When she is done hurling the choicest of abuses at her husband, Pooja Singh Rajput locks herself up in the bedroom of their tiny house at the end of a quiet bylane in Bhojpur district’s Ara town in Bihar. The pretty, tall 26-year-old woman, wearing a royal blue velvet suit with a pink dupatta, a trace of sindoor in the parting of her hair, declares that she won’t perform at the wedding tonight. It is too close to her relatives’ place, who, she believes, are unaware of her profession. Ram Kumar Pandey, her husband of 18 months and the owner of a local orchestra group, doesn’t budge. “One moment, he is my husband. And the next, he is an agent for whom I am just a woman who is supposed to dance dirty before raucous men to help him make a quick buck,” she says, referring to Pandey who has 14 girls on his roster who dance all night to Bhojpuri songs laden with sexual innuendos at hotel parties, ‘room parties’, birthday functions and weddings. “I am not a small-time dancer. I have worked in two films. I will perform on my own terms,” says Pooja, fanning herself with a jute hand fan.
Dismissing her tantrums, Pandey says, “She will be all right in no time. She is a darling.”
Five years ago, Pooja, a Ludhiana native, was shooting for a Bhojpuri music album in Ara, one of more than a dozen albums she has featured in, when her choreographer introduced her to Pandey, a well-built man who sports a handlebar moustache and is never seen sans his grey baseball cap. 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.
Just like Anaarkali, the feisty live performer in the Swara Bhaskar-starrer Anaarkali of Aarah, 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.