An ode to the item girls #MyFriendAlexa

Helen
A fellow Bollywood-buff relative of mine once commented, “Katrina Kaif will never get respect.”

I asked her, “Why so?”

“Because she does these cheap item songs and cannot act!”

I wondered what’s so wrong in dancing item songs and who said Katrina could not act. Agreed she is a limited actor but so is an Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, or Hrithik Roshan. And so many male lead actors can be accused of mouthing unmentionables and dancing to obscenity onscreen. So, why cherry pick item girls?

She further added, “Kangana…She has my respect.”

Some time ago, I saw an online petition to ban item songs and girls in the industry. I disagreed with the line of thought. Yes, I am a feminist, and I support item girls and songs. Here’s why!

I really thought we were past the “victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming” phase, but we haven’t much-progressed from our ancestors’ mindsets. You know those days when there was the all-white goody Miss: Two shoes heroine and the all-black slutty, lusty, wicked cabaret dancer. The one who commanded our respect was clearly the former and the other deserved our eye-fuck.

I thought Helen was just as phenomenal in her 4 min appearance in the “Mehbooba” song as Hema Malini’s full-fledged role as Basanti. In my eyes, there were equals. Mehbooba and Basanti are iconic even today and will continue to be so.

Let’s say we had a ban on item songs back then. We would never have a Helen, Aruna Irani, Bindu, Jayshree T, and the likes. Again, there’s a catch — actresses with an Indian dance classical background earned respect like Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, Madhuri Dixit.

Slowly, the lines blurred when we had mainstream actresses wearing their sexuality on their sleeves and dancing suggestively onscreen. Mumtaz, Padma Khanna, Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi, and the trend continues to this day.

Bollywood is primarily an entertainment industry. Acting is one of the forms of entertainment apart from music, dance, etc. And there’s enough room for all kinds of entertainers.

There’s room for a Vidya Balan known for her solid acting skills, a Jacqueline Fernandez for her gravity-defying dancing skills, a Bipasha Babu who’s made a career solely based on her sex-appeal, or anyone who can entertain like only they can.

So if an actress whose only value offering is her looks, body or dance, why shouldn’t she be allowed to pursue a career in the field of entertainment?

Yes, item songs cater to the male gaze. But, they are also made with consent by female actors whose primary talent is dance. Sex-appeal is a given. Like Sunny Leone or Katrina Kaif were non-dancers when they entered the Hindi film industry but learned it along the way. It’s their sex-appeal and acquired dancing skills which are keeping them in the industry so far.

Talking about Sunny Leone, she’s made a conscious choice to make a career out of catering to the male gaze. It’s ironic when some feminists hail her choice, while demanding a ban on item girls and songs in the same breath.

And, then there are self-taught dance enthusiasts like Nora Fatehi who’s churning out one hit item song after the other. Doesn’t a naturally gifted dancer like Malaika Arora who loves flaunting her sexuality at 50 deserve our love? Are their dancing skills not worthy of our respect as much as Alia Bhatt’s acting chops?

We would never have a Marilyn Monroe, Shakira or Jennifer Lopez in the world if we banned item girls and songs. Let’s stop slut-shaming our women in entertainment. Let them breathe, and be as they wish to be – whether it’s oozing sensuality, riding up the poles, or shaking their bellies. If that’s what they want to do with their lives, who are we to disapprove?

Maybe Kangana understands the audience’s pulse all too well and never ventured into item songs because clearly she wants respect in her profession. I don’t blame her. I blame us including the film industry which thrives and feeds off these item girls. They make their profits but dismiss these dancing women as items. 

Why do we give a step-motherly treatment to the dancers in the entertainment industry. When we can give awards for the best female actor and singer, then why not for the best female dancer?

Someday.

So, if item songs and girls are to be banned, please hold the male artistes equally responsible for vulgarity and lewdness.

However, that’s not a simple solution to massive issue affecting Bollywood. Which is the lack of female perspective. And so, we have half-baked (if they are lucky) female characters written on very predictable lines, and therein lies the problem. Item songs and girls seem forced in most plots. Eg: Super 30.

Bollywood needs to learn to respect itself first. How do you think our movies come across to the world? Where do we stand amongst international filmmakers? We had a Satyajit Ray in the past. What about today?

Our movies are mostly a joke. Bollywood treats its women entertainers as furniture props, sometimes much worse. Yes, the situation is slightly improving with movies like NH7, Piku, Pink, Manmarziyan, Badhai Ho and the likes. But, there’s a lot left to be desired.

Can we have more talented scriptwriters who are able to weave in the female perspective in the plot deftly as well?

I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

22 comments

  1. Okay. I never thought of it this way. Though I never dismissed these actors but it never occurred to me that there could be an award for best dancer. Personally I feel item songs or anything is fine as long as lyrics don’t cross the line and instead of sensuality border on being vulgar and derogatory to women. But a different perspective Tina. Will keep me hooked for a good while.

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  2. Are you trying to practise socialism in aesthetics? Well, there’s a difference between doing a difficult role in a movie and doing an item dance. As individuals the item dancer and the great actor are equal, but not as artistes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No Tomichan! What I am implying is that a Vidya Balan cannot do what a Helen does. And vice versa. Both are legendary artistes who deserve respect. We cannot put down someone talented in a particular form of art and praise someone else for another form, just because of our high moral standards.

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  3. You know, that is a very unique point of view. If we were to ban item numbers, a lot of dancing talent would go completely unnoticed. If we walk that road then we will have to block every aspect of movies that are even remotely sexual in nature. After the current government took over, as it is there are bans on too many things. If we are to become puritanical in the entertainment industry too, the only movies we can possibly make would be ones based on ramcharitmanas and tales from the bible. To that extent I agree with you. But I do feel that sometimes directors go completely overboard and item numbers become lewd and totally sexist. The only thing that matters is to make the item numbers in good taste omitting cheap, nasty and lewd gestures.

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  4. I appreciate your point of view. Never thought like this. But personally, I don’t like item songs much. Lyrics sometimes used are not what can be appreciated. Women are treated as ‘objects’ in these songs.

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  5. I do not agree with everything you say…I have a clear distinction in my head between a dance number and an item song. My respect rests with Helen for breaking the glass ceiling at an extremely male-centric time in Hindi cinema. An item song, nowadays, is an easy way to fame for female actors in movie industry. Enjoyed reading a different perspective!!

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  6. There is definitely less criticism of poor male acting and muscle showing than there is towards women using SA. So definitely double standards. As for the rest to each their own. let everyone do whatever suits them as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. the hypocrisy of thronging to watch them and then judging and shaming them is despicable.

    But seriously impressed by the expression eye-fuck. never heard of it before but won’t forget it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I totally agree with you. Item girls need to be applauded and awarded too. It is a part of their job and they do it so well. Very rarely a heroine can do full justice to a cabaret. #wordsmithkaurreads #MyFriendAlexa #BlogChatter

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  8. i believe everyone has their own set of capabilites and limitations. Every actor/ actress is different and everyone has a part to play. The Bollywood has evolved over the years and there’s an acceptance for every kind of artiste and not just the lead actor/ actress. We should let the audience decide what they want to watch !

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  9. This is a topic which can’t be justified by just one post, There can be million different views to that. Like a Helen in flamingo feathers in sequined bikini still considers graceful than any latest item song dancer (sorry, I don’t even bother to know their names)
    So. coming back to your point of limited actor like Akshay or Hrithik…. they still can run a sale-able flick on their back. What about Katrina? and many of her likes… This is my POV 🙂

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