Fed up with police action, Mumbai's 1st gay bar shuts its doors

The name Voodoo has been synonymous with modern Mumbai, a city that had accepted and embraced the word ‘gay’ even before the Delhi High Court read down Section 377 of the IPC to decriminalise homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since March 30, the iconic nightclub where the famous rock band Led Zeppelin once gave an impromptu performance has not opened its doors for the public. The Colaba watering hole and discotheque, which stood as a symbol of the composite culture of a city that does not practice discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, has not opened since a police raid on it in March. The police claimed after the raid that they had busted a prostitution racket at Voodoo. Now, patrons of Voodoo from the LGBT community fear the nightclub might never open its doors again.

Voodoo in Colaba was raided by cops on March 30. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Despite the rumours about the pub not opening again, every Saturday people from the LGBT community make their way to the landmark joint in the hope of finding it open, but so far they have been disappointed — their old uncle is not around to welcome them in anymore. Sources from within the LGBT community squarely blame the raid on Voodoo for the setback their nightlife has received.

We’ll be back
Confirming the pub is currently shut, a spokesperson for Voodoo said there was no way anybody was going to kill the spirit of Mumbai and the pub was determined to be back in business soon. “We won’t let Mumbai’s happiness be suppressed by anyone,” the spokesperson said. “We will soon open the doors, we have shut it down for renovation. After the raid, we decided that we should renovate the pub as we have got the time to do it now. We haven’t renovated the place for 10 years now.”

Many people have fond memories of the iconic nightclub, and one of them is Sidharth Bhatia, a renowned author who remembers Voodoo as a place that opened its doors for any and every body. “In the early 70s, they had an entry fee of Rs 5 and anyone could enter. Earlier, they played recorded music, but soon they started live music and it was the place for the youngster to be,” Bhatia said. “I hope it (Voodoo) doesn’t shut down. For that matter, in the current policing scenario, I just hope that no nightclub shuts,” he said. According to the LGBT community, in the early 90s, Voodoo opened its doors for them when many other places were keeping them out. They say the discotheque in the recent past lost its glory with the advent of new places for the LGBT community to enjoy.

Vikram Phukan, former editor, Bombay Dost, claims that while Voodoo would have to find a mention when writing the history of the queer community, it has now lost its glory. “Voodoo at one point of time was the place for the LGBT community, but now things have changed. There are many options available for the queer community. However, no night club should be shut and, definitely, Voodoo shouldn’t be shut,” he said. Another gay, who is a regular at the club, said, “Every time I pass the Radio Club road and see the shutters of Voodoo down, it reminds of the killing of Mumbai’s nightlife. I remember the place as a pub where I and my friends used to go regularly. I have made many friends here; during the early years when I was exploring my sexuality, I realised I do have many others like me to be with.”

One evening in 1972
Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were in Mumbai in 1972 and one day visited Voodoo (then called Slip Disc), reportedly to see if it could offer some excitement after other discotheques had left them disappointed.

Rock on: Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. File Pic/Getty Images

Walking in with their manager Richard Cole, they must have been moved deeply by what they saw and heard at Slip Disc, which was once described as the only real discotheque east of the Suez, for they decided to give an impromptu performance with the local musicians present. The well-known Nandu Bhende, an aspiring rocker at the time, was among those present, having rushed to Colaba upon learning of the visit by the members of the famous British rock band.

The raid that did it in
ACP Vasant Dhoble, an officer who has earned the sobriquet of Bar Raider because of his habit of turning up unannounced at late-night hot spots and sending everybody present into spasms of fear, led a team of the Social Service branch of the police in a raid on Voodoo on March 30. The police claimed they busted a prostitution racket at Voodoo and said they rescued eight women from the flesh trade. They said four of the women were Germans. The nightclub hotly contested the claim, saying the German women were just customers. The police ended up booking the cashier, bouncer and waiter on the premises under various sections of Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act. Voodoo never recovered from the setback, and remains shut to this day.  

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