A fellow Bollywood-buff relative of mine once commented, “Katrina Kaif will never get respect.”
I asked her, “Why so?”
“Because she does these cheap item songs and cannot act!” She further added, “Kangana…She has my respect.”
I wondered what was so wrong in dancing item songs, and besides, who said Katrina could not act? Agreed, she is a limited actor, but there are so many other actors like her in the industry.
Why are successful male A-lister actors not accused of being non-actors or limited actors? Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan; take a pick of any ‘non-actor’ or ‘limited actor’. Also, why aren’t male lead actors accused of mouthing unmentionables and dancing to obscenity onscreen?
A few months ago, I saw an online petition to ban item songs and girls in the industry. I disagreed with the line of thought. I am a feminist, and I support item girls and their choice to do item songs. Here’s why!
I really thought we were past the “victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming” phase in 2019. But it looks like we haven’t much-progressed from our ancestors’ times. I’m talking about the rigid mindset.
You know those days when there was the all-white goody “Miss: Two shoes” heroine and the all-black slutty, lusty, vampy cabaret dancer. The one who commanded our respect was clearly the former, and the latter deserved our eye-fuck.
Let’s take a case in point!
I thought Helen was just as phenomenal in her 4 min appearance in the “Mehbooba” song, as Hema Malini was, in her full-fledged role as Basanti. In my eyes, they were equals. ‘Mehbooba’ and ‘Basanti’ are iconic even today and will continue to be so thanks to the veteran legends.
It’s just our mental block, skewed morality, or mindset, that prevent us from seeing two talented women in their own right, who entertain us, in different ways. Let’s say we had a ban on item songs back then. We would never have a Helen, Aruna Irani, Bindu, Jayshree T, and the likes?
Again, there’s a catch — actresses with an Indian classical dance background earned respect, like Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, Madhuri Dixit. Even if they gyrated to “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hain”, we didn’t flinch, because they were the good women. The ‘Sanskaari’ women. Not the bold, skimpily clad, Western-influenced cabaret dancers.
Closer to real life, a woman showing off her mid-riff is perfectly acceptable if she’s clad in a saree. But it’s downright vulgar if she’s dressed in a crop top and jeans. Slowly, the lines became blurred, when we had mainstream actresses wearing their sexuality on their sleeves, and dancing suggestively onscreen.
Mumtaz, Padma Khanna, Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi, and the trend continues to this day, with Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, and of course, Katrina Kaif.
Bollywood is primarily an entertainment industry. Acting is one of the forms of entertainment apart from music, dance, etc. And there’s enough room for all kinds of entertainers.
There’s room for a Vidya Balan known for her solid acting skills, a Jacqueline Fernandez for her gravity-defying dancing skills, a Bipasha Babu who’s made a career solely based on her sex-appeal, or anyone who can entertain like only they can. It’s a democratic stage, where there’s enough place under the sun in the film industry, for all kinds of entertainers. A Marilyn Monroe is just as iconic as a Julie Andrews. You get the drift, right?
So, if an actress whose value offering is not acting, but her looks, body, or dance, then why shouldn’t she have the right to pursue a career in the field of entertainment?
Yes, item songs cater to the male gaze. But, they are also made with consent by some female actors. Not all women are coerced into the profession. Sunny Leone is the perfect example of an agency. She made a conscious choice to make a career out of catering to the male gaze. It’s ironic when some of us hail her agency while demanding a ban on item girls, and songs, in the same breath.
Sex-appeal is a given when it comes to item songs. Sunny Leone or Katrina Kaif were non-dancers when they entered the Hindi film industry, but learned it along the way. In my opinion, it’s their sex-appeal and acquired dancing skills that are keeping them in the industry so far.
Not all item-girls are cut from the same cloth. There are self-taught dance enthusiasts like Nora Fatehi, who’s currently churning out one hit item song after the other.
Talking of Nora Fatehi, I find her incredibly intelligent, and multi-talented. The lady can dance, sing, act funny, and is super witty. Wit is a sign of intelligence. Jayalalithaa could make an excellent case-study on “The Myths and Facts of Item Girls”. She’s proof that there’s more to glamour girls than what meets the eye. Glamour dolls can have grey matter too and be astute to rule an entire state. Sunny Leone is a savvy entrepreneur with a clear head for business.
Here are some possible solutions that will help the cause of the much-maligned female artistes.
Let’s start with the derogatory word ‘item-girl’. When there are no item-boys, there are no item-girls as well. The word should be banned. Period. None of the women are items or girls. They are bonafide entertainers.
We would never have a Sophia Loren, Shakira or Jennifer Lopez in the world if we banned dancing divas or glamour dolls in showbiz.
It’s hypocrisy when the Censor Board initially banned ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ for obscenity. But it has no objections whatsoever with the unmentionable lyrics equating women’s body parts to Tandoori Murgi that should be consumed with alcohol. Yes, I’m talking about you, ‘Fevicol Se’ song from Dabangg 2.
I don’t know which woman in her senses (right or wrong) would think and say the following words”
“Main to tandoori haye
Main to tandoori murgi hu yaar
Gatka le saiyyan alcohol se ok!”
I mean, W@$! This is nothing but a sick figment of the male fantasy. Songs like “Fevicol Se” are a corrupted version of the feminine desire. Not movies like ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ which show the reality of the female sexual desire.
Maybe Kangana understands the audience’s pulse all too well and never ventured into item songs, because clearly, she wants respect in her profession. I don’t blame her.
I blame the double standards of us, the audience, and the film industry, which thrives and feeds off these item girls. While we ogle and enjoy their onscreen antics, the producers make their profits but not before dismissing these dancing women as items. It’s so wrong and unfair. The Censor Board should set an example and ditch its hypocrisy and play fair.
Instead, let’s encourage movies like Manmarziyaan, that take into account the female perspective, and not shame movies like ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ or ‘Fire’ for telling stories of the voiceless.
Let’s stop slut-shaming our women in entertainment. Let them breathe, and be as they wish to be – whether it’s oozing sensuality, riding up the poles, or shaking their bellies. If that’s what they want to do with their lives, who are we to disapprove of?
No coercion should be tolerated. Movements like the #MeToo campaign should be encouraged and implemented in the system so that every individual feels and is safe. Consent is key.
It’s time to stop giving a step-motherly treatment to the dancers in the entertainment industry. When we can give awards for the best female actor and singer, then why not for the best female dancer?