(DISCLAIMER: Content in this post is inappropriate for audience under 18 years of age)
As I was spending my evening watching TV, my maid’s snide comment caught my attention “Aajkal toh TV khole main bhi Saram aati hain! Yeh bada bad heroin log pura kapda utarti hain aur nachti hain” (translate: these days I feel ashamed even turning the TV on. These top actresses take their clothes off and dance on screen). She was commenting on Priyanka Chopra’s (warmly known as Pee-Cee) various avatars of “item girl” in the upcoming movie Ram Leela, and her recent movies Zanjeer and Shootout at Wadala. Though I corrected her by saying it’s Pee-Cee’s body, it’s a free country and Pee-Cee should wear what she wants, her remark made me think about two different versions of a woman’s image that are being thrust in our faces everyday!
Take a look at any television show, that portrays an ideal Indian woman to be modest, family oriented species. In fact, they go over broad by showing any modern woman as a vamp of the family. Then we get to see our leading A-league successful heroines of Bollywood (Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif) who have redefined their role as independent, strong-willed entrepreneurs, entertainers and business savvy go-getters! More than their acting skills,they are increasingly known for their amazing bodies, their item numbers, and their sexiness, and have used this sensational image to their advantage.
But have they gone too far? Is the money involved in building their brand, not only reducing them to mere dancing queens, but is it also regressing the feminist movement in India?
Most TV channels and news outlets are calling Pee-Cee’s Ram Leela song a sizzling work of art that will put her on the much deserved, revered and sought-after “Item-Queen” pedestal. What’s a National Award winning A-list actress’s ambition to be known as an “Item-Queen” you might ask? Why is it that from Kareena Kapoor – who is known for her brilliant innate acting abilities, to Katrina – who is known for her work ethics and integrity, feel the need to be referred to as “Tanduri Murgi” (translate: a chicken breast / leg what-have-you) and “Chikni Chameli” (Chikni is a derogatory term used for a girl with a smooth body; Chameli is the jasmine flower)?
Each of these songs not only define a woman’s anatomy in descriptive ways, but the overtly sexual dance moves add fuel to fire. Vulgar is too tame a word to describe the moves, the songs are borderline pornographic. The girls are seeing gyrating with a pack of 30-40 men, who oogle at their ample cleavage, touching their bodies, toned legs and bare waist. Again I wonder why A-list actresses who are youth-icons, inspiration for liberated women, present themselves as mere sexual objects to entice men by stripping to the bare minimum.
Before I am told about women’s liberation, women’s rights and women’s ownership of her own body, I would like to state that my interpretation of feminism and women’s liberation does not lie in endorsing a woman gyrating semi-naked offering herself to men who lecherously follow her around the silver-screen. And yes, I also take issue with rappers (and other artists) projecting women as bitches they wanna tame and teach a thing or two about love-making!
Firstly, Priyanka, Katrina and Kareena have every right to wear a skimpy choli and romp around, but we the audiences also have the right to wonder why such songs are not rated “Adult”. At minimum, is there any rating system that says, these songs are not appropriate for children under 18? Is the censor board sleeping, or they too are too cool to care like the rest of Indian institutions (besides the Hon. Supreme Court of course)? At least I would hope that an adult audience might have some ability to discern trashy entertainment from real life examples of women.
The degradation of women doesn’t just stop at skimpy clothes, or gyrations, but at the trashy, regressive, double-meaning lyrics. Men ask Pinky, played by Priyanka in the movie Zanjeer, “Bol bol raani kya chahiye, Bungalow chahiye ya car chahiye” (translate: what do you want, a bungalow or a car). To this Pinky replies “Cash chahiye mujhe cash chahiye, Paisa phenk tamasha dekh, Naachegi Pinky full to late” (translate: I want money, money. Throw money at me and watch my drama, I am going to dance all night). Further, Pinky says she does not belong to those in Delhi or Mumbai, but to those who can show her money! These lines are not suggestive; they are in-your-face! Is Pinky a prostitute? Not according to the movie; she’s apparently an educated Non-Resident Indian. Even if she was a prostitute, is every prostitute’s mission is to gouge money from her clients and present herself if she’s shown money? Another song from Zanjeer caught my attention, where Priyanka she holds the mouth of Ram Charan’s pistol…in yes, her mouth. Need I say more?
Before Priyanka fans tell us me I am biased, we take strong issue with Kareena’s item number – Fevicol Se, which apparently was choreographed under strict moral vigilance of the women’s protector – Salman Khan. Supposedly that’s Salman’s and Kareena’s opinion of what’s tasteful, decent and classy entertainment. I think otherwise – just like Priyanka’s, Kareena’s dress is just centimeters away from falling off her navel, but what’s more disturbing is the lyrics. Kareena calls herself “Main to tanduri murgi hoon yaar, Gatkale saiyan alcohol se oh yeah!” (translate: I am a tandoori chicken, swallow me with alcohol). To this Salman Khan’s character says, “Laundiya pataenge missed call se” (translate: Will please the girl by sending her a missed phone call (derogatory word used here refers to the woman as a cunt).
I take similar issue with Chikni Chameli where Katrina Kaif says “Bichhu mere naina, badi zehereeli aankh maare, Kamsin kamariya saali ik thumke se lakh maare” (translate: My scorpion eyes, will poison you; my virgin waist (derogatory) will kill a million men), and “Jungle mein aaj mangal karungi main, Bhookhe sheron se khelungi main” (translate: I will set fire in the jungle, and play with hungry lions). And with Madhuri Dixit in the song Choli ke Peeche Kya Hai, where she responds to the question “What’s behind your blouse?” by saying “My heart is behind my blouse and I’m gonna give the heart to my lover” and so on!
Another disturbing trend shows how semi-clad women are shown being touched by men, as they all are shown dancing without a care! For example, the international import Nathaliya Kaur is carried in a next-to-nothing outfit by hands of men who clearly are shown touching her everywhere. Are we to believe that if one of us attempted this feat in a nightclub in India (or for that matter anywhere else), we wouldn’t be savagely raped and brutalized?
The intention here is never to blame a woman if she is raped, but what benefit do the rest of the women derive, if women are merely shown as objects of desire, who can be touched, ogled at, groped without a her CONSENT in a public place like a bar, dance podium, even a brothel?
What message are these so called A-list actresses sending here? It’s OK to dance with a pack of hyper-sexed men, rivet their sexual fantasies, tempt them to touch, give them verbal cues that women are there to entertain their fantasies, and then pretend that all this song-and-dance is innocent entertainment! More importantly, why are such progressive women projecting themselves in such degraded ways – particularly as an ITEM GIRL – as a COMMODITY, on a repeated basis?
Yes, on a regular day, I might be inclined to write this entire song-and-dance as “chalta hai”, but tragedy is, it doesn’t “chalta hai”. Women in India (and across the world) have worked hard to make strides in changing the image of a woman as a sex-object that can be used and thrown any time. This country has seen the sex-ratio of girl child to a boy child dip to 940: 1000. Infanticide and dowry deaths have not impeded despite social activism; rapes, molestation are dangerously rampant – and do we just have a broken system and regressive culture to blame? What about the contribution of regressive cinema, and women in cinema who are looking to make a quick buck but not once thinking about the generational impact their offensive songs and dances are creating? Some might think the rape of a 5-year old in New Delhi, brutal gang-rape of a 22 year old in Mumbai or Delhi, has nothing to do with item numbers as the entirely film industry states. And I am not providing causative evidence here that it does. But it certainly feeds into the psyche we are trying to fight – the women seen as an object – a chicken boti, a woman for hire, an object for pleasuring. And when A-list actresses are OK with this projection, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Now we have nothing against entertainment and nothing against item numbers as such. But when will the fine line between A-grade, pornographic entertainment and healthy item numbers be drawn? And if Priyanka, Kareena, Katrina, Nathaliya accept large sums of money (millions of USD) for gyrating, showing ample cleavage, with men touching and feeling them up, do they have any right to be offended if they are called strippers and prostitutes themselves? After all strippers also dance and entertain, they just don’t have the fake layer of clothing covering their “Indian lajja”.
Women like Priyanka, Kareena, Katrina, Nathaliya while talented in different capacities are nothing but opportunistic and detrimental to the women’s liberation movement in India. They take the center-stage to hog the limelight during women’s liberation talks. They project themselves as the voice of the modern woman; they support campaigns about the girl child; they set modern standards as producers of their own movies; they advocate against rape. But then when asked about item numbers, they coyly shrug off their supposed responsibility saying they are not messiahs of propriety and their job is to entertain.
Well that’s too convenient on their part because at the end of the day money talks the talk! It’s unfortunate that women whom we often look up to for changing the discourse about women’s rights and freedoms, themselves become a part of the problem because of their greed and opportunism.