It’s a week of contrasts at the Bollywood box office. While Kai Po Che’s heartfelt composition, Suljha denge uljhe rishton ka manjha (We will disentangle the knotted spool of relationships), has been soothing many a frayed nerve, Zilla Ghaziabad has been drumming up a noisy crescendo on the idiot box with the latest mother of all item numbers. Geeta Basra calls Main Ghaziabad ki Rani hoon a “dhinchak” song and admits she enjoyed doing the “hot and sexy” bump ‘n’ grind routine.
So what does this mean? Basically, that it’s goodbye to the unbridled use of item numbers in whipping up curiosity for a forthcoming film on TV. This opens up several other questions: if they don’t serve their marketing purpose, will the producers become more careful and scale back on item songs? And will the army of item girls—from Rakhi Sawant, Sherlyn Chopra to Sambhavana Seth, for whom the pinnacle of success, post the rigorous gyrations, was a confirmed seat and big money in the Big Boss TV series—now join the jobless millions?
Item song as USP Posters of these two 1935 films boasted of song and dance
But many in the trade believe that films are soft targets, especially in the light of the horrifying Delhi rape. They say the songs have become an easy target for society’s own latent ills. “If you can’t correct things for real, then you try and set them right in the virtual world. You play to the mob and protect middle-class anxieties,” says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. “These harm-to-women arguments offered by industry-bashers rest on mere assumptions. Where do these assumptions come from and are they true? Where is the credible evidence to prove anything?”
Malaika does an Anarkali in Housefull2
No wonder many are also questioning it as a kneejerk, piecemeal reaction. A consistent engagement, debate and discussion have been found lacking. “Things can’t be done in such fits and spurts,” says Akhila Sivadas of the Centre for Advocacy and Research. “A kind of structure has to evolve through consensus, and policies have to be consistently framed over time.” There is a momentary outcry, but nothing gets crystallised or resolved. Lyricist Javed Akhtar wants to know something more basic: how is the CBFC defining an item song? “What are we talking of here? Whatever is crude, vulgar and obscene should be restricted. What is exuberant should not be a problem. This could apply to any dialogue or song. Why pick on item numbers? This is oversimplification.”
Not glued to TV Kareena extolling Fevicol virtues in Dabangg 2
Rest assured, however, item numbers are not going out in a hurry. Last heard, Priyanka Chopra was getting set for her maiden item number, Babli badmaash hai, for Shootout at Wadala, with the precondition that it would have ‘tasteful’ lyrics. Rapper Honey Singh, meanwhile, is back with a self-referential, mocking song, blasting on the radio now which obliquely captures the “plight” of item numbers: “Inna raula rappa kyun paate ho, Gande gaane kyun gaate ho; Koi yo yo ko samjhalo, Nahi toh gharan de kunde la lao....” Either the yo yos have to stop singing the “dirty songs” or we’ll have to shut our doors to these songs. It’s between the creators and the consumers. But between them sits the censor board, a bit awkwardly.
Sheila ki to Halkat Jawani: Set Top Baulks
From Gulzar’s poetry to the depth of inanity, the item number spans a broad spectrum. Where do you put the stop?
*All English translations very loose
Apropos your cover story Bawdy Guards (Mar 4), targeting item songs—invariably top of the popularity charts—is a most undemocratic, neo-puritan act. Unlike earlier days, today’s heroines are dying to do these numbers. In fact, to some extent, it is a happy sign of the female sexual liberation rocking India. Banning these songs will not change the morality or intentions of lecherous men—or banish the male gaze. That said, gender sensitisation could make for a more even-handed approach to sexuality. But till then, let Munni and Sheela sizzle on our screens. The moral police can always relearn the art of switching channels.
Nandini Dutta, Delhi
Under the guise of creativity, aesthetics and demands of the script, Hindi movies have degenerated vastly. Be it the dialogues, lyrics, body movements, camera angles or clothes (or the lack of them), they are nothing short of obscene. Films set trends and have a tremendous impact on audiences, especially the younger generation. Maybe we can’t indict filmmakers for propagating sex crimes but they certainly have to share the responsibility for our social/moral values being in tatters.
Amrita Muttoo, Mumbai
Sudhir Mishra’s comment says it all, ‘If we accept this once, it won’t end.’ We can't let the state take over our lives, I don’t want it to tell me what to watch, wear, say, read or write.
Arun M., Bangalore
However much you may argue otherwise, no one can deny that item songs do commodify women, making them objects of lust and desire.
Shyamal Barua, Calcutta
Here in Malaysia, we get only Zee TV and two Hindi movies on national TV each week. When my six-year-old son, after watching item numbers on TV, replicates the pelvic thrusts, I do not feel comfortable. I get the same feeling when I see 10-year-old girls gyrating to these numbers.
P. Hedaoo, Kuala Lumpur
Wasn’t it Katrina Kaif who said there should be a national award for item numbers?
Mahesh Kapasi, Delhi
If not a total ban, item numbers on TV should at least start with a ‘green warning’, something which has been there for Hollywood movies for decades. And it should be at least a five-second warning, giving the viewer ample time to switch channels. If they continue to watch, they have at least made a conscious choice. As things stand right now, by the time we get the remote primed, the half-naked heroine and her cohorts have bolted the barn.
Puneet S., Atlanta
About time these flesh merchants were told to shut shop.
Pradip Singh, Stafford, UK
Why this hungama? Every rainbow has a curve.
Manish B. , Calcutta
Apropos the Outlook story on censorship of item numbers (Bawdy Guards, Mar 4), why did the magazine have a still of Munni badnaam hui on its cover where the item girl flaunts her zandu-balmed body while surrounded by lustful male gaze? Was this an attempt to sell the magazine? After all, Munni’s badnaami does have an effect.
Targetting item songs, which are on top of the popularity charts, is the most undemocratic act of the neo-puritans. Most popular heroines, not vamps of yester years, are seen dancing to these numbers happily. To a great extent, these numbers are somewhat crude expessions of female sexual liberation that is now rocking India. Banning these songs will not change the morality or taste of the lecherous men, but gender sensitization will gradually make these songs irrelevant in future.Till that time let Munni and Sheela sizzle on big and small screens while the moral police brigade learn to use the remote button to switch channels.
The most important question:
Is it art imitating life or vice versa ?
Comment 16, illustrates beautifully the complete lack of reason that the censorship loving dolts possess - //The fact that actor likes the actress gives him the license to harass and pester her for attention and that pestering will eventually make her like and love the actor so in effect the ‘no’ of a girl is actually ‘yes’. All this sends a very strong message to Indian masses which needs to change.//
Really? A vast majority of the men watching are NOT taking home that message. Explain to me how you would ignore or oppose canadians, indians, americans, brits who point out that a woman's clothes lead to rape. You make their point. An escapist situation in a hindu movie leads to rape like any sexy pair of clothes leads to rape. You are a morally confused thick elitist git that thinks a law can cure anything.
//And about letting people policing themselves to watch what they want. Surely sitting in a different county it is easy to say. But people here in India cannot police themselves in traffic on the road forget their maturity for content in movies or TV. Watch any traffic signal shut down and the entire traffic goes for a toss. Every car from all sides is in the middle of the intersection and a traffic “jam” occurs in less than a few seconds.//
Which makes the anti censorship point. When a law as important as the traffic law, perhaps the most imp laws, aren't necessarily respected in some parts of India(there are some exceptions), why would you expect the other laws to work fine, esp a law as vague as the censorship law?
This iwll only be a tool in the hands of the already powerful state to harass people who dissent. Anything and everything that is against their political interest, the netas will ban.
I wonder what will happen to you when you discover porn.
Maybe you are the right person to explain why females are always worshipped like Goddesses in Indian films.
To all who want believe that movies do not play a role in debasing the society need to be more truthful to themselves and others.
“There are films in which romantic wooing has been replaced by a kind of harassment of the heroine. The heroes of these films could be considered stalkers in some civil societies. Now imagine that this actor is the role model to millions.. wouldn’t his fans think this behaviour is okay? Now imagine that this actress is a role model to millions... what message does it send to women across the country?”
These are the words of actor-director Farhan Akhtar. Read more in Readers Digest February 2003 edition and all will agree that Indian movies do play a role in propagating that harassing women is okay and in the end the actress finally gives in and will start to like and love the hero. In the same article an astounding figure is given that old-time villain Ranjeet did close to 100 rape scenes and film fraternity expects that audience will not to be influenced by it.
The fact that actor likes the actress gives him the license to harass and pester her for attention and that pestering will eventually make her like and love the actor so in effect the ‘no’ of a girl is actually ‘yes’. All this sends a very strong message to Indian masses which needs to change. It is good qualities/ virtue/ good manners that are liked by all and that to be like by the other person, one needs to present their virtues rather than pester for attention. We also need to propagate the need to respect ‘no’ of the any person means ‘no’ – be it a woman or a man, of any social standing or status.
And about letting people policing themselves to watch what they want. Surely sitting in a different county it is easy to say. But people here in India cannot police themselves in traffic on the road forget their maturity for content in movies or TV. Watch any traffic signal shut down and the entire traffic goes for a toss. Every car from all sides is in the middle of the intersection and a traffic “jam” occurs in less than a few seconds.
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