Rs 6 lakh for a night of dance, and sex in Mumbai

Mumbai, August 31: Its security befitted a spy agency, its charges were more than a starred hotel’s, and the operations were straight out of a James Bond thriller. The Sun-n-Sheel, an inconspicuous hotel in Andheri, was busted last month for running a prostitution racket and dance bars. It was not, however, the catch that left the raiding party astonished but the management’s sophisticated functioning.

The establishment charged Rs 6 lakh per patron per visit and allowed them in only with a reference. It also had all the safeguards normally expected from a secret agency’s operation: intimidatingly thick-set guards, seemingly defunct elevators that came alive on signal, electronic doors, hidden escape shafts with mattresses below to break the fall, even a separate room stocked with a change of clothes for the dancers for emergencies.

Located on Andheri-Kurla Road in JB Nagar, the hotel, indeed, has a facade as innocuous as any in the city. On the front is a dhaba, on the side other stores, and on the third-floor terrace a restaurant. Day long, these businesses conducted their trade; and late at night, after others had pulled their shutters, the hotel would come to life and stay abuzz till 6am. Most of its customers were businessmen, who needed a reference to gain entry.

Hotel Sun-n-Sheel had a perfectly thought-out operation that would have never given an outsider any clue about the happenings inside. “There was also a strong contingency plan for the girls and customers to escape,” said an MIDC police officer.

Forty-five men, including the hotel’s owner, Lalji Singh alias Vinod Singh, and 6 women were arrested under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act in the raid on July 24. Singh, it was later found out, is also wanted by the Interpol for a cheating case in Dubai.

Hotel sources say Sun-n-Sheel’s shadowy and intricate operations began right at the building’s entrance. There, an electronic switch was installed, which, when pressed, caused the lights in the dance bars to flicker to warn of approaching policemen.

On the ground floor too were posted 12 brawny guards manning an iron gate. Their brief was simply to keep out unwanted visitors and collect the Rs 1-lakh entrance fee in cash from trusted patrons.

Once past the first test, the patrons had to take the stairs to the first floor, where two elevators existed: one went straight to the third floor restaurant and the other seemingly remained dead. “The second lift provided access to the second floor. It started only if instructions were provided over phone to the staff on the fourth floor to fix the fuse,” said a police officer. On the second floor were two dance bars and rooms for prostitution.

Any patron entering the establishment had to shell out another Rs 5 lakh to the staff. In return, he was given a smaller amount on “a steel plate” in various denominations for the sole purpose of showering the cash on the girls. “The plate would be replenished until the entire Rs 5 lakh was exhausted. This, though, was the lower limit. When two customers fell for the same girl, there was no ceiling,” said a source in the hotel.

Put together, the Rs 6 lakh covered the dance, food, alcohol and girls, most of whom who were in the age group of 18-20, some Bollywood aspirants. “For sex, the customers could shift to the rooms that are separated from the dance bars by an electronically operated door fitted to the common wall,” said a police officer.

Apart from the switch at the entrance, the establishment had made many arrangements for contingencies like police raids. “Near the bars, there was a room that stocked a change of clothes-like jeans and T-shirts-for the girls,” said the officer. On getting out of their dancing clothes, the girls would climb up to the third floor restaurant and blend in with the crowds.

Also, there was a 4ft by 6ft opening to a shaft that patrons and the girls leaped into to escape. At the bottom of the shaft were left piles of mattresses to break the fall. Once on the ground floor, people could flee to a public road behind the hotel through a gate.

When the hotel was raided last month, some girls fled to the third floor restaurant and therefore avoided arrest. Those who tried escaping through the rear, though, were caught. True to the operations, the staff at the dance bars even removed the chairs and dropped mud over the floor to make it appear unused. “But we found the bulbs too hot, which exposed them,” an officer said.

Singh, who also owns hotels in Dubai and Mauritius, reportedly boasted to the police about his clout on arrest. “He told us that he supplied models for a late Mumbai-based corporate giant in Dubai,” the officer said. The police say they will hand over Singh to the Interpol once the formalities are over. Singh, who is currently out on bail, did not reply to TOI’s several attempts to contact him.