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Of bar dancers and H-Bombs

Films Division Zone or the FD Zone will be screening Mira Nair’s documentary India Cabaret alongside a reading by Jerry Pinto from his book, Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb. Nair’s documentary explores women dancers in bars in the 1980s whereas Pinto’s book looks at Helen as a trope that carved out a niche as an item girl in the industry.

Bar dancers
Bar dancers are the focus of Mira Nair’s film India Cabaret

“India Cabaret had been on our minds since the Supreme Court judgment. While thinking about two other films on the same issue, we thought Jerry’s book would be more apt. This time, instead of a partner film, we wanted to go ahead with the book reading,” shares Surabhi Sharma, the filmmaker behind the 57th edition of the FD Zone.


Book cover of Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb

Regarding bar dancers, she further justifies how the two correlate, “Jerry’s book looks at the phenomenon of Helen and the item girl. The connect then is between the celluloid image of the item girl and how these bar dancers actually live out the same celluloid image in flesh and blood.”

Mira Nair
Mira Nair

Calling Nair’s documentaries remarkable and a key focus area before Salaam Bombay put Nair in the limelight, Sharma, a documentary filmmaker herself relates, “It is not a known fact that Mira Nair used to make documentaries. This film was made even before Salaam Bombay. It is remarkable how she investigated the subject in the 1980s before the state entered the debate.”

Author Jerry Pinto
Author Jerry Pinto

Furthering the comment, she adds, “There is no shred of moral judgment regarding these women called cabaret dancers, who used to dance at the bars earlier. She gives these dancers a space to talk about themselves unlike the two extremes that were prevalent -- victim with golden heart or seductresses.”

Sharma urges that the dignity and independence with which these women have earned their livelihood should be focussed upon. Jerry Pinto will be stoking the discussion after the screening as the moderator.

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