Item songs face the music
Item numbers have outlived their utility on the big screen, but is the Mumbai film industry aware of it, asks Saibal Chatterjee.
So, what is all the song and dance about? Item numbers have outlived their utility on the big screen. Ramgopal Varma knows that. But one cannot be sure of the rest of the Mumbai film industry.
It is not too difficult to understand why a struggling starlet goes gaga over a peppy item number she has done in a Bollywood potboiler, but must our filmmakers repose so much faith in the power of a raunchy, hip-wiggling siren to propel their products to box office glory?
Admittedly, item numbers are here to stay – and they will stay here as long as there are bimbettes willing to queue up for a quick shot at five minutes of Bollywood fame and as long as there are filmmakers that are tempted by the false lure of short cuts to commercial success. But it would harm nobody – least of all popular Hindi cinema – if they were to be confined to the television screen.
Trust Ramgopal Varma to be the first to put these numbers in their place – outside the purview of his films. He did dabble with item songs in Company and Road, but in neither film was the device used independently of the storyline. Especially the Khallas routine performed by Isha Koppikar in Company was a classic demonstration of how such numbers can be used to aid the flow of the narrative.
But, sadly, most item numbers in Hindi films are an avoidable hindrance rather than a desirable embellishment. They are usually bunged in without much rhyme or reason.
Can veejay-turned-actress Amrita Arora really turn up the heat in the Delhi ki sardi number in Rohit Shetty’s upcoming war film, Zameen? Or will Anusha Dandekar give Anant Balani’s Mumbai Matinee an extension at the box office by strutting her stuff in a gratuitous song and dance routine?
We know what Ramgopal Varma’s answer to that is likely to be. For both Bhoot, which he helmed, and Darna Mana Hai, which he produced for debutant Prawaal Raman, he did shoot an item number each only to delink them from the released films. He used the songs only in the television promos.
Really, that is just what an item number is worth. They give the TV promos a zing and some starlets a career fillip but they do not good at all to the films that they figure in.
As long as Mumbai’s filmmakers know exactly where these acts belong, no harm! Prakash Jha’s cop drama Gangaajal, up for release on August 29, is a 'songless' film that does have a nautanki number. But it isn’t a conventional item number – the song is used merely as a backdrop element to establish the film’s Bihar context, and not quite as Shilpa Shetty’s Main aayee hoon UP Bihar lootne act was in E. Niwas’ Shool.
If Hindi filmmakers really wish to be taken seriously outside the domestic market, one thing that they must urgently do is to grow out of their obsession with meaningless item numbers.
They would do well to remember that none of the real blockbusters of recent times has employed item numbers. Lagaan, Gadar – Ek Prem Katha and Devdas may have relied on their music for much of their commercial appeal, but did they have to take recourse to out-of-synch item acts to woo the masses?
Even this year’s hits, Aziz Mirza’s Chalte Chalte and Rakesh Roshan’s Koi… Mil Gaya, have eschewed the temptation.
And they have been none the worse for it.
New item girls have oodles of oomph