Geeta Basra, who is just two films old and is doing an item number called Ghaziabad ki Rani, says, “Item numbers are something which have always been there in the industry, so I don’t think it is a new trend.” But, the audience never objects to a skimpily dressed damsel gyrating to cheesy lyrics, not to forget the cheesy titles too. At times, the girls garner more popularity than the lead actresses. Why else would you hear of a lead actress like Vidya Balan donning a traditionally sexy nauvari for an item number in the upcoming film, Ferrari ki Sawari? The impact is huge. Even if the story is not up to the mark, the audience turns up for the song. It is a win-win situation for the actresses as well as the filmmakers.
Many of the leading ladies today don’t mind doing an item number to be a part of the rat race. Earlier, there were ‘item girls’ for raunchy song sequences but now, they are conveniently being replaced by the lead actresses themselves. Actresses create a tempting semblance, a popular face with seductive expressions, easily attracting the audiences, especially their male fan following. The trend of ‘item numbers’ began with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and her song Kajra Re in Bunty aur Babli, way back in 2005. The song became an instant hit. While that was just the beginning, the list just got meatier year after year, with actresses like Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor and Deepika Padukone joining the league of item girls. These leading ladies did not mind getting in the groove and shedding clothes, along with some weight, to make for sexy item girls.
Lip syncing catchy lyrics, cheesy names, donning revealing outfits and dancing to sleazy moves, item girls are here to stay. They have the audience dance their way to the theatres just for the song, much like Silk did in The Dirty Picture. Here, one cannot miss but mention the tussle between the seductive Malaika Arora’s Munni Badnaam Hui (Dabanng) and sizzling Katrina Kaif’s Sheila Ki Jawani (Tees Maar Khan). While the beauties tugged it out with might, even though Tees Maar Khan, as a film, bombed at the box-office, it created enough noise to bump the reigning Munni out of the block. The success of these two songs gave courage to many other films to have their own item numbers. While some were profitable, others just failed to connect with the masses and recreate the magic. By the time Mallika Sherawat’s Razia in Thank You and Veena Mallik’s Channo in Gali Gali Chor Hai were out this year, people had already begun suffocating on an overdose of item numbers.
Despite the on and off popularity of item numbers, they still serve as perfect stepping stones to Bollywood. For instance, the Kingfisher Calendar girl, Nathalia Kaur, a Brazilian model, is now making her debut with Ram Gopal Verma’s film, Andam, starring RaNa Daggubati. However, her introduction to the industry was through an item song in another Ram Gopal Verma film, Department. When asked why she chose the item number, Nathalia says, “The song is very significant and greatly composed. It is very well put in the film and is followed by the climax of the film. It is not just about my clothes or sexiness; it is about the expressiveness of my character, Cheeni. She is strong, scary and sensual at the same time.” She further justifies, “We thought it would be a good idea to show my skills and expressions through my dance. It would be good for my career. Not everyone can do it. I was taught various expressions for the song and I really liked it. I love such characters and that’s the reason I chose to do this song.” Nathalia will also be doing the Telugu remake of Munni Badnaam Hui. Even Italian beauty Maryam Zakaria made her entry into Bollywood with Agent Vinod’s mujra song, Dil Mera Muft Ka alongside Kareena Kapoor.
In the last two years, names like Munni, Sheila, Razia, Dhanno, Jalebi bai, Chammak Challo, Chikni Chameli and Shalu have kept people captivated. While the sane may cringe at the names, the actresses take pride in being known by them, since for them, it spells success with great recall value. It sometimes goes a tad too far in real life, a nuisance for the namesakes. There was news of two women by the names Sheila and Munni who had to go through embarrassing ordeals after the popularity of the item numbers.
In a recent interview, Kareena Kapoor objected to calling these songs item numbers, stating that the tag makes it sound derogatory, wondering why a song cannot be called a normal song instead. “Item songs are the USP of our industry. If a song is well-shot, catchy and appreciated then people want to come and watch it on the big screen. To be a part of numbers like these and to show that side of me is something I always wanted to do. I absolutely love dancing and it was a fantastic experience,” says Geeta Basra, who is all set to sizzle with Sanjay Dutt in the movie Zilla Ghaziabad.
However, it’s not only about the song and dance as it is made out to be. Actresses often need to put in extra effort while preparing for an item song. To make an appeal and grab attention, they have to often indulge in a lot of physical training. They also have to master a particular dance style to get their steps right.
Anjana Sukhani, who has done films like Sunday, De Taali and Golmaal Returns, is also shooting an item song for Priyadarshan’s forthcoming film, Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal, which is supposed to be a sequel of his earlier hit, Malamaal Weekly. She says, “We definitely have to put in a lot of training before the shoot. In fact, more hard work is put in for an item song. There are weeks of hard work that goes into it. But, it is definitely worth it.” She goes on to say that because the number of shows and events increase if the song is a hit, it gives a boost to the film financially too.
Over the years, the trend has definitely changed. Maryam says, “When I came to India, I heard there were not so many item songs in Bollywood. But now, I think it’s accepted. People like it, these songs highlight the movie. Also, every song is different from the other. People come into the theatres to see the song so I think item numbers are important and there is no overdose.” Maryam has also done an item number in the Akshay Kumar starrer, Rowdy Rathore. It has been choreographed by eminent dancer Prabhudeva, the director of the film. Besides this, she is also doing films down south.
There may be differing views on whether item songs work on not. But we guess, everything passes off in the name of entertainment. Well, we are not complaining.
Item girls have the audience dance their way to the theatres just for the song, much like Silk did in The Dirty Picture.
“We definitely have to put in a lot of training before the shoot. In fact, more hard work is put in for an item song. There are weeks of hard work that goes into it. But, it is definitely worth it.” —Anjana Sukhani
By Riddhi Jadhav