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Photography by Marisse Caine

Bollywood Dhoom is no stranger to regulars at Boat Quay’s B.K Eating House.

Located just across the road from the coffee shop, many have spent drunken nights, over bowls of Bak Chor Mee Sua, wondering what exactly goes on behind those neon lights.

As the name suggests, Bollywood Dhoom (Hindi for ‘Blast’) is an Indian night club, one which claims to offer its customers a taste of Mumbai’s legendary nightlife coupled with exotic female dance performances.

While it might be outdated to some, the neon lights - which have been around since 2002, are kept for sentimental reasons.

While other clubs and bars along Circular Road have come and gone, Bollywood Dhoom, which opened in 2002, remains as one of the oldest in the vicinity.

And just as the club has persisted with the times, so have the rumours. They range from the absurd—“There’s a tree in Bollywood Dhoom,” to whispers of sex and other sleazy ongoings.

Like everyone else, I wanted to find out if they were true.

Inside the club, the dance floor is lit. Literally, because it consists of 20 or so LED panels that flash pink, green, orange, and yellow. Overhead, speakers blast heavily remixed versions of the latest Bollywood hit songs like Tamma Tamma Again and Suit Suit, all while strobe lights spin tirelessly, sending beams of pink and red light through the club.

Pink LED lights illuminate the dance floor from below.

But I’m disappointed to realise that there’s no tree. Instead, a narrow walkway separates the art deco bar on the right from a row of a bar stools and tables. The walkway leads towards and opens up onto a dance floor surrounded by several leather couches.

Dancers perform while the audience looks on.

While this is where the action is, it’s the dancers that catch my eye and hold my attention. 8 of them, bedecked in embellished and brightly coloured lengha cholis, have commanded the dance floor.

Eyes lined black and lips painted red, all of them have shaken their hair loose as they twirl, shake, prance, pose and lip sync in time with the music.

It’s fast-paced, energetic, and engaging; a blend of big movements and dramatic facial expressions. And while the dancers are baring their midriffs in fitted crop tops, the style of dance is less sexual than it is flirtatious and performative. In Indian dance, the emphasis is always on telling stories through the dancer’s body movements, eye movements and facial expressions.

As this goes on, the audience, mostly Indian men in business suits, watches on. They laugh, chat and sip from glasses of Johnny Walker, Barcardi or Martell.

Alexa, in-charge of marketing, tells me that Bollywood Dhoom typically caters to a more esteemed crowd of bankers, IT professionals and businessmen. Usually, “patrons bring their colleagues or expatriate friends here after work to chill or network.”

Midway through a song, the audience starts clapping and whistling, cheering on the dancers. Invigorated, the dancers respond with increased fervour as the clapping continues. On several occasions, the men even stand up to dance alongside the girls.

However, this is as far as it goes. Michael, who helps manage the club, makes it a point to dispel any rumours of sleazy ongoings. Unlike lupsup (dirty) KTVs, he says, “The dancers don’t follow people home and they can’t be bought drinks.”

A dancer sits by the side, waiting for her turn to enter the dance floor.

What Bollywood Dhoom’s customers can do, is tip. Tips start at $10 per song and go upwards from there. Alice, a part-timer at the club tells me that it’s similar to a Thai disco where they have the flower garlands; they just go through more direct means. In Singapore, where tipping is largely unheard of, it’s customary in Bollywood Dhoom.

I watch as a dancer, barefoot, twirls effortlessly before a small group of men. As the song comes to an end, one man reaches over the table and hands her a ten dollar note. She’s not the only one to receive a tip; almost every girl on the dance floor has collected one from various audience members.

Inadvertently, I make eye contact with one of the dancers. Instead of looking away, she locks eyes with me, smiles seductively beneath her lashes and continues dancing, all while keeping her eyes on me.

At several points during the song, she extends her hand as if beckoning me to go over. For a moment, I consider getting up and making a fool of myself. Thankfully, I remain seated.

As the night goes on, I’m awestruck by their stamina. Dancing to song after song, they stop to rest for only a few seconds in between sets. Their energy never flags, their expressions never droop, and their makeup stays perfectly in place.

It’s thoroughly impressive. When I share my thoughts with Michael, one of the managers, he reveals that their professionalism and enthusiasm stems from their former roles as backup dancers for Bollywood movies.

A dancer lip syncs to the music while awaiting her turn to dance.

Later in the night, I notice three women vying for a single man’s attention. He’s been generous, handing out tips the whole night. But rather than fight or jostle, they partner up to perform synchronised moves.

They dip down to the floor, flip their hair, move their hips in time with the music and smile sensuously. Just before the song comes to an end, the man fishes several notes out of his shirt pocket and hands one to each girl.

Job done. The dancing carries on.   

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