In 2014, as a part of a think piece they wrote for the website TakePart, writers Holly Eagleson and Lauren Wade recreated infamous fashion ads by replacing the women who were objectified in them with men, highlighting the glaring and unabashed misrepresentation of women in media. A similar project was carried out by a Lebanese photographer and video editor Eli Rezkallah, who created a series called “In A Parallel Universe” where he switched up the gender roles portrayed in vintage ads to underline the rampant sexism and absurd stereotypes contained in them.
When I came across these projects, thanks to the internet, it immediately got my brain contextualising it in the current circumstances of the Indian mass media. As the biggest film industry in the world (in terms of numbers of movies produced annually), one would expect, at least Bollywood out of all the other movie industries in India, to be appropriate in its representation. But the reality is this industry does not care much about representation. Whatever brings money to the pocket, Bollywood is ready to exploit it to the tee.
As a result, there are certain clichés, some predictable cards up the sleeves of every typical Bollywood movie, which are whipped out every time a script writer has dried up all his creative juices but there is a deadline to match. One such characteristic feature of Bollywood movies is what we call an item song. For the ignorant, item songs might appear to be out of context dance breaks in the middle of a movie, to songs that often contain sexist lyrics and the visualisation usually consisting of a weirdly contorting or gyrating female body, to present her as a sexy woman to the male gaze. To the intellectuals however, item songs are a celebration of female sexuality, because what else screams “I am a free woman and I am proud of my sexuality” like Salman Khan dancing while literally pulling the skirt of a harmless Jacqueline, biting it in between his teeth!
Image Credit: inuth.com, Movie: Dabangg
So, I feel it is really unfair to celebrate the sexuality of only one gender. As the men’s rights activists would say, “What about the men?” Truly, what about them? Why can’t I, an Indian woman ogle at a skimpily clad Siddharth Malhotra dancing to, say “main toh tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkale saiyan alcohol se” like the Indian men have been ogling at innumerable actresses and their twirling waists? I would love to see equal representation of the marginalised men in the sphere of item songs, to give them an equal opportunity to celebrate their otherwise looked down upon sexuality.
I would also love to watch men dance to item numbers and absolutely crush it so that for once the hyper masculine men in India can witness a macho hunk take over the stereotypical job of a woman and do it perfectly. Because let’s be honest, it cannot be true until a man seals it with his approval, right?