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Bollywood 'item songs' degrade women with their lyrics. Yet everyone seems exhilarated at the beat of these songs! What a shame! What audacity!
Bollywood ‘item songs’ degrade women with their lyrics. Yet everyone seems exhilarated at the beat of these songs! What a shame! What audacity!
In the mid-1990s, the term ‘item songs’ became famous and everyone danced to their thrilling beats. But have you ever stopped and tried to analyse the meaning of the word, item or the lyrics of such songs?
The word item very clearly means ‘an object’. Further, the definition of an ‘item song’ is a song where a female dances in sexually suggestive moves to fulfil the voyeuristic pleasures of men. Hence, apparently, it is the woman who is being called an ‘item’, an ‘object.’ Yet, everyone dances to these songs and has no issues with kids dancing to these lyrics either. That is not ok!
Let us look at the examples of the cinematic male gaze in Bollywood’s ‘item’ songs.
“Mumbai ki na Dilli walon ki, Pinky hai paise walon ki”
A 2013 released song, Pinky, featuring Priyanka Chopra, falls under the practice of sexualizing and objectifying women. It had been in debates in the media and social platforms which rightly labelled it as sexist.
The lyrics of this song suggest that a girl is readily available for sexual consumption or would ‘belong’ to the people who have ‘cash.’ Such lyrics not only sully the female character but also reduces them to ‘commodities’ that can be brought by money.
This idea of the song intermixed with its sensual costume, the cinematic male gaze, and suggestive choreography, contributes to propagating the concept of the ‘male gaze.’
“Main to tandoori murgi hu yaar
Gatka le saiyyan alcohol se ok!”
A 2012 released, ‘hottest item’ track, Fevicol Se featuring Kareena Kapoor is another example of a sexist Bollywood song, promoting the male gaze.
Other than the attire, seductive dance moves, and the male gaze of the camera, the lyrics of this song outright label women as ‘tandoori murgis’, ready for consumption.
It is interesting to note how many such songs are sung by female singers, highlighting the concept of internalized patriarchy and how women are forced to submit to it.
“Hai tujh mein poori botal ka nasha [botal ka nasha]
Dhalte budhape ko kar de jawan, re kar de jawan”
One of the most popular songs of 2010, ‘Munni Badnam,’ featuring Malaika Arora is yet another ‘item song’ adhering to cinematic male gaze. Malaika Arora dancing in skimpy clothes among a group of men who look at her in a lecherous manner shows how a woman is put up for consumption.
The performance of Sonu Sood whose expressions are almost depicted as that of a child craving for a toy on seeing Malaika further arouses my anger! This song teaches women that they ought to look beautiful and maintain a ‘figure’ to lure men. As if that is everything that matters!
The camera’s focus on Malaika’s back, breasts, and waist as the ‘hook’ steps of the songs and its suggestive dance choreography illicitly contribute in normalizing the male gaze for the audience.
“Too cheez badi hai mast mast
tu cheez badi hai mast”
You just have to view the first few seconds of this sensational item song of 1994 and you would be all set to cringe at the first ‘suggestive’ dance move performed by Raveena Tandon.
As if the song lyrics that called the girl a ‘cheez’, an object were not bad, the song is made worse by the symbolic moves, highlighted by focusing the gaze of the camera on the distinct body parts of the actress.
The male actors in the songs, who are shown consuming alcohol and leering at the dance performance of Raveena Tandon are the exact examples of how the male gaze functions.
“Desi Beat Pe Hilti Kamiriya
Uspar Tiki Hai Meri Nazariya
Main Hu Payasa Tu Hai Dariya”
A 2019 released song, featuring Ellie Avram, ‘Chamma Chamma’ is a remake of the 90s ‘item’ track that should have been called back in the first place.
The song captures the female body parts beginning from the eyes to the waist distinctly. This cinematic male gaze is further supported by the lyrics materially describing the body parts, showing how the female body is treated as a sexual object in the industry.
The sexual innuendos in the dance moves and sleazy costumes make the experience of viewing this song even more cringeworthy and unbearable.
These are just a few drops from the ocean of overtly sexual and objectifying content available out there for consumption. It’s time we be alert to such forms of objectification and call them out.
Another song that I find problematic is Mehbooba Mehbooba from the movie Sholay. While the lyrics of this 1975 song are tolerable, I find its cinematography to be obscene and cringeworthy.
This song displays the concept of internalized patriarchy where Helen is made to submit to male desires, attempting to seduce Amjad Khan aka Gabbar Singh, who is ogling at her. It’s costume and suggestive choreography makes it worse.
We collectively need to understand that celebrating such ‘item’ tracks is not justifiable. Instead, we need to question the need for such songs.
It’s a fact that people, even women, dance on such songs in parties and celebrations. What’s more, even children are not stopped from dancing on these lewd songs. One often hears these songs at birthday parties and dance competitions!
As they are completely disoriented from the plot of the movie, I do not find any other purpose for its production other than that of marketing. And playing with someone’s body and sentiments for the sake of entertainment is vile and shameful.
If the women submitting to performing such item songs and the audience viewing them can be stopped, Bollywood might be able to do away with such futile ‘item’ songs!
Image source: Collage of stills from various songs
Muskan is an undergraduate literature student, an avid reader and a writer. Her areas of interest include gender, sexuality and psychology. She feels strongly for the things around and does not shy away from voicing read more...
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