hese days, it’s a death of Talent in Bollywood in the name of Item Numbers. The Indian film industry has stooped so low that to sell their product, they are coming down to any level. It is now enough with item numbers, these lyricists pick up a name and start writing crass words around them. Let it be ‘Fevicol’, ‘Kundi Mat Khadkao Raja’, ‘Sheela’, ‘Munni’, ‘Pinky or Babli’. Shame on all the so-called A-grade actresses who agree to such objectifying of women. Idiotic dances, beyond mediocre lyrics, and formula marketing gimmicks are all that those films can offer to modern audiences. An item number or an item song, in Indian cinema, is a musical performance that has a little to do with the film in which it appears but is offered to showcase vulgar dancing women in revealing clothes, to lend support to the commercial aspect of the film and also the so-called top actresses. Nowadays, all these item numbers are performed by the so-called “A” grade heroines. These hit item numbers are a key to their business offers as a performer in different events. The same dance numbers are performed at New Year events, award shows, and many such gatherings and event. More the hit item numbers are, the demand rises. In the race of earning money and remaining wanted in the glam world, these so-called actresses have shed all sorts of inhibitions.
These dance numbers are generally memorable, buoyant, and often sexually provocative for a song in a movie. However, the term as understood in Bollywood phraseology has entered the entertainment industry scenario as well. Item numbers are usually added to the Indian movies in order to generate publicity. Item numbers are favoured by filmmakers for the reason that since they do not add to the plot, filmmakers afford with the opportunity to pick potential hit songs from the stocks. It is thus a vehicle for commercial success which ensures repeat viewing. The first song, “Jumma Chumma De De” (Hum, 1991), which means “Give us a kiss” is sung by a group of men, including the hero of the movie, to an ‘item girl’, who is just dancing in this song, situated in a bar. Many of the songs used in this ad take place in clubs or bars, where the hero is intoxicated. Two other phrases used, “Chammak Challo” (Ra.One, 2011), and “Chikni Chameli” (Agneepath, 2012), is euphemistic slang for prostitutes, especially ones who dance, and from the countryside. The words refer to the colour of their skin as well as their jewellery and ornaments, not to the woman herself. I remember that this trend aggressively started with the dancers like Helen, but the lyrics used to be very sensible at that time. There were a particular set of dancers who used to perform these numbers and heroine of the movie had some reputed class. Now the trend has changed, Madhuri Dixit’s ‘Ek Do Teen’ and ‘Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai’ were the biggest hits of modern days the then double meaning songs and now entire song revolves around one name and cheap lyrics like ‘Munni Badnaam Huyi’, or ‘Sheela Ki Jawani, ‘Halkat Jawani’, and many more.
Although, the derivation of the term “item number” is unclear; it is likely that it originates its meaning from the objectification of sexually attractive women. This is because ‘item’ in filmy Mumbai slang is a ‘sexy woman’. Moreover, Mumbai is famous for Dance bars and all these characters, Munni, Sheela, Babli, Pinky are commonly known names of Dance bar and red light areas. These names relate to that kind of viewers. Most of these lyricists are frequent visitors to such places. A female actor, singer or dancer, especially someone who is poised to become a star, who appears in an item number, is known as an item girl. The “item number” would feature an “item girl” who appeared in the film as a dancer, usually in a bar or nightclub, and was only in the film for the length of that song. It was often frowned upon at that point in time. There are item boys as well; however, females are more commonly featured in item numbers than males. Item numbers typically feature one or more persons other than the lead actors sometimes even the lead actress doing these numbers. Most of the time established female and male actors would lend a “special appearance” to an item number. Is it fair to blame Bollywood or even expect the industry to produce movies that adhere to a higher standard? The general sentiment that Bollywood, being such a huge influence for the Indian society, has a responsibility to produce movies that show women in a progressive light, but hold that censorship, is not a viable way to achieve this goal.
We are living in a hypocritical time, where we are aggressive over protesting against abuse to women. We are seeking respect for her; there are thousands of campaigns for women and girl child’s rights and dignity. The same item number actresses are been endorsed for the cause. On the other side, the most reputed newspapers are promoting sex by all means. The women have not been put on this planet for your supreme entertainment or pleasure. A woman is not an adjective. If you cannot respect a woman, you are nothing. Provocative material in films is nothing but a fantasy for million cinemagoers per day. Almost every movie has songs interspersed throughout the entire plot. Every song is not created the same, however, a special genre of songs, called ‘item songs’, is often included in huge blockbusters. Item songs, of late, have contained actresses wearing skimpy outfits and are characterised by skimpy clothing and suggestive choreography and lyrics. These songs are often played constantly on television and the radio and become nationwide sensations. Such item songs often boost the careers of the actresses who continue to star in these numbers, earning them the title of ‘item girls’. The terminology itself degrades these women below human beings to inanimate objects who are simply there for the pleasure of the viewer, presumably male. This deconstruction of women plays along the male gaze, viewing the female in parts rather than a whole. This plays on the notion of taking advantage of uneducated women for the use of pleasure. In the end, the question remains, what are we trying to project or get out of such things?
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