We always hope, against hope, that young women in our films will at some point reflect in some small measure the lives of women outside the screen. Really long strides have been taken in urban areas and even in villages, small steps towards progress have been made. It’s is so disappointing to see that TV has reduced the contemporary woman to kitchen drudge and petty vamp, while cinema has put the item girl on a pedestal, to the extent that the ‘item’ has become the USP of many a film.
It’s not like the old days, when the heroines were covered up and chaste, so Cuckoo, Helen, Faryal, Madhumati or Padma Khanna had to be brought in to do the sexy number. The term item girl was coined to describe the scantily clad dancer who served no purpose in a film except to do a come-hither kind of dance, ostensibly to attract males to the cinema hall.
Now, leading ladies are clamouring to do item numbers for the publicity they get—they are starving and slogging to get those bikini bodies which they can flaunt in strips of fabric that can’t even be called costumes.
The item girl has no name (the names in the songs like Munni, Sheila, Jalebibai, Chammak Challo, Chikni Chameli are surely fictitious), no background and no purpose except to look ‘hot’, and be part of the film’s promotion so that audiences are tempted to buy tickets.
It can only be called stupidity (since it’s beyond frivolity), that the media spends an inordinate amount of time and space on these vacuous dancers with empty eyes and glossy red pouts, and whips up artificial polls and controversies on which item girl is hotter.
Some item numbers of the past like Khallas, Babuji, Dilli Ki Sardi may have been forgotten, because they were just embellishments in forgettable films, performed by women who did not make it to performance-based roles. Maybe Lara Dutta, Urmila Matondkar and Sushmita Sen did, Malaika Arora and Rakhee Sawant did not. Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu, Deepika Padukone did item numbers in spite of being A-listers.
There is a certain desperation in the way today’s female stars like Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone and Mallika Sherawat are allowing themselves to be exploited just to turn their films into talking points for a while. If the film succeeds, the item number is worth it (as in Dabangg), if not, then it’s a waste (Tees Maar Khan) and ends up devaluing the actress who does it, even in this ‘you got it so flaunt it’ age.
What’s worse is what spills off the screen into real life, where some top actress, get huge sums of money to gyrate to item songs at film awards functions, private parties and New Year’s Eve bashes, and would perhaps take offence if they were called cabaret dancers. The term is obsolete, but you get the point.