Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Beautiful Thing: Portrait of a Bombay Bar Dancer” as Want to Read:
Beautiful Thing: Portrait of a Bombay Bar Dancer
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Beautiful Thing: Portrait of a Bombay Bar Dancer

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  642 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
When Sonia Faleiro set out to report on Bombay’s bar dancers, she thought she knew what she would find: downtrodden, voiceless women, the helpless victims of predictable poverty.

Instead she meets Leela: nineteen, charismatic and fearlessly outspoken, Leela has been dancing in Bombay’s bars since she was thirteen. With her sharp wit and stubborn optimism, she is the best-pa
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 2nd 2011 by Black Inc. (first published September 30th 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Beautiful Thing, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Beautiful Thing

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,011)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Nov 24, 2010 Sujatha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Its a complete celebration and victory of the free spirit of women all over , that has been so beautifully brought out with an unrivalled sensitivity . All the souls in this book will remain with you long after you finish reading the book .This is one masterpiece , i would recommend everyone to read and especially my daughter ..
Sarbpreet Singh
Sep 28, 2011 Sarbpreet Singh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Beautiful Thing' does not start off very well. The writing seems a little choppy; somewhat disjointed. I find myself thinking that Suketu Mehta probably did a better job covering similar material in 'Maximum City'. Louise Brown's 'The Dancing Girls of Lahore' is another outstanding book on a similar subject. However, after the first few pages, the story of 'Leela' a teenage 'bar girl' in Bombay really picks up. Sonia Faleiro tells her story with compassion, without pulling any punches and witho ...more
Dec 04, 2010 Rohan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Rohan by: My friend
What can I say about this book that hasn't been said before? It's shocking, moving, heartbreaking. It's a new Maximum City. It's the story of a bar dancer and her downward spiral into the circle of hell that is the Bombay underworld. It's the story of the author's friendship with the bar dancer and of how they grow together as individuals. And it's the story of India like it has never been told.
I bought this book, then I bought three more copies for family and friends. It's unforgettable.
Samir Dhond
Dec 01, 2011 Samir Dhond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been a fan of investigative journalism. Many such pieces of work delve deep inside the world of human emotions and showcase a side of humans not known to many. I have never been able to understand the world of Dance Bars. Sonia Faleiro narrates a story of Leela through whose eyes Sonia has seen a world unknown to many of us. The world of dance bars is full of sleaze. It’s a world of glamorous women, of fierce love, bestial sex and violence. It is a world full of customers of varied types, ...more
It is a well researched book. The aspect that jarred me was the constant usage of the phonetic. Perhaps it is an ethnographic trick. But for me that stuttered the pace of what could be a wonderfully written book. Till now I'd held up Maximum City as the index of writing a reasonably fast paced and written well book. In this her writing style actually fades into the background without having it leap out at the reader across the pages and impressing with imagery or, skill with words.

Combining rese
Book Bazaar
Review from wonderful customer Denise!

The first half of the book tells the story about bar dancers and the second half deals with the effect of the ban imposed on Bombay’s dance bars, by the government.

The conversations with the characters flow naturally in a mix of English, Hindi, and slang that is oddly easy to understand sometimes. Things are told as they are, nothing more or less.

The life of dance bar girls is told through the story of Leela (a bar dancer), her family, her past, her friends
Margaret Sankey
Faleiro spent several years gaining the trust of bar dancers in a suburb of Mumbai while working as a journalist, giving her the material to follow the short careers of Leela and her friend Priya, 19-year old girls from small villages and abusive families who work for cash in an underworld of undocumented (they're Indian, but without residency paperwork can't have bank accounts, most don't have birth certificates, have "contracts" of debts to pimps and loansharks) transient people and who are of ...more
Jun 08, 2012 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My review in Shelf Awareness:

"Beautiful Thing is a portrait that begins in profile: "Leela's face was a perfect heart," Sonia Faleiro writes. "And knowing well the elegance of her little nose, Leela would flaunt it like an engagement ring. On certain evenings at the dance bar, when she needed to increase the padding of hundred rupee notes in her bra, Leela would engage only in silhouette."

Faleiro met 19-year-old Leela while she was researching an article on Bombay's "bar dancers," the thousands
Apr 30, 2013 Deana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Could have happily spent the rest of my life not know that a bar owner in this book has constipation issues and picks "it" out then carries on with his day with out washing his hands. - considered aborting this book at this point. But that says more about me and not the subject matter as the real disgust, shock and repulsion should be towards the fate of women in this society.
Mar 24, 2011 Satyajit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable book with truth.....just one sentence "it brings tremendous respect for the girls working at Dance Bars & increases your respect towards Women"
Oct 10, 2011 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-stuff
From the title you might not conclude that Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro could be very educational… unless you wanted to swiftly contract AIDS & die in the slums of Mumbai.

However, this true story of the life of a bar-dancer illuminated many things for me about life in India as a Muslim woman, about the immovability of old social structures, the nature of old Islam and [of course], public health.

I really feel some insight into the quandaries of life for women under the old and poverty-str
Aug 21, 2013 Anita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first learned of this book at Pop Up Magazine in San Francisco, when Sonia Faleiro read a passage from it. I was intrigued, but only got around to completing this book almost a year later. It seems, at least from my perspective in America, to be rare for an Indian writer to write on subjects like this—to consider bar dancers not only worth talking to, but worth talking about. This is strong reportage about a fascinating, beautiful, self-promoting bar dancer and her circle. However, it suffers ...more
Sylvia Arthur
Aug 31, 2011 Sylvia Arthur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderfully engaging and elegantly written book that tells the story of Leela, a teenage bar dancer in Mumbai’s seedy, barely-concealed underworld of dance bars and prostitution.

I forgot that I was reading a work of non-fiction. The author has so skilfully crafted the story and the characters that you feel you know Leela intimately from the very first page. Later characters like Priya and the cleverly constructed Apsara are also brilliantly drawn.

Although the book covers a fairly sho
May 05, 2011 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Sonia Faleiro crafts a work of beauty

A review by Ben Antao

Beautiful Thing
By Sonia Faleiro
Publisher, Hamish Hamilton
Non-fiction, hardcover, pp 214, Rs 450

The beauty of this work of non-fiction is not the story as such, but the skill of the author who crafted it. The story of the barwali named Leela is not new for it’s been playing out for decades in India’s crowded cities and slums, and even in villages where fathers and mothers are forced to sell their children into prostitution out of desp
I won Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro from a firstreads contest. I it is an account by the author of the life lived by bar dancers and sex workers in Bombay and its surrounds. The focus, is Leela, who ran away from home after her father prostituted her. She eventually finds success as a bar dancer at Night Lovers in Bombay. She makes money dancing, she spends it, and she lives a relatively normal life despite a traumatic beginning. Leela is our glamorous heroine, seeking to embody the actresses ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Caitlin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Beautiful Thing is a fascinating read, opening a window into a world I suspect most of us never knew about, much less imagined. The women of Bombay's dance bars sell themselves in every way imaginable - through dancing, through sex, through their involvement in the criminal underground. These women proudly wear the hallmark of survivors.

Whether or not you find it in yourself to admire these women, once you've read this book you will at least understand what extreme poverty, gender discrimination
Cain S. Pinto
Jan 05, 2013 Cain S. Pinto rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"I distrust biographical studies that soak in too much psychographic subtlety, as much as, that other egregious genre, biographical fiction- as though there were a difference between their performative horizons: both paint the object in the biases of the subject who vanishes under his narration, gesticulating strategically with the objects of analysis, when the narrative demands it independently of the objects’ self narrative. We are all subject to violence, who live, as someone somewhere is, al ...more
Tammy AZ
Beautiful Thing is a non-fiction book written more as an informative reporting about Leela, a young girl working in the dance bars of Bombay. The author reports on Leela's life, and in doing so highlights the absolute destitution and despair that exists in the lower castes of India. The style of the book is such that the reader follows Leela through various incidents in her day-to-day life. The book does not provide a lot of information about the history of India, the class system, or Leela's ch ...more
Rahul Nayak
Apr 12, 2011 Rahul Nayak rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insider look into the seamy and murky world of Bombay's dance bars, Sonia Faleiro narrates a tale that at times seems too fantastical to be even made up. The book follows the life of a bar dancer Leela and her trials and tribulations that mirror the strifes for everyone a part of the industry. Apart from a few minor annoyances, the book is gripping and interesting. Ms. Faleiro is obviously influenced by her friend Gregory David Roberts from whom she seems to have learnt the art of putting "ta ...more
Nitin Vadher
Jun 28, 2015 Nitin Vadher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, the book describes the true reality of Bombay dance bar girls, when the bars were at their prime time and after the banned by the government. Faleiro manages to pack lots of things like pimps, gangsters, police, madams, hijras etc. The book is fast paced, perfectly observed and full of curiosity.
Faleiro portrays the life of Bombay dance bar teenage girl Leela, her journey from small village to Bombay, their night life, struggle for survival and her bitter world. The first half of the
Mar 01, 2014 Ashok rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One knows that the world of women working in the oldest profession is not attractive. If you have grown up in Bombay or lived there for a length of time you also know that the city is not beautiful.

What I liked a lot about this book was the style that Ms. Faleiro has used. The story is told in the form of conversations primarily between herself and Leela, her protagonist. Thrown in is Leela's mother and sundry friends as she moves from Meerut to Mumbai and makes her way through the stages that
Mar 08, 2016 Elle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those interested in reading first-hand accounts of brothels, dance bars and prostitution in South Asia (India and Pakistan), I would also recommend reading the outstanding The Dancing Girls of Lahore by Louise Brown. This book reminds me of the chapters in Suketu Mehta's book "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found" in which he provides a detailed account of the life of a Bombay bar dancer, complete with her past--how she hailed from a village, her family life, and the forces that drove her to ...more
Pradeep T
Jan 27, 2016 Pradeep T rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an exceptional book. May be, this book is one among the many few that has explained the dreaded life of Bar Dancers in Mumbai. Though this is a Non-Fiction, the story has been narrated in a brilliant manner. The book mainly revolves around a successful Bar Dancer in Mumbai, that goes by the imagined name Leela and her tryst with the Mumbai Bar and her whole life. The book covers mainly the childhood and the hardships that any Bar Dancer would face as faced by Leela.

Forced into prostitut
Nishant Jha
Dec 03, 2012 Nishant Jha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently finished this book "Beautiful Thing" written by Sonia Faleiro on the lives of the Bar Dancers of provides brilliant and an intimate insight into the life of a Bar Dancer and celebrates their fighting spirit and resilience against all odds..never goes in to the preaching mode and it always stays real...its a must read for all "non-fiction" lovers!
The story of Leela the bar dancer was fascinating and the characters you are introduced to in her world are riveting, but the way it was written was a bit annoying. There is a lot of Hindi which isn't always translated or translated properly. As I understand most Hindi/Urdu, I was able to follow along, but I wonder how someone who doesn't understand it would fare reading this book. Also the reconstructed dialogue of scenes where the writer couldn't have been present as well as the inner monologu ...more
Chitra Divakaruni
May 18, 2012 Chitra Divakaruni rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: south-asian
I reviewed this book for San Francisco Chronicle and gave it a big thumbs up. Painstakingly researched and moving story of a Mumbai bar dancer with a hard, hard life but an unbreakable spirit.Here's the link for the full review.
Bleak but full of life, this work of narrative non-fiction centres on the life of Leela, a 19 year old bar dancer in Bombay, who gamely and determinedly insists on claiming whatever freedoms her life's constraints afford her. Faleiro spent five years immersed in the world of bar dancers, and does an excellent job conveying both their agency - dancing in a bar provided opportunities they were eager to seize - as well as the terrible impact of misogyny and caste (as Leela observes early in the boo ...more
Chikita Kodikal
Jun 03, 2015 Chikita Kodikal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a re-read for me. I had read this book back in 2012, but I specifically recall not being able to get past the first 60 pages without having my heart wrenched right out of my chest.
This time round, I read this book in its entirety, and hence I can mention, without the slightest hesitation, that this book is gold. Faleiro catapults you into the heart of a world infamous for its scandals, sex and rapacity. Leela's story is written so beautifully throughout this novel; it keeps you enthral
Dark, disturbing and unputdownable. This book is awesome!
Sindhu Eswaran
Apr 03, 2011 Sindhu Eswaran rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, must read!!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 67 68 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
South Asian Liter...: March 2012 4 33 Apr 04, 2012 11:19AM  
  • The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India
  • A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi
  • Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China
  • Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk
  • Calcutta: Two Years in the City
  • Up All Night: My Life and Times in Rock Radio
  • Partitions
  • Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t
  • Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America
  • Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story Of The West's Afghanistan Campaign
  • The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Pleasure District
  • Capital: The Eruption of Delhi
  • Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences
  • Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
  • Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents
  • Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond
  • Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid
  • India: A Portrait
Sonia Faleiro is the award-winning author of The Girl (Viking, 2006) and Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars (Grove Atlantic, 2012).

The New York Times hailed Beautiful Thing as ‘an intimate and valuable piece of reportage that will break your heart several times over.’

The book was an Observer, Guardian, and Economist Book of the Year, Time Out Subcontinental Book of th
More about Sonia Faleiro...

Share This Book

“Dalali, pimping, was the natural next step because no one was better equipped to sell women, it was believed, than one who had been sold, or who had sold herself. And no one was exempt.” 1 likes
“Remember the wise words of the legendary courtesan Umrao? ‘No one knows how to love more than we do: to heave deep sighs; to burst into tears at the slightest pretext; to go without food for days on end; to threaten to take arsenic …” 1 likes
More quotes…