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Item Numbers – Sizzlers on Screen

I was asked very innocently by a kid – “What is an Item Number?”

Is item number or an item song in Indian cinema merely a musical performance that has little to do with the film in which it is featured! Does it appear just to showcase beautiful dancing women in revealing clothes and suggestive lyrics to lend support to the marketability of the film!! Do we have to believe that ‘item’ is a slang for a sexy, provocative woman ‘misused’ in our cinemas to add curry and flavour to make our Dolby theatres spicy!!!

According to actor Ashish Kaul, “An item number is producer’s idea of telling the director that I am the boss.” Leading newspaper The Times of India echo this. “With the item numbers going mainstream, lead actresses are falling over themselves to become the object of everyone’s attention. Producers now invest crores just to shoot one of these videos. And with the likes of Katrina Kaif and Malaika Arora Khan leading the list, there’s a deluge of item numbers flooding screens.” [July 9, 2011]

Item-SongResearchers say item numbers in Bollywood were started by Vaijayanti Mala and Padmini (both trained dancers who established themselves as great actors) and then came Helen who ruled for so many years. In those days, they were known as the vamps who lured the heroes and sizzled on the screen simultaneously. But they were also looked down by the cinegoers who otherwise revelled in the opportunity to have some onscreen fun.

In 80’s, the pattern changed drastically with the bombshell Parveen Babi blowing up the charts with two ‘item numbers’ – Jawani Jaane Mann and Raat Baaki in Namak Halal (1982). An year earlier, she had already hit even the greatest of patriots and nationalists with her Maara Thumka in ‘Son of the Soil’ Manoj Kumar’s Kranti (1981).

Smiling Queen Madhuri Dixit too entered Bollywood with an ‘item number’ only – Ek Do Teen in Tezaab (1988). And not only did she just burn the screen then, but she got flagged as the dhak dhak girl for her item performance in Beta (1992). Should we ignore the fact that all her performances prior to Ek Do Teen as Mohini could not earn Madhuri any name, be it even her debut in 1984 in Abodh.

Many others did some item numbers in the next few years like Manisha Koirala, Raveena Tandon, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar. There was a lull in those times as far as item numbers are concerned for then either the heroines took over or the heroes got the major slots.

To carry on the item number tradition, a new face was launched in 1998 – Malaika Arora Khan. She indeed delivered the tapping number Chhaiya Chhaiya with Shahrukh Khan on the top of a train in Dil se. This was a new trend as she did not play any role in the movie save for the dance sequence. Since then … perhaps … the definition of item numbers changed and many a actors did such seductive roles … be it anyone for that matter – Rakhi Sawant, Yana Gupta, Mallika Sherawat, Katrina Kaif, Gauhar Khan, Deepika Padukone, Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty, Vidya Balan … and the list is endless.

Aren’t some of them called just the Item Girls … !!! “Yes,” says designer and film buff Rupali Gupta, “Sometimes it’s ok but many a times it’s lewd… jaise purey desh ko hee kotha bana diya ho (they sell women and not songs, turning Bollywood into brothels.) To this, actor Ayub Khan says: “Item numbers are maana (bounty) from heaven for the sexually deprived, fun for those who appreciate the art and disgusting for the prudes.”

But … shouldn’t we give them the credit they seldom get as they do sizzle on the screen and force the audience on rockets with their foot-tapping, gyrating moves? The latest in the series being Malaika Arora Khan in Anarkali Disco Chali in Houseful 2 (2012) and Gauhar Khan in Jhalla Wallah in Ishaqzaade (2012). Weren’t your seats hot then, watching the items and their item numbers (shy)?

And may you not just look for the lyrics in the item songs… as the bump-n-grinds take care of the success of the movies. But Big Boss winner actor Shweta Tiwari says, “Item numbers are producers’ desperate efforts to sell their movies.”

Hold on … hold on … what you have to say about Amitabh Bachchan starrer Apni To Jaise Taise in Laawaris (1981) and Shahrukh Khan’s Dard-e-Disco in Om Shanti Om (2007)? BY GOD KI KASAM … ITEM NUMBERS really sizzle ….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……..!!!… and as this is being written, watch out another sensuous damsel Scarlett Mellish Wilson in Imported Kanwaria in upcoming release Shanghai.

…and as you read this porn star Sunny Leone has just rubbished all rumours of doing an item number in Southern star Mahesh Babu’s directorial venture. “No plans for any item numbers as of yet,” she wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

List of some of the item songs:

  • Song – Sheila Ki Jawani; Film – Tees Maar Khan
  • Song – Munni Badnam; Film – Dabangg
  • Song – Chiknee Chameli; Film – Agneepath
  • Song – Anarkali Disco Chali; Film – Houseful 2
  • Song – Dil Mera Muft Ka; Film – Agent Vinod
  • Song – Beedi Jalaile; Film – Omkara
  • Song – Kajrare ; Film – Bunti Aur Babli
  • Song – Chhamak Chhallo; Film – Ra One
  • Song – Jalebi Bai; Film – Double Dhamaal
  • Song – Oo Lala; Film – Dirty Picture
  • Song – Dard-e-Disco; Film – Om Shanti Om
  • Song – Dekta Hai Tu Kya; Film – Krazzy 4
  • Song – Tinku Jia; Film – Yamla Pagla Deewana
  • Song – Jhalla Wallah; Film – Ishaqzaade

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Geetanjali Kaul

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