Bollywood: If You Wanna be Woke, DITCH the Item Song

[Photo Source: Screenshot/Maddock Films]

Recently, there has been this tidal wave of Bollywood movies with a particular brand of feminism: “Pink,” with its message on consent (though, ironic, considering many of India’s colleges and school lack comprehensive and compulsory consent classes), “Lipstick Under My Burqa,” a movie promoting sexual freedom, and “Veere Di Wedding,” a perhaps superficial, neoliberal but slightly sex-positive film – I could go on, but the point is that the Hindi film industry is slowly, but steadily shifting towards a brand of feminism that combines fighting against the overall disenfranchisement of Indian women.

But has it been effective? I’m not so sure.

My dad LOVES watching Bollywood movies when they first come out – I’m not even sure whether he actually loves watching the movie itself, but if it’s a first day and mind you, the first show viewing, we’re going. So, you’ll probably see me sweating and rushing to the theatre in my drab office clothes on a Friday evening, more excited for the nachos with the sticky, banana yellow cheese sauce rather than the actual movie itself.

Last week, we went to watch “Stree,” a comedy-horror film based on the folk legend Nale Ba. Truthfully speaking, the film was hilarious, filled with excellent acting and effective quips. Among the laughter, there were also times where I was silently squirming in my seat because of the recurring allusions to sex and I was sitting RIGHT NEXT to my parents (I’m pretty confident that most, actually, all brown kids can relate to this).

For example, everyone in the charming town of Chanderi referred to sex as “doing friendship.” As embarrassed as I was, a silver lining was how the film showed the normalcy of having sex, reminding the audience, the conservative aunties and uncles that sex, was, in fact, a normal, primal process and pretty much the reason the aunties and uncles were there in the theatre, existing.

[Photo Source: Screenshot/Maddock Films]
The film’s premise was about a ghost named Stree, who haunts and abducts the town’s men during a festival period, for revenge. Stree’s vengeance stemmed from the townsfolk cruelly murdering her and her lover, a man who apparently loved her for her soul, but not her body – unlike the other men of the town. Hence, every door in the town is painted in lurid red, saying “O Stree, come tomorrow.”

*Spoiler alert*

After a series of comedic and rather horrifying events, the film concludes with the idea that not only should women be respected no matter what their profession is, but it also shows that women are as powerful as men (hence, indirectly nullifying the overarching misogynistic concept of Rakhi).

[Photo Source: Maddock Films]
The movie ends with a pan of the doors, which now read, in the same startling red: “O Stree, protect us.”

Overall, the movie was great – the message while a bit indirect, was effective, especially in the current climate for today’s Indian women. But, there was a fatal flaw, actually two fatal flaws, in the movie that diminish its entire message.

Oh, why oh why?! Why must a Bollywood movie always have the dreaded item song?

What is the point of hypersexualizing the female body for male privilege, in a country that is already ravaged with such potent misogyny? My blood boiled when the dance sequence started, a scantily clad woman swaying her hips, while semi-drunk men surround her, wolf whistling, swooning and leering at her.

I find it ridiculous that producers, actors, directors and production company of “Stree” somehow didn’t think, “Oh! Perhaps an item song will be slightly, ever so slightly hypocritical considering our film is about empowerment!”

[via Giphy]
Watching shots of her fair and lovely polished, hourglass kamar (hips in Hindi), seductively moving with the music reinstates the fact that Bollywood doesn’t understand how dangerous item songs are. The item song substantiates the feeling that women are only here to please men. That women who dress provocatively and move sensually are sluts and whores. That they deserve to listen to unwarranted catcalling and harassment. That they deserve to be sexually abused because “they asked for it.” That a man deserves the body of women, whenever and wherever.

The item song is not sexually empowering.

The item song does not have any purpose except for strengthening the pillars of patriarchy.

The item song is not okay.

It is important for actors and actresses, who are so-called feminists, to stipulate in their contract that item songs are not okay.

Today, India is the most unsafe place for women. This is not okay.

Unfortunately or fortunately, Bollywood impacts a lot of Indian culture today. If it wants to positively impact Indian culture, items songs are not the best way to do so.

By Antara Dasgupta

Antara Dasgupta is an angsty intersectional feminist, recent BSc Chemistry Graduate from King’s College London and currently, an Associate at … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›