Suggestive gyrations, once only thought of as visibility-gaining techniques for actors who weren’t doing much on screen otherwise, have now found new takers. The quintessential demure woman has embraced the thumkas (moves) of the seductress.
These raunchy numbers instantly find themselves a cult following — whether it’s the rickshaw wallahs (auto drivers) or the DJs; they are all playing it on repeat. Men and women both gape at the women as they pirouette to the titillating chart busters.
However trade pundit Amod Mehra feels item numbers don’t always translate into the films’ success. Says Mehra, "Item numbers in Khatta Meetha and Teen Patti managed to lure people into cinema halls, however the films did not do well at the box office." But he goes on to add that in some cases, the item number can save face for a film. "If Sheila ki jawani… had not done well, Tees Maar Khan wouldn’t even have got the initial opening figures it did. Good ones like Jumma chumma de de… or Ek do teen… did draw audiences in the past, but then it is the filmmaker’s onus to not disappoint them." Director-producer Mahesh Bhatt agrees with Mehra on the fact that an item number does sometimes work as a precursor to attract crowds.
He says, "The audience feels that the makers may have done something better in the film; a medium standard is set. They feel that the movie will also be closer to what they are now enjoying. I am going to have an item number picturised on Jacqueline Fernandes in Murder 2. It will make men gasp and women faint."
Says choreographer-director Farah Khan, who has directed two of the biggest item numbers this year, "We had not heard too many popular item numbers this year, that’s why when Munni badnaam hui… came out, people lapped it up, and then Sheila ki jawani… followed. There were jokes, articles about women named Sheila and how their lives have changed post the song. The video got millions of hits on YouTube," says Khan, adding that Katrina Kaif’s moves in the song was the never-before-seen element. "She has never looked so gorgeous. The surprise value gave the song a boost."
She agrees that whenever an item song does well, it draws attention to the film: "What do you remember Madhuri Dixit for? Dhak dhak…,Ek do teen…,Choli ke peeche...? We cater to an audience that connects to music. Actors are remembered for years if they have one hit song."
However, music composer Shantanu Moitra disagrees. He says, “A raunchy number is not the only thing that sells. Today films are more about content. Next year, we will go back to using music like we used to. Bollywood mixes of Sufi ragas, hip-hop,bhangraand dhol rhythms will return.”
Another example is the title track of Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhoka. It didn’t have the visual elements that Sheila ki jawani... or Munni badnaam hui…had, but it still worked. “It’s been on the Top 15 songs of the year lists at many radio stations. We didn’t get an item girl nor was the choreography typically Bollywood, but it worked because of its catchy tune,” says Banerjee.
On the other end, crowd-pleaser DJ Suketu also agrees that people go crazy the moment he plays item numbers. “This year people have been asking for Aivai aivai… from Band Baaja Baarat and Shakira… from No Problem. Recently I ended up playing Sheila… 15 times in a matter of three-odd hours. Item numbers are absolute repeats, you can’t play them just once,” he adds.