Customers gather around paan and DVD hawkers at the Bengali Bazaar in Rolla on Tuesday. Image Credit: Atiq-Ur-Rehman/XPRESS

Sharjah: A bustling bazaar of banned porn and paan flourishes every night in a rundown corner of Sharjah, with sellers and buyers breaking the law in blatant defiance.

The narrow alley network of what is called the Bengali Bazaar in Rolla is teeming with peddlers pushing underground sex tapes and paan, an illegal chewing tobacco craze linked to mouth cancer.

Hundreds of men, mostly south Asian expat workers, can be seen chewing and spitting paan on the streets while browsing through explicit DVDs.

Holding bundles in their hands, the sellers chant "Paan, CD, paan, CD" as you walk past rows of bags filled with the stuff. The air is thick with the mint smell of paan, cigarette smoke and sweat; with the streets and building walls defaced by red paan spit.

The dodgy deals take place candidly in the open, with no apparent fear - or sign - of officials. Pornography and paan are illegal in the UAE and punishable by fines or jail.

A piece of paan costs Dh1 while the DVDs cost Dh5-Dh20, depending on the movie runtime and content - "double-X, triple-X, English (Western), Indian, Bengali, or amateur." There are also illegal copies of the latest Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters on sale.

Some paan fans say the habit "is misunderstood. I agree you shouldn't spit paan everywhere, but paan is OK - it helps me in digestion and it's got a nice smell. Why is it banned - for health reasons? Then why are cigarettes legal?" a Pakistani computer engineer asked.

XPRESS went undercover to visit the bazaar recently but was nearly given chase when found out by the peddlers during a photo sting. "Who are you? Are you journalists?" one man demanded to know. Two others, who seemed to be their handlers, told the sellers to disappear - and within seconds a row of them vanished into the crowds.

"Hey, you there! Come back, what are you up to?!" a man shouted at this XPRESS reporter as he left the scene.