There has been a lot of discussion in the comments section on my blog recently about my annoyance at the media’s coverage of Deepika Padukone’s item number in Dum Maro Dum. We all know I think Deepika’s talents are middling at best and we all know that I prefer to watch actresses with a “healthier” (i.e. plumper) physique than Deepika has. I realize that other people have different opinions on those two issues and that’s fine. We all have different qualities that we look for in heroines and life would be so boring if everybody agreed on everything all the time but that is not what I want to talk about today. I am going to discuss my complaint with both the hype around Deepika’s item number and the item number itself - neither of which has anything to do with my personal feelings of dislike towards the lady herself.
[Just to reiterate: This post is not about Deepika’s talent (or lack thereof) nor is it about me disapproving (or in any way passing judgement) of how slim she is. Please do not comment refuting my opinions on those points - we’ll save it for another time.]
The issue I want to raise here is the juxtaposition of her trumpeted sexiness with her existing image and behavior.
An example of the coverage from Bollypatrika.com:
Rohan Sippy stated “Deepika is naturally very sexy, but she has never done anything this brazen. It is a very irreverent attitude that she needed to carry apart from being sexual on the screen.”
Let’s start off with a mental exercise: think of an example of a sexy item girl.
Who came to mind? Mallika Arora Khan, perhaps? Bipasha Basu? Yana Gupta? Mumaith Khan? Maybe even Rakhi Sawant or Jackie Fernandez?
These are women who project a sexually experienced and available image, promising the audience a good time if only we could transport ourselves into the screen. Sexiness in an item song is all about titillating the audience. Encouraging us to give into hedonistic impulses - they take place in jam-packed clubs, dimly lit, with the camera getting all up in the item girl’s business. Being sexy means never holding anything back and completing ignoring things like good taste.
Mumaith Khan in “Jhuki Jhuki” from Chocolate
Yana Gupta in “Babu Ji Zara Dheere Chalo” from Dum
The hedonistic impulse is part of the reason why a full-figured actress like Namitha is such a sex-bomb and is always careful to include a skin show in her films. Looking at her figure, the audience can imagine squeezing that delicious flesh and picture her indulging in food, drink, and... other things. Those magnificent curves are the on-screen equivalent of gazing at a delicious chocolate torte or a meal dripping with butter - a rich visual treat. Compare that with Bebo’s highly publicized and massively unpopular size zero look - which only makes the audience think of restrictive diet and exercise regimens needed to maintain the perfect size zero. [One of the reasons I think Bebo’s “Chaliya” failed to catch on - not to mention the failure of Minnisha Lamba, Amrita Rao, and Ameesha Patel’s bikini looks to catch on.]
And I think that keeping this hedonistic impulse at the center of the item song means that women like Malika Arora Khan and Helen can give genuinely sexy performances while pushing 40 - or even 50, as Rekha has shown. [To gender-flip it, that edge of hedonism is why Govinda’s dancing will always be sexier than the latest young chocolate boy.] Hedonism is not about a perfect image or rock solid abs, it’s about letting loose and doing what feels good.
Especially when the song is “Dum Maro Dum,” this hedonistic impulse is exactly what a sexy song picturization needs to capture. (Don’t believe me, read an English translation of the lyrics.)
Now, that is not the only way to do an item song. You can have items songs that are showcases for a dancer or that are “friendly appearances” to help get more butts in the seats at the cinema halls but those are not billed as “sexy.” For example, Bebo’s item song Its Rocking was called glamorous and the talk was around her “glam quotient.” It’s a fun song and Bebo is shown as being very attractive and idolized but sexy never enters the arena.
Here is the conundrum: Bollywood in the last three-four years has adopted the Hollywood double-standard when it comes to women’s sexuality. It is still uncomfortable with heroines giving into their hedonistic impulses but they are being encouraged to act “sexy” as part of their performances. In other words, heroines are now supposed to perform those outward signals of item girl “sexy” (bikinis, suggestive dance moves, etc) while still maintaining their virginal image (i.e. never appearing to actually have sex). “Sexy” but with no hints of actual sex - the combination of Madonna and Whore that has been the curse of American actresses for the last 15 years or so. How is any woman supposed to do that convincingly?
So, here we have Deepika Padukone - a heroine who exudes a clean, sporty, girl-next-door image. Her roles to date have been of the girlish college-aged heroine type and while she wore a bikini in Housefull, extremely trustworthy reports circulated that she was very unhappy about doing so. And reports are circulating about her song in Dum Maro Dum - she was unhappy about the short skirt she was asked to wear because it was too revealing; she was unhappy about the dance moves, which were too suggestive; and she was unhappy about mouthing certain vulgar lyrics. Plus, there are the reports that she had been working out nonstop to get in shape for the song.
What about any of that says hedonistic impulses and letting loose and giving into temptation? Where is the “Dum Maro Dum”? All I’m sensing is an uptight desire to appear perfect - the complete opposite of what a sexy item song is supposed to be. Deepika Padukone playacting at a Yana Gupta style of item song feels gross when Deepika is clearly uncomfortable with the sexually bold Yana Gupta style image. Items girls don’t care if somebody spots them without panties - Deepika Padukone very much would. And that makes this song gross and voyeuristic, not sexy. The industry needs to leave the sexy songs for ladies like Yana Gupta who are confident in a sexy image and don’t make the audience feel like they are committing sexual assault by simply watching the screen.
There is a difference between sexy - which is what “Babu Ji” was all about - and sex - beautifully used in Band Baaja Baarat. Anushka Sharma in BBB showed that an actress can be sexual in a film without having it be a performance to titillate the audience - nobody is filing outraged vulgarity cases against Anushka Sharma like they are for “Munni” and “Sheila.” And sexy isn’t needed in a film to show romance or passion. I just watched Kati Patang this past weekend and one of the most passionate songs I’ve seen had the heroine in a white sari that covered all.
Audiences are always going to enjoy a sexy skin show - it’s human nature, we enjoy being titillated - but it’s really silly to insist that all actresses need to (or are able to) do it. There are other ways to appreciate an actress than by ogling her body. I hope Deepika (or her handlers) decide against this kind of thing in the future and use her name recognition for a “friendly appearance” style item song. Let Deepika save her bikini body for her swimming pool and maybe in another 5 or ten years when she is a bit more experienced in sex, she can give this kind of item song another try.
ETA: Okay, apparently I wasn't clear enough. It's true we haven't seen how comfortable or uncomfortable Deepika looks in Dum Maro Dum but I will direct you to exhibit A: "Dhanno" from Housefull. Just compare how sexy Jackie Fernandez is thrusting her pelvis around with Deepika Padukone demurely doing the same moves. You can call Deepika cute or attractive but nothing about her body language or the way the camera is filming her is meant to titillate.
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl