“I Am Way Too Sexy For You”: Tapping Erotic Capital

Posted on June 22, 2012 in Media and Culture

By Sanchita Khurana:

With its qawali-like rendition mixed with hip-hop dance beats, Sheila ki jawani, the super-hit number from the action-packed comedy thriller Tees Maar Khan, is surely a shift in musical taste. Right from the star-cast to the music to the dance moves to the lyrics- everything contributed to make this song a rage. Why I like it and pick it for discussion is because of the same reasons- the sizzling audio-visual, the unmatched craze it created and the many unread (possibly liberating) meanings it might connote.

Begin with noticing the old item-number obsession with names; because “My name is Sheila”, the rest of the panegyric about me will ensue. A point worth making is: Sheila’s exploding sex-appeal is not incidental to Katrina’s voluptuous figure, but a systematic aim at Indian re-sexualisation of voluptuousness. It is for the first time though, that some liberating potential, according to me, can be read in the typical self-encomium of the sensuous item girl. It is interesting to see how the woman in the song refuses to be “handed” over to the (supposed) guy listening to her. A psychoanalytic perspective would read signs of auto-eroticism in her constant lilting of “ab dil karta hai haule haule se main toh khud ko gale lagaun”. Not just this; she has refused to be attained by any man not only because she is “too sexy” for them but also because they are “silly” (does it conjecture that it is not just erotic capital that an item girl can pride herself on but much more?).

Even as this song denies male access to Sheila’s body, it at the same time constantly measures it through male standards (“I’m way too sexy for you”). The rebellious item girl who is initially seen celebrating her sexuality by not needing any (male) person, finally wants to barter it (much like the tradition of item girl) for commercial uses just as the sexy body and its claims are used by the competition-struck movie producers as the single point of sale for the movie they (correctly) can predict is going to be forgotten to the song’s popularity. Material allurements are easily able to make her change her rhetoric about how the world is crazy for her love into how she is now crazy for a man’s love. Noticeable is the lyricist Vishal Dadlani’s own ironic presence in the video, speaking a lot of how the obsessive male imagination can do nothing but write of arousing female tactics aimed only at male sexuality, and then consume it for personal (and public) use. Doesn’t the song then become a meta-textual comment on itself? Homo-erotic potential is also laid face down in this resignation to heterosexual normativity and to acknowledgement of the female body as something exchangeable for commercial/ material luxury.

It is important though is to recognise the difference between selling her body sexually, which would be sex work and selling her body sensually, which is the idea behind Erotic Capitalism. I find it difficult to ignore her immense awareness of the erotic capital that she possesses (“I know you want it but you’re never gonna get it”). Her worth keeps increasing due to this claim of inaccessibility to a man without paisa, gaadi, mehenga ghar. Making use of this capital, she knows she can get a man whose pockets are full. Again, an interesting self-reference to the song’s own genre (the item number) can be seen within the lyrics. As long as she is accessible, she is the usual item girl. As soon as she is made inaccessible, unlike maybe Munni from “Munni badnaam hui” who has rather become badnaam and over-popular to gain favour, Sheila is worth more. She is now different from the typical item girl and acknowledges where the tact of commercialism lies, in going unpopular from popular. This one is a smart one knowing her demand-supply charts! I see it as a funny corollary then that Sheila’s anglicised rhetoric and touch-me-not attitude beat the earthy, rather directly inviting Munni even in the item music market.

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