning to prostitution. As a result, Mumbai has another social problem to contend with, that of the dance bar girl-turned-escort and prostitute. In one swift stroke Patil has forced these women out from a once legal profession, into the world’s oldest, illegal profession. If the dance bars did ever function as pick up joints, Patil’s demolition of their physical space certainly hasn’t ended the proclivity to purchase the company of women, but merely given the men involved greater power to abuse the dancers, who no longer enjoy the stringent security under which most bars functioned.