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Item Dance: Celebration of Indian Womanhood?
|by Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy|
Panel Discussions on TV News Channels are a given these days and like it or not, the viewers have to put up with them to catch some news in between! Day in and day out, we are subjected to these panel discussions on a variety of issues with repeat telecasts throughout the day.
The panel often is a motley group of politicians who can speak (shout..??) well (in English), film stars, “feminist” film actors, sociologists with left or right leanings, some columnists etc., etc. We often see the same bunch of panellists hopping channels and airing their views...
What amused and also had me concerned was, in a panel discussion on “Item Numbers”, some women panellists (needless for me to add the category of these “activists”) countering a fellow panellist’s arguments with “item songs are a celebration of womanhood”!!!
An “item number” is added these days as tadka (seasoning) to a film to incorporate some masala (spice) element to a film. It usually has a skimpily clad female dancing to a raunchy and often double meaning laden song with unimaginable gyrations, pelvic thrusts and bosom heaving surrounded by a bunch of men making suggestive gestures and salivating...In a few films, the hero (sometimes in police uniform) too joins in the item number...
Earlier, these “item” numbers were the exclusive domain of dancing stars (some of them divas in their own right) like Helen, Bindu, Silk Smitha, Jaimalini, Disco Shanti, etc. Later years saw Malaika Arora Khan, Sushmita Sen, Shilpa Shetty, Lara Datta, Mallika Sherawat and a few others performing these dances as “guest” stars. But now, heroines have taken over, not willing to share the limelight or the spoils...
Interestingly, the word “item” is a typical Mumbaiyya slang which refers to an attractive girl as an “item” (as in “kya item hai, baap..!” or even a “bomb” (an expression of not so long ago when such girls were referred to as bomb shells) – as some of would say, another description that commodifies women...
The question here is, are such songs needed...? The women doing the item number, say a loud YES - understandably as they have earned name and fame with a 3-minute (item) song and dance in a film...There are movies that have been forgotten but not the item dance in them...Some item dance artistes have become more popular than the heroines...And this trend now has the heroines insecure and clamouring to do the “item dance” themselves in their movies...even if it requires them to perform in the most minimal of clothing on screen...!
Can a raat andheri hai...number in “Jewel Thief” with great music by S D Burman, seductively sung by Asha Bhosle with a nuanced performance by Tanuja in an evening gown (one of the heroines in the film) and Dev Anand, rank as an Item Number by today’s standards...? I’ve seen Jewel Thief thrice just to enjoy its great music, Dev Anand, Vyjayanti Mala and Ashok Kumar...Yet, Tanuja with her coquettishness and oomph in raat andheri hai... song left a great impact ... And no one was able to find anything wrong in the song or the dance....To me Mehbooba O Mehbooba in Sholay too seemed great..a dance that was superbly performed by Helen and Jalal Agha to a high-octane catchy song sung by R D Burman himself! What’s about these songs that didn’t seem wrong or vulgar, and did not evoke any negative responses from the audience...? For that matter, even Maiyya, Maiyya performed by Mallika Sherawat in ‘Guru’ went well with the ambience created in the movie showing the hero and his friends in a Middle Eastern country....
Why does a Munni badnaam, Sheela ki Jawani or similar item dance and song, evoke mixed response...and makes some of us squirm in our seats...? Is it the highly suggestive lyrics...? Is it the way the dancer is dressed or the way she performed the song...? And how far is it right to say that items songs and skimpily clad girls evoke rape intentions in men...? View this scenario – a girl dressed in simple jeans and T shirt (a common outfit these days) travelling in a bus late evening, ends up as the only passenger in the bus. A raunchy item number is playing on the bus radio, and the driver, conductor and the cleaner are slightly inebriated...! In their state of inebriation (often otherwise too) the girl becomes easy meat for these men who have already undressed her mentally duly aided by the song playing in the background and are just a step away to get into the real act....!
In such a scenario, can’t the film makers act a little more responsibly and stop having “item” numbers in their movies (whether by the vamp or the heroine) and thus avoid one source of provocation...? I say this as raunchy film scenes and songs do act as an influence....and films are seen by a large audience at theatres and on television and film songs too are heard all over...
Heroines justifying item dance as a “celebration of womanhood” should seriously do a rethink...Aren’t there other and better ways to celebrate womanhood than doing an item dance? Apparently, commercial considerations are ruling in the film industry (across the country) that has our film stars vying with each other and outdoing each other in the item dance department...
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