Item Numbers of Bollywood... which way is it heading?


"Item numbers" have been the big selling point for Bollywood films... majority of the commercial cinema feature at least one item number. But what is an item number and why is it popular is the quetion?

“item” numbers are designed as an escape from the storyline. A tool of distraction, a mechanism to make the film look more spectacular through costumes, locations and performance. It is a A ploy to showcase hypersexualised, glamorised, fetishized and eroticised imagery (Kishore, 2014. From Real to Reel- Folk Dances of India in Bollywood Cinema. Unesco Apnieve). According to Anjali Gera Roy “an item number is a dance sequence of raunchy movements and risqué lyrics with little relation to the plot line, which aspiring starlets use to debut in Bollywood.” (in Mehta and Pandharipande, 2011, p. 42)

While the term “item” is commonly used by urban Indian males in colloquial language, to refer to a “good looking girl” in a sexualised and derogatory manner, it also refers to something special and spectacular. Thus “item” numbers can be summed up as a special spectacular dance number featuring semi-clad girls dancing and gyrating in a sexualised manner.

The item numbers started with featuring scantily clad starlets and models, and gained immense popularity... prompted the big stars to endorse and appear in these song-dance sequences.

The item numbers are mostly not part of the narrative of the film... and is used as a promotional tool as a music video... often in the films it is used as an escape from the narrative... a visual treat, featuring 'eye candy' models or heroines... or an established star.

With the popularity of the singers such as YoYo Honey Singh and Baadshah, the item numbers are now featured as big party songs, where the focus is on holidays, boozing and of course dancing with scantily clad beauties... and in some cases a chance to flaunt the hero's six pack abs.

Sadly, while imitating and indegenising the western style hip hop music videos.. these song-dance sequences of Bollywood does not offer anything very creative or exception... they style which initially looked very interesting and appealing... now looks repetetive, the double entendre lyrics are now becoming more direct and sexist ... the party or the daaru (booze) songs are almost like clones, the models look the same... at times stale!

Of course the popularity of these item numbers is still growing, but then these song-dance videos are not being made as creatively as it could be. Majority of them fall within the same pattern that one has seen in the videos of Florida, Snoop Dog, Kanye West or other popular American/Western music videos. Hope Bollywood dance directors think something better than simply just dressing up the dancers in colourful clothes and using all kinds of fancy lights, fliters and editing techniques to make a quick song-dance sequence that has a very short shelf life.


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