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?
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?
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