Ditching Item Numbers—An Overriding Urgency in Bollywood
Misogyny in Songs- 101
Item Songs are defined as musical numbers added to a film that have no relevance to the plot. Although dismissed as being one of the greatest methods of celebrating a woman’s sexuality, a majority of item numbers have no role other than objectifying women for commercial gain. The quandary lies in the very word “item” which represents the woman who is dancing for the male audience while simultaneously being groped by multiple men who take her to be a mere sex object— a piece of property they strongly feel entitled to.
This 70-year-old Bollywood tradition has been proven to have horrifying impacts on impressionable minds and should be regulated without further ado.
Evaluating the Situation
Item songs are ingrained within the very foundation of Hindi cinema. During mid 90s when movies centered around Indian nationhood, patriotism, anti-consumerism, and the glorification of tradition, item songs were essential contributors to the plot of films. The female lead in the song symbolized lust, greed and immoral temptations that the hero of the movie had to defeat in order to save the world and protect the conventional principles of Indian living.
Once materialism was no longer illicit, item numbers started creating a dichotomy between the virtuous woman and the sinful woman. They showcased a perfect contrast between good— the docile, domesticated and religious woman, and bad— bold, professional and eccentric dancer. After the wearing down of this idea, item songs couldn’t symbolize anything.
Unfortunately, this was not enough to make item songs a thing of the past. Exclusively in the last couple years, India has seen over a hundred sexist songs where the dancer is found lip-syncing to distressing lyrics. For instance, songs like Move Your Lakk, Tu Mere Agal Bagal Hai, Main Tera Boyfriend, and Cheez Badi from 2017-18 all reek of sexist entitlement and run along the same lines:
“Girl, if you wear that and move like that, why wouldn’t I feel like grinding you from the back? I’ll stalk you and harass you however, whenever, and wherever I want. But sweetheart, it’s a compliment.”
Gaandi Baat, a popular song which became a party anthem for India, comprises of lyrics which translate to:
I’ve been waiting patiently too long for you.
I’ve even played ‘nice guy’.
You’ve not payed any attention to me all this while, and I’ve had enough of this attitude…
You’re not listening to me, I’m going to hurt you now… Hurt you… Hurt you… (x4)
In these songs, the girl explicitly rejects the advances of the hero, saying NO multiple times, but he refuses to acknowledge her opinion; they propagate stalking and harassment and fundamentally express that every girl who first says ‘no’ will change her mind if you intimidate her some more. They end with the heroine falling for her stalker and propagate the idea that men need to keep trying and women enjoy casual street harassment.
Why Media Representation is Crucial
It is no secret that media has a profound impact on our social behaviors. According to the researches of Darnell Hunt, director of Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, “the more media you consume, the more likely it is that media ― almost like radiation ― builds up and the accumulated effect is to make you feel that what you’re seeing is somewhat normal.” Ana-Christina Ramón, assistant at the center says, “What you see often becomes a part of your memory and thus a part of your life experience. She further added, “There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume,” she explained, “you must somehow be unimportant.”
Media helps us understand our place in society and when young boys and girls are subjected to item numbers rooted in misogyny, the message is: This is right. This is normal. This is how things should be.
Artists like Karan Johar and Aamir Khan have addressed the issue and publicly apologized for including item numbers in their movies and/or participating in them. Johar was quoted saying, “I don’t think I would do it again. I have no problem with like a girl dancing, that’s not an item number. An item song is when she is objectified and when there are men lusting for her like ‘Chikni Chameli’. It’s never gonna happen in a Dharma Productions film and I will make sure of it.” The debate continues as renowned, new-age actors like Kangna Ranaut strongly believe in their toxicity while prominent item song dancers like Katrina Kaif disagree because they never felt objectified while performing the songs.
Indeed, it is the actor’s choice to participate in item numbers and they have no duty towards the public, item numbers are not made to purposely enhance gender discrimination or protect the patriarchy, and sexism in movies and songs alone cannot be held accountable for harassment and abuse in the real world. While differentiating fact from fiction is important, we cannot forget that music does reflect a society’s values and beliefs— objectification shouldn’t be one of them. It is necessary that we stop overlooking the underlying ideas in item songs because of their catchy and entertaining tunes.
Image Attribute: Pixabay