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Bar singer turns writer

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By: Upala KBR, Mid-Day
Monday, September 18, 2006
Shagufta Rafique is a writer with an unusual past. Her career as a singer took off in the murky beer bars of Mumbai and Dubai, where she would belt out numbers till the wee hours of the morning.

But the spirited 41-year-old refuses to be fettered by her seemingly squalid past.

Today, she has broken free and found an unlikely support system in filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Besides having written Woh Lamhe, she is writing two more films for the Bhatts - Pooja Bhatt's Dhoka and Vishesh Films' Awaarapan. The singer-turned writer talks about her past.

My family...

My sister, Sayeeda Khan, was married to Brij Sadanah (Kamal Sadanah's father). When they died, it left a big vacuum in my mother's and my life, as Sayeeda was a big support for us. We went through financial problems. Though Kamal gave us financial assistance, it was sporadic and not steady. I didn't want my mother to go begging to him so I took up a job as a singer in beer bars and dingy hotels abroad. I felt it was more dignified earning a living for both of us than asking for help from people. I would rather people call me a whore than beg for help.

My hellish past...

I was a young girl, working from 9 pm to 3 am every night, earning sometimes Rs 100 and sometimes Rs 3,000. I would feel very scared while returning home. It was a hellish experience... the way people would look at you.

The good things about bars here is that they have bouncers and bodyguards. If you want, you can sell yourself, the choice is yours. Also singers and bar dancers in red light areas face that kind of propositioning. But if you don't want to, like I didn't, nobody will force you.

Experience in Dubai

The situation is scarier abroad, especially in places like Dubai. The organisers would take away our money and passport for three months. Then you would have the underworld watching you and sometimes showing interest in you.

They would start asking questions and then you were trapped. Sometimes they would get aggressive, even violent, and start pushing the girl around if she said no. I was frightened. Before the situation became worse I stopped singing abroad and returned home. I didn't want to get gang raped or be physically abused.

The past can haunt you

My mother wanted me to be an actress like my sister Sayeeda, but I always wanted to be a writer or a director. I came back to Mumbai and decided to write. But there I faced a bigger nightmare when people wanted to see my CV. Every time I told them the truth, I was rejected. How could I tell them they were pushing me back into the hellhole I was trying to come out of?

Broken free

Three years ago, I met Bhattsaab. Before Zeher, I wrote a love story. But because we felt that Mohit's debut film shouldn't be so dark, we decided to shelve it. Maybe Mohit felt he owed it to me, but in February this year, he called me and said he wanted me to write Woh Lamhe. Since then, I have put an end to singing in beer bars.

Journey with the Bhatts

I had worked for him 13 years ago as one of his assistants, but when I met him again he couldn't remember me. Today, Bhattsaab's family is my only family. I owe it to him and Mohit for giving me a new lease on life.

All alone

My mother died three years ago. I had to take care of her. I was an illegitimate child and she adopted me despite opposition from her family. Sayeeda and my mom were the only people who loved me in this world. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but my mother is not there to hold my hand and share my joy.

Mahesh Bhatt speaks

Shagufta's past doesn't bother me. I look up to her because she is extremely decorous in her behaviour, besides being an Islamic scholar. She has gone through a lot in life and those experiences enrich her writing.

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