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What is it that makes male stars coy about nudity?

Even the much-vilified item songs are almost invariably meant for the male gaze. So many girls. Where are the item boys?

bollywood Updated: Mar 24, 2018 16:11 IST
Bollywood,Item songs,Randeep Hooda
Salman Khan started the trend of shirtless heroes in Bollywood.

Globally, major strides have been taken in cinema as far as gender equality is concerned. But when it comes to nudity, men still prefer to keep themselves clothed even while playing sexually-emboldened characters. Take, for example, last year’s game-changing same-sex love story Call Me By Your Name which features the incredibly charismatic Armie Hammer as a visiting American student who has a passionate affair with the son of his hosts in Italy.

Armand Douglas Hammer, a straight man in real life, who has unabashedly played gay roles in at least three recent films, revealed that his co-star Timothy Chalamet and he remained naked on the sets while shooting their love scenes. However, they had both stipulated in their contracts that there would be no bared private parts on screen.

In an interview, the film’s writer, the renowned James Ivory, said, “Certainly, in my screenplay there was all sorts of nudity. But according to (director) Luca, both actors had it in their contracts that there would be no frontal nudity, and there isn’t, which I think is kind of a pity. Again, it’s just this American attitude. Nobody seems to care that much, or be shocked, about a totally naked woman. It’s the men. This is something that must be so deeply cultural that one should ask: ‘Why?’“

Indeed, why?

Explaining his reluctance to go starkers on camera, Armie explained how he didn’t want a picture of his penis to surface on the internet to embarrass his daughter.

Fair enough. We must respect the self-censorship that an individual imposes on artistic liberty. And Armie is partially right. Nudity can get mortifying in the family. I remember the pain and suffering that the fiercely committed Seema Biswas went through after her full frontal nudity in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen hit the theatres.

For all her reservations, she did it nonetheless. Somehow women have always had an easier time exteriorising their character’s candour through nude scenes. Top contemporary actresses in the West like Jennifer Lawrence and Sally Hawkins have appeared without their clothes in award-winning films last year.

Male actors, though, have always been shy. This lopsided reading of physical objectification goes back to the cinema of Yash Chopra where the romantic songs shot in snowcapped Switzerland featured heroines in skimpy chiffon sarees while the heroes were padded up in woollens.

Even the much-vilified item songs are almost invariably meant for the male gaze. So many girls. Where are the item boys? Women, it is pretentiously presumed, are too shy to gaze at anything except the cooking range. And then, after dinner, the lights go out. Women are, of course, presumed to be loath to objectify men. But some Bollywood’s resident beefcakes don’t mind being item boys.

Randeep Hooda, who played a dangerous sex machine in his latest release Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster, used his sexuality with the power of a gun. After seeing his libidinous act, Shobhaa De wrote on a micro-blogging site, “Finally figured out what Sush(mita) saw in Randeep Hooda. He’s hotter than all the Khans.”

During the release of the film, Randeep had told me, “Of course, I love the thought of being an object of desire in a slow romantic item song for women. Wouldn’t you love it too? Every man wants to be desired by the opposite sex. And why just ladies? I don’t mind being admired by men too.”

In Rohit Dhawan’s Desi Boyz, Akshay Kumar and John Abraham performed a striptease pole dance, as the ladies drooled to their heart’s content. The trend of item boys in Bollywood started with Abhishek Bachchan who surrounded himself with a bevy of beauties and sang One love for Mahesh Manjrekar’s film Rakht in 2004.

In Soham Shah’s Kaal, Shah Rukh Khan took off his shirt and joined Malaika Arora for a water-drenched raunchy romp. But these remain isolated instances. It’s the women who get objectified in the item songs. So when Armie Hammer gets nervous about being exposed to his daughter’s friends, we should also spare a thought for all the female actors who are regularly dunked in water, soaked in the rain and made to wear as much as decency requires.

Women have families too.

First Published: Mar 24, 2018 14:41 IST