Adding all the spice!
By Ankita R Kanabar
(This feature was published in the December 8, 2012 issue of Super Cinema)
Fun, glamour, oomph, fisticuffs, bade-bade dialogue and lots of ‘naach-gaana’ is what the quintessential Hindi Cinema comprises of. Of course, song and dance sequences are integral to our films and are totally inseparable. Now, we have movies of various genres and a vast variety of subjects, but, the west still, more often than not, identifies with our films as full of dancing and lots of vibrancy. All these song and dance sequences probably define our Hindi Cinema culture. That explains why, a term like ‘Bollywood dancing’ exists. While we’re talking about those wonderful songs, and romantic sequences that look larger-than-life on-screen, on the other hand, there’s always been something like ‘item songs’. Vyjanthimala, who is still remembered as one of the finest dancers Indian Cinema has ever seen, is said to be the first actress to have done an item song, ‘Man dole mera tan dole’ in the 1954 hit film ‘Nagin’. The song is a classic, and is still remembered for Vyjanthimala’s mesmerising moves. In fact, this particular song had gained more popularity than the film itself. Cut to present. We now have Katrina Kaif grooving to ‘Chikni Chameli’, and Kareena Kapoor amusing us with her ‘Fevicol’ stint. Over the years, the trends have changed, but item numbers have always been a part of the Hindi Cinema culture. But while Vyjanthimala charmed the audience with her simplicity and grace, later the trend was to have an item girl dancing sensuously to a racy number. Dance numbers were then, not done by actresses, but by professional dancers who would usually only be seen in a song. These dancers would don the role of cabaret dancers, ‘tawaifs’ or the villain’s sidekick and fill in for the glamour, sexy quotient in the film, because back then, actresses used to usually play, righteous, ‘sati-savitri’ kind of roles. They left the seduction bit to ‘the other woman’. In the 60’s and 70’s, Helen completely ruled all the item numbers, and fit into the ‘ultimate cabaret dancer’ category with a number of popular songs. Actresses like Bindu and Aruna Irani were also in demand when it came to peppy numbers that instantly would strike a chord with the audience and stand high on the popularity charts. Later, the trend of leading ladies performing to popular dance numbers took a rise with heroines like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi. Oh and who can forget the evergreen Rekha, her dancing skills and her songs? It’s not your fault if you can’t get over Rekha when you see her dancing on those songs, even today. And then, came Madhuri Dixit. A mainstream actress who did several hit films, and performed meaty roles, but completely wooed the audience with her dancing prowess. We also had actresses like Urmila Matondkar and Raveena Tandon who did a perfect ten job when it came to dance numbers. But the tables turned again, and item girls came into picture. That’s why we know of Rakhi Sawant, Yana Gupta, and several others. Malaika Arora Khan is the ultimate item girl with several hit numbers in her kitty. In recent times though, we have several top-notch actresses doing item numbers and being their sensuous best. Today, seemingly, it’s become important for a mainstream actress to be a part of an item number in order to motivate her popularity and status in the industry. Heroines seem to be grabbing the opportunity of dancing on a raunchy number. They have no qualms about being typecast, or not getting ‘serious’ roles as a result of doing more item numbers. And no, it’s not just the actresses who seem fascinated by item numbers. We now, even have item boys. But of course, it’s the heroines who rule this category. We have Salman Khan doing a ‘Peeni Hai’ and dancing with ‘Munni’, Aamir Khan dancing on ‘I hate you, like I love you’, and Shah Rukh Khan doing a ‘Dard-e-disco’. One still remembers Abhishek Bachchan and his ‘One Love’ stint. Undoubtedly, item numbers are considered important in order to create some sizzle, and create more appeal towards the film. They help to draw audiences to the theatres and that explains why producers are willing to spend huge ‘moolah’ on item numbers. Some love item numbers, some hate item numbers, but one definitely can’t ignore them. Here’s a list of actresses who seem to have got it bang on, when it comes to item numbers. We also have few item girls talking about ‘item numbers’ and the changing trends. Take a look!
Vyajanthimala: Nobody can ever come close to Vyjayanthimala’s dancing skills and simplicity. It’s unparalleled. In those days, songs weren’t tagged as ‘item songs’. But Vyjayanthimala, with her dancing prowess, has made songs memorable and made them even more popular than the films. Even today’s generation who may not have seen her films, shall most definitely know of her songs. That’s the kind of impact she’s made. There can’t be another Vyjayanthimala. Her songs like ‘Man Dole Mera Tan Dole’, ‘Eena Meena Deeka’, ‘Chadh Gayo Paapi Bichua’, ‘Hothon Pe Aisi Baat’, and many more are classics, and nobody could do justice to these songs, than someone like Vyjayanthimala, someone who can express through dance, the way she did.
Helen: Helen is the ultimate item queen. With a number of mesmerising performances, and seductive moves in songs like ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo’, ‘Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja’, ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ and ‘Yeh Mera Dil’ among many others, Helen was the ultimate dancing diva of those times. In fact, still continues to remain so. There’s nobody who can match her when it comes to cabaret dancing on-screen and when it comes to her kind of sensuousness.
Parveen Babi: Parveen Babi was known for her charm. She looked innocent and sexy at the same time and the audience has loved her in her films and dance numbers. Two of her most famous songs that all of us still remember and love are, ‘Raat Baaki Baat Baaki’ and ‘Jawaani Jaaneman, Haseen Dilruba’. Both these songs are fresh in the minds of the audience even today and they certainly helped in raising the actresses’ popularity.
Rekha: She has the capability to leave you awestruck with her ‘diva-like’ quality. That’s Rekha for you. While she has given so many stellar performances, one cannot overlook her excellent dancing prowess and her popular songs that can now be called ‘classics’. Be it her ‘mujra’ act in ‘Salam-e-ishq Meri Jaan’ or ‘In Aankhon Ki Masti’ or any other form of dancing. While she did ‘mujra’ like she’s trained at it, she did an equally good job when it came to western numbers like ‘Pyar Do Pyar Lo’. And over the years, Rekha hasn’t lost her charm. Not too long ago, she did a song, ‘Kaisi Paheli’, for ‘Parineeta’, and we were left asking for more.
Madhuri Dixit: Madhuri Dixit, is well, Madhuri Dixit. Her grace, her expressions, her elegance while she dances is completely unmatched. She’s an actress who’s done some meaningful roles and also has a huge list of item songs to her kitty. Where do we start from? Be it ‘Ek Do Teen’ or ‘Dhak Dhak Karne Laga’ or ‘Akhiyan Milaoon Kabhi Akhiyan Churaoon’ or ‘Humko Aaj Kal Hai Intezaar’. She even danced to the controversial ‘Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai’ with equal panache. Her songs have become iconic. And we have the signature Madhuri Dixit steps. Now who doesn’t know of the signature step of ‘Chane Ke Khet Mein’? The list of her most popular songs is endless. And over the years, her grace and dancing skills just seem to have gotten better. That’s why we saw the same kind of charm even in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Devdas’ while she danced to ‘Dola Re Dola’ and her comeback film ‘Aaja Nachle’, just as her finesse in the 90’s. Madhuri probably reigns when it comes to dancing, and despite all the tough competition from so many other leading ladies over the years, Madhuri’s grace at dancing remains unmatched.
Urmila Matondkar: You just cannot forget Urmila Matondkar and her dance numbers from ‘Rangeela’. She can dance and she can look hot. And then she is equally convincing through her acting. Apart from her own films, Urmila has done item songs like ‘Chamma Chamma’ and ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ which have been popular chartbusters. It’s always immense pleasure to see this lovely lady dance on-screen.
Malaika Arora Khan: From ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ to ‘Munni Badnaam Huyi’ to ‘Anarkali’, Malaika Arora Khan is undoubtedly one of the top-notch item girls ever. She can be touted as a trend-setter when it comes to item songs because, she does something different and that goes on to become a trend. For instance, her song ‘Mahi Ve’ from ‘Kaante’ brought the typical pole dancing style and strip clubs to Indian Cinema. Then she did the desi, raunchy, ‘Munni Badnaam’, post which we had the likes of ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’, ‘Halkat Jawaani’ and ‘Chikni Chameli’ coming in. She’s also called the ‘yummy mummy’. The unique style and naughtiness that Malaika brings in to her songs is probably what sets her apart. Commendable dancing skills, the power to connect with the audience and make men drool over her, is probably what makes Malaika so very awesome.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: She personifies beauty and grace. And that’s what Aishwarya Rai Bachchan brings to her dance performances. While she’s given several stellar performances and is one of the finest actresses we have, Aishwarya is still remembered for ‘Kajrare’ that left the audience completely smitten and in awe. She can be credited for kick-starting this trend of top-notch actresses dancing to raunchy numbers, in recent times. She carries off classical dancing in films like ‘Umrao Jaan’ and Devdas’ and at the same time goes on to do numbers like ‘Ishq Kameena’ and ‘kajrare’ with due conviction. She’s a dancing diva. And you can’t blink your eye when she’s dancing on-screen. Her numbers like ‘Nimbooda’ and ‘Kahin Aag Lage’ from ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ and ‘Taal’ respectively, also remain popular till date. She expresses through her eyes while she dances. No wonder, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan proves time and again that she epitomises beauty.
Katrina Kaif: You can’t deny that you remember Katrina Kaif more for ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’ and ‘Chikni Chameli’ than her performance-oriented role in films like ‘Raajneeti’. She left us surprised with an insane, earthy song like ‘Chikni Chameli’. The petite, prim and proper Katrina Kaif totally got into the ‘Chikni Chameli’ mode and surprised us. The woman can dance and dance in a way that makes her even more sexy. Her little appearance even in the ‘Bodyguard’ title song grabbed eye balls. In recent times, Kat has proven to be one of the most popular item girls. Despite criticisms that she had faced for her Hindi, we’re certain, she makes it up for all of it with her perfect ten dancing skills. Obviously, she’s also getting better and better when it comes to her acting and expressions!
Kareena Kapoor: She’s confident, naughty, flamboyant and beautiful. And all that is what you see even in her dance numbers. Kareena Kapoor dances like nobody’s seeing her. Her expressions, even in the rowdiest dance numbers, like the very recent ‘Fevicol’ from ‘Dabangg 2’ look extremely real. It’s like she’s just dancing for herself and has nothing to prove to the world. That you can observe in all her acts. And undoubtedly, she’s improved so much over time. From ‘You’re my soniya’ to ‘It’s rocking’ to ‘Yeh Mera Dil’ to ‘Mauja Hi Mauja’, to ‘Marjaani’ to ‘Bebo Main Bebo’ to ‘Chammak Challo’ to ‘Dil Mera Muft Ka’, and then, of course, ‘Halkat Jawaani’; each song is different and Bebo has certainly added her personal touch and vivaciousness to every dance and that’s what probably makes her stand out. She has her distinctive style and confidence and that’s what we love about her.
Mallika Sherawat: Mallika Sherawat has the knack of making heads turn with what she does on-screen. Being sexy probably comes naturally to this ‘Murder’ girl. Her song ‘Mayya Mayya’ from Mani Ratnam’s ‘Guru’ generated a lot of buzz and was enough to make her a favourite among filmmakers and the audience when it came to item numbers. She dazzled the screen with several other item numbers like ‘Razia’, ‘Shalu Ke Thumkey’, ‘Jalebi Bai’ and ‘Laila’. Of course, Jalebi Bai was the most famous among all. So much so, that Mallika is now also referred to as ‘Jalebi Bai’. Indeed, Mallika knows how to set the temperatures soaring.
Bipasha Basu: ‘Bombshell’ is most definitely the apt word used for Bipasha Basu. She takes up the hotness quotient several notches higher when she’s dancing in a song. How can one forget this sexy lady gyrating to the beats of ‘No entry’, ‘Beedi Jalaile’ and ‘Namak Isq Ka’? You can’t help but start dancing the moment you hear ‘Beedi Jailaile’. While the song is so catchy, much credit for the song’s popularity goes to Bipasha. She’s a rockstar in terms of how she totally rocks every song she performs to. And then of course, there’s the ‘Bipasha’ song. This dusky beauty totally does take her songs to the popularity charts.
Deepika Padukone: Her dynamic presence on the screen is what makes you take notice of Deepika. Her smile coupled with dimples as she dances, adds all what is needed for her dance to look great. When you see her dancing, you get a feeling that dancing must be like a cake for her. That’s the kind of ease she portrays on-screen. Being a newcomer, performing with SRK in a song like ‘Love Mera Hit Hit’ and getting highly noticed is no small feat. Her dance numbers like ‘Uff Teri Adaa’ and ‘Kadhi Te Has Bol De’, from her films have been equally successful. But the highlight remains her item number in ‘Dum Maro Dum’ which was one of the major attractions of the film. The leggy lass did the same yet again in ‘Cocktail’. She definitely knows how to dance and how to allure the audience.
“Today, we usually have actresses like Katrina and Kareena bagging item numbers, hence, for me to get an opportunity to perform a peppy number like ‘Balma’ in a big film like ‘Khiladi 786’ alongside Akshay Kumar was a huge opportunity. I still am completely overwhelmed with the response that I’m getting. But yes, the times are changing. Like I said, we have actresses doing item numbers. I think I like the changes that we’ve had in Bollywood, though today we hardly have any ‘item girls’. I believe that this is just a phase and the trends keep changing. Like this year, if we had actresses doing item numbers, next year, we might see more of item girls. So, there are these different phases. But I think today, item numbers have become important and they certainly help a film. The song promos of a film release at least a month or two months before the film releases, and if that song is a hit among the audience, definitely it shall arouse interest in the film and people might want to go and watch a film. For that, obviously, the song has to be catchy and sensuous. Item songs I believe, also help us to get noticed and get better offers. For instance, I’ve got several offers for so many other songs, not just in Hindi films, but also from the south after ‘Balma’. New opportunities do open, once the audience and people from the industry like you in a particular song. So, I’m completely happy about it at the moment.”
– Claudia Ciesla.
“Just like how time has changed and we’ve evolved, item numbers have changed too. Back then, in times of yesteryear actresses like Helen and all, there were no tags like ‘item numbers’. But item numbers are a hot property of any movie. Though now, we have actresses themselves doing item numbers. It is something very challenging, and the actresses are doing a good job too, but if you ask me, as a dancer, I feel there’s much more that a dancer can do to make a song magical. Sometimes, actors are very plastic. But I love it when I watch Madhuri Dixit act and dance. She’s so graceful, and other actors today must draw inspiration from her. You know, our country is very Bollywood-centric. So most times songs and dances work here and they work well in the film’s favour because we love to sing and dance. Even though a film may be very good, item numbers add to the popularity of a film, they add this beautiful flavour and I’m glad our item number from ‘Rowdy Rathore’ did so well. Shooting for the song was as much as fun as it is to watch it.”
– Shakti Mohan