Bollywood Objectifies Men As Much As Women, Then Why The Selective Outrage?

Posted on August 28, 2014 in Culture-Vulture, Masculinity, Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Taboos

By Maitri Shah:

I was flipping through music channels the other day, and found that 7 out of 8 were playing what in Bollywood is called an ‘Item Number’. An Item Number is a song that often has nothing to do with context to storyline (which might also be true for most mainstream Bollywood music), often features a sexy, skimpily clad woman, has a catchy, dance-able tune and raunchy lyrics.

item numbers in bollywood

Item numbers are crowd pullers, and while these once were solely restricted to and performed by starlets, today, you have top heroines vying for them. The reason being, that sometimes, these item numbers eclipse the movie in terms of popularity. ‘Sheila ki Jawani’ being a prime example in today’s times. While Item Numbers are now widely sought after and a huge amount of money goes into creating a blockbuster tune, they still haven’t found unanimous favour among the audience.

A lot of discussion has taken place centered around how these item numbers sexualize and objectify women. How they’re a bad influence on young minds. How they set absurdly unrealistic standards for average women.

‘Why do you need them?’ Is a question often heard. ‘Why do women have to demean themselves by being fodder for a man’s wet dream?’ Is a question that has been subject to many animated discussions. But I find, that often during this discourse, we fail to acknowledge the fact that men too are objectified in our industry, if not equally, then substantially enough to have a discussion. The difference is that both forms of objectification are perceived and received in dissimilar ways.

So, when a Katrina Kaif does a ‘Chikni Chameli’, her pelvic thrusts are put up for debate by some people, but when a John Abraham steps out in tight fitting, ‘barely leaving anything to imagination’ trunks, and seductively tugs at them, you hear a collective swoon often from the same womenfolk who criticise female item numbers. And that is something that irks me even more. The fact that most of these discussions are spearheaded by women who show appalling disparity in the way they treat the subject.

Either you need to hold both men and women to the same standards of scrutiny, or else you need to just take it easy, and shut up.

It isn’t fair to question a woman’s integrity if she decides to put on a skimpy outfit and gyrate to a sexy beat, if your eyes are glued to the television screen when Ranveer Singh flexes his chiselled, waxed body and struts around dancing like a peacock. Also, if a female item number is demeaning to women, then isn’t using and projecting men as eye candy equally demeaning to men? Why is no one taking up their cause?

Personally, I like most of them. They’re fun, sassy and peppy. I also think it takes immense amount of guts as a man or a woman to put on suggestive clothing and groove like no one’s watching when you know that millions are, and will analyse your every move. I’m not naive enough to be swayed into thinking that the image projected by these men and women is in any way an indication of how ‘real’ men and women behave, or should behave. I’m mature enough to see it for what it is – entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

Film is the most powerful art form there is. That is because it combines all mediums together in a way that utilizes their collective ability to captivate the audience. It’s healthy to have a dialogue around them, but we need to not lose objectivity when doing so. Also, it’s important to remind ourselves that movies aren’t, and don’t have to be, custodians of our collective morality. The only thing they owe to the audience is sincerity and loyalty while making the film. And as an audience, you have the right to watch it or give it a miss.

Another thing to remember is that the society isn’t a reflection of the movies. Movies are a reflection of our society. So, if you are perturbed by the ‘worsening morals’ at the cinema hall, maybe you need to take a look around and you’ll realize that reality has taken a far more dystopian hue.