Dancing queens


Express August 09, 2010

From the days of Helen gyrating to “Mehbooba Mehbooba” in Sholay to Aishwarya Rai in “Kajraare”, the inclusion of an ‘item number’ has become a standard with Bollywood filmmakers.

The term refers to a guest appearance by a Bollywood actor in a dance song, which often has no connection to the film altogether. While recent films have utilised Bollywood A-list stars (Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone), a slew of films has been dominated by actors who are just referred to as ‘item girls’. These include Rakhi Sawant, Malaika Arora Khan and Mallika Sherawat. There are also anomalies like Shilpa Shetty, who hasn’t done full-fledged films in a while but has appeared in ‘item numbers’ such as “Shut Up and Bounce” from Dostana.If a song clicks, it can make someone’s career.

Rakhi Sawant utilised her appearances on reality television shows and item numbers to forge a sustainable career. Salman Khan believes Arora and Shetty are the two best ‘item girls’ in Bollywood, and told Sawant that he could not judge her because his own sister-in-law was an item girl.

Malaika Arora Khan, who was a model and a VJ, caused a sensation when she danced atop a train with Shah Rukh Khan in “Chaiyya Chaiyya”, and is also in brother-in-law Salman Khan’s upcoming film Dabanng. Her husband, actor Arbaaz Khan believes “Malaika gives competition to herself”.

While the ‘item numbers’ are often overtly suggestive, bordering on raunchy, they add a great deal of cachet to a Bollywood film.

Even Mani Ratnam, who has made films like Roja, Yuva and Guru, has utilised the concept and featured Sonali Bendre in the song “Humma Humma” from Bombay (1995) and Sherawat in Guru (2007).

The ‘item song’ also translates into hefty pay checks. Mallika Sherawat reportedly made INR50 million her performance in the film Aap Ka Suroor. Sherawat has come a long way since then and is currently based in Hollywood.

The concept of item girls also took off in the early 2000s, when a spate of videos made their way on television, featuring dancers performing on remixed versions of old Bollywood songs.

Dancers interviewed by NDTV in 2009 said that they had to invest in their own videos - up to INR2 million.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2010.

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