Decoding Item Numbers Through The Lens Of Sociology

Posted on July 1, 2013 in Media, Society

By Sayendri Panchadhyayi:

The incorporation of ‘item’ numbers in movies has always believed to be a bonus or an indispensable component to ensure a successful movie. It is also considered as a launch pad for the aspiring starlets or making an established actress feature in ‘item’ numbers to spurt up the market value of the product. These songs with their suggestive lyrics and titillating choreography are a strategy to catapult the masses into the theaters. Every mainstream actress ranging from Sridevi to Vidya Balan have shown their versatility in appearing in ‘item’ numbers. However, for many actresses the word ‘item’ is derogatory and questions have been raised why these songs are not tagged as special appearances or guest appearances?


Another feature of item songs is that a group of women scantily clothed accompany the lead dancer. Although they play second fiddle to the lead, their presence is of vital importance to add colour to the entire performance. Nowadays, the trend is to hire dancers mostly from European and Latin American countries to ride on their international appeal. But the actual truth divulges the other side of the page. Indian women have to be presented as ‘pure’, ‘auspicious’ and divine figures hence they should be properly covered whereas fair-skinned ‘foreign’ women can be presented at the whims and fancy of the director. They can be made to wear anything under the sun because of these women’s supposedly loose morals.

It is the evidence of ‘peaceful coexistence’ of discrepancies. Idealization and Idol worship of women is a part of Indian culture. Women are supposed to submit to conformity. Here the conformity is suggestive of being ashamed of her physiology and hence there should always be a sincere attempt of being fully-clothed. However, the emergence of capitalism thrives on hefty consumption. Hence the word ‘item’ is significant. It is associated with consumption and the item numbers are targeted to appeal the voyeuristic nature that lies in every human. The backdrop of an item song with leering men, often subjected to substance abuse in the form of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, whistles, cat calls and claps is a manifestation of the definition of freedom amalgamated with entertainment. It is a visual satiation of the wishful thinking of the desires of a section of men. In an Item number the camera strategically dons the voyeur’s hat and the end result is at everyone’s disposal.

Another trend in item number is to set it at a rural backdrop. The lyrics of these songs are in your face coupled with regional languages, the ‘Item’ woman often sporting an itsy-bitsy choli. It sends out the message that there is a yearning for the countryside at the same time underlines an element of fantasy which is associated with the rural belles.

If one is to ratiocinate about male actors treading the same path as of their female counterparts then there is a rider. When male stars perform these item numbers, there are yet again women in their bare minimum whose presence becomes indispensable. Here the prowess of the male to swoon women off their feet adds to his machismo becoming a celebration of eternal male sexuality.