Debate of The Week

Debate of The Week

Laila,Babli,Chikni Chameli… item songs dominate our movies and national consciousness. But have they taken away from the art of cinema and depiction of women? Two filmmakers debate.

Blame it on Babli



When we say Bollywood makes films which are arbitrary and that in the decades gone by it made a certain kind of cinema,it is because this change occurred after music companies came into being. And then there was lots of money at filmmakers disposal,so filmmakers started putting in 6-7 songs in their film. 

That was done for commercial reasons and soon enough that became the structure of Bollywood,which is sometimes much admired and theorised. So today the item song is only there because we are no longer in the film industry,we are in the “entertainment industry”,which includes events,endorsements,TV and award shows. Now why does an actress do an item song? She may theorise about it and talk academically about it,but it is actually because she gets a lot of shows and money from it. The heroine gets paid less in films but gets lot more for doing item songs in shows. Farah Khan very famously told Chitrangada Singh during Joker,that now that you have done an item number and not Sudhir Mishra’s dialogue films,you can get shows.

So it is the commercial reason which is affecting the structure of films. Since the reason is outside and not organic,commercial cinema and popular cinema are becoming so ridiculous at times that in reaction to it,another kind of cinema especially on entertainment products,are coming into being. There is an audience for this kind of cinema too.


But there is a dangerous and negative aspect about item songs in films. Although having these songs in films does not mean they encourage rape or humiliation in society,but they support that view. It validates a value system. Filmmakers cannot escape from the issue that such item songs affirm the loafers,eve teasers and molester’s point of view. Especially in urban India it becomes relevant because these items songs are certifying views of such people. They are corroborating a patriarchal point of view.

Sanjay Gupta


It is not fair to blame items songs for objectifying and depicting women in a certain light. If you look around,in all other forms of popular media such as billboards,hoardings,TV and print commercials,you have women selling stuff in a suggestive manner. I detest the term “item song” and believe such songs are made a soft target because of popular perception. We should not look at things in isolation. If these songs were not relevant in the film,producers and directors would not create such songs. I am not going to comment on somebody else’s work but for instance in my film, Shootout at Wadala, actress Sunny Leone is depicting a character in the song Laila, who was historically a nautch girl from south Mumbai. Now,if I don’t portray her like that,I am not justifying her presence in my film.

Now just because the lyrics say Laila teri le legi… people are protesting about the song’s raunchiness. They are not seeing the song in the context of the film. On other hand,they are not complaining about Babli Badmaash by Priyanka Chopra. There is no raunchiness in that video. I was one of the earlier people who created these songs,with the song Mahi Ve in Kaante, and I have been careful not to depict women in a raunchy manner. My depiction has been clean and fun. I don’t feature these songs to titillate my audience. If that was my motive,I would have included more love-making scenes. I admit that some songs by other filmmakers are done with the aim of spicing up a film,where the actress dancing in the song has no role in the film. For instance,Malaika Arora Khan in Munni Badnaam Hui. But I don’t understand how you can label a song, Sheila Ki Jawaani as an item number,since it was by the heroine of the film. The reference to a song in a film as an item number is itself derogatory. I don’t give a rat’s a** about what critics think of songs in my films as long I know I have portrayed the actors with a specific character in mind.

(Debate conducted by Debesh Banerjee)