‘Item songs’ are much more than a racy and raunchy draw for the audience; they have evolved into a vital promotional tool for filmmakers
The sultry Munni, the seductive Sheila and the sizzling Chameli had just one agenda: to entertain. Item songs are not new to the Hindi film industry but they are gaining popularity, not only among the audience, but also among the filmmakers who are using them very effectively to promote their films.
This year started with Katrina Kaif gyrating to the foot-tapping item song Chikni Chameli from Agneepath, and here’s the line-up of item songs for the rest of the year: Agent Vinod, Housefull 2, Tezz, Ferrari Ki Sawaari, Bol Bachchan (a source close to the unit tells us that Abhishek Bachchan did an item number in this film), Department, Rowdy Rathore, Joker and Dabangg 2. Apparently, this Dabangg sequel will feature Kareena Kapoor doing an item number. All these films will be vying with each other to belt out the best item song.In fact, this year might just be dubbed as the year with the maximum number of item songs.
Let’s rewind. Although the ‘item girl’ tag was invented only a few years ago, Hindi cinema was always synonymous with item songs, then popularly termed as cabaret numbers. How can one dismiss Vyjayanthimala’s graceful footwork in Jewel Thief? Or the vivacious Helen’s cabaret numbers including Piya tu ab toh aa ja, Yeh mere dil pyaar ka dewaana and Mehbooba mehbooba, sending the audience into raptures. However, back then, item songs were considered to be of poor taste and were meant to attract the front benchers.
Then came a phase, where such songs were picturised on lower-rung actresses or ‘item girls’ like Rakhi Sawant and Yana Gupta. Soon, our filmmakers began to do what their predecessors had been doing but with a difference. So instead of making the leading lady entice the audience with her jhatkas and matkas in an item song, they began to include another big name to the cast to add more value to the product. So while A league actresses like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Bipasha Basu already grooved to famous tunes, now even the likes of Vidya Balan are keen on featuring in such item numbers.
In fact, last week, Guest Editor at Box Office India, Vidya Balan told us that she was keen on doing a Koli/Lavani-style number for mentor Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s upcoming film Ferrari Ki Sawaari.
There’s more. These raunchy numbers are not just meant to entertain the audience but are also an important marketing tool for a film. So much so, that most filmmakers agree that a popular item number can ensure a decent opening for a film. They also make for great repeat value for the movie.For instance, Balan said one of her fans watched her hit film The Dirty Picture 20 times in the first week of its release just to see the Ooh la la song. Naturally, these songs also help ancillary revenue platforms like music channels, mobile ringtones and caller tunes.
We asked a few industry professionals on how important item songs are for a film today and how effective they are in increasing a film’s revenue. Here’s what they had to say…
Item songs help a film gain instant popularity and they grab eyeballs. But that does not mean that all item songs work for a film. In the past, there have been item songs that have failed to impress. The song has to be shot appropriately and it should be a visual treat. If the number is not shot well and without a famous actor, it will have no impact. We have two upcoming films with item numbers – Housefull 2 has Anarkali disco chali picturised on Malaika Arora Khan and Pyaar ki pungi from the film Agent Vinod which, for a change, is not picturised on a female actor but on actor Saif Ali Khan.