Shumaila Hussain Shahani:
After successfully objectifying women in the ‘100 glorious years of Indian cinema’, Bollywood now recognises its part in influencing commoners, what till now has been ‘a bad influence’. It took Bollywood God knows how many Jyoti Singhs to realise what a mess their sexist approach in cinema has caused in populous India.
I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry that our neighbours are in trouble; our fellow women are not safe. But at the moment, I’m more concerned about how all this affects Pakistan. Our cinema is going through an interesting phase of its revival, but the same sexist approach has come to trouble us too. Recent series of item numbers in almost every newly released and upcoming Lollywood movie are examples of this approach. You don’t have to be a conservative to understand why an item number is offensive and insulting to a woman.
It offends me because:
- We, women, are not ‘items’ or ‘objects’; we are as human as any gender.
- Women are not Munnisor Sheilasor Billis (their Pakistani counterpart).
- Women are not “gutka (tobacco) available for chewing”.
- We do not go around flaunting our “jawan(young) bodies”.
I am a liberal who defended Humaima Malick’s right to do the song Namak Paare – because it fitted the role of a bar dancer – as much as I defended Fawad Khan’s right to do a shirtless scene in Khoobsurat. I love Sonam Kapoor and Vidya Balan for their choice of women-centric films, like Dirty Picture. But the makers of unnecessary item numbers are those ‘hypocrite liberals’ who never consider us women as equal to them and use women as ‘objects’ to attract audiences. Some recent examples are the item songs in Pakistani movies Karachi se Lahore, Jalaibee and the not too old, Na Maloom Afraad.
Karachi se Lahore released its teaser on March 21, 2015. What is sad and sickening is that the 14-second teaser only includes glimpses of Ayesha Omar as an item girl and ends with the title poster of the film.
What a great way to tease the crowd… Right?
It seems that the purpose of the teaser was to tell the world that Bulbulay’s Khoobsurat has a bellybutton too.
Jalaibee, on the other hand, can be defended by the fact that they showed decent clothing in an item song. Recently, Pakistani heartthrob Hamza Ali Abbasi was quoted as saying:
“I am tremendously proud of Zhalay Sarhadi for not taking her clothes off in her performance in the film. Proud of Yasir Jaswal for not going along with the emerging trend of revealing ‘item numbers’ in Pakistan films.”
But let me put this in plain words for all those people out there whose primary focus remains women’s clothing. An appropriate choice of clothing does not cover for a woman made to flaunt her ‘jawani’. The problem here is not the clothes but the portrayal of a woman of Pakistani society, who is seen dancing, while being ogled by men, to lyrics such as:
“Tere aangan mein hi chamke gi meri ye shookh jawani”
(Only in your backyard will my enticing youth shine)
Have they ever tried to tease the audience by releasing a teaser where a man is seen ‘revealing’ his body while being ogled by women? Can’t even imagine that, can you? That’s probably because it is women who are born to entertain men, be it in a marriage or a bar – not the other way around.
To clarify my stance, I’m not against our movies covering taboo issues; I appreciate how themes like sexual abuse and racism, which are rather neglected in the much open-minded neighbouring India, are successfully addressed in our society via movies and dramas. But while our drama industry is praised across the border for showing the strength of womanhood, our film industry is keen on copying Bollywood’s sexist approach to women, for reasons unknown.
Despite my disagreement with Abbasi’s stance on Sarhadi’s song, I am proud of the Pyare Afzal star simply because he admitted to romancing ‘with women in bikinis in an upcoming comedy film’ and pledged to ‘never to do it again’ for it is against our culture and values.
Music and art are a reflection of a society’s traditions and values, and currently, our songs portray a woman’s image as:
“Gutka main hun chaba le, Baaja main hun baja”
(Chew me as I am tobacco and blow me as I am a trumpet)
Somebody please explain to me, when and how did such item numbers become a necessity for our society, our cinema? Are we not done copying Bollywood yet? Aren’t Bollywood item songs linked to increasing ‘rape culture’ in India?
Namrata Joshi, a senior associate editor at Outlook India, talks about the choreography of item songs in these words,
“The choreography is similar across most (item) songs: one semi-clad women getting leered at by several men, being objectified for the consumption of men and talked of as some kind of dish.”
Feminist and gender activist, Kamla Bhasin, says,
“It (item song) is an unequal sexuality, where one is the subject and the other, the object. The woman is naked, the man fully dressed. There is no mutuality. The woman sells and the man consumes.”
Is this what we are choosing for our society too?
For the love of God, spare us!
I am a Pakistani woman and I am not a gutka available for chewing.
After Bol and Waar, we all have high hopes from Lollywood. A woman does not always have to be ‘the glamour’ and the hero’s love interest in a movie. There is much more to a woman than that and there is a lot more that women can do. India has realised this and item songs, that are great career boosters for actresses, are now being frowned upon. First it was Ayesha Takia, then Kareena Kapoor and now it’s Kangana Ranaut among the B-town beauties who have reportedly rejected offers of item numbers.
I agree with the idea that a movie does not always have to be a dark and depressing like Bol, but since when does colourful and fun mean an exposed woman? I really thought our Pakistani industry had that elegance and class that would provide women a well-deserved place in our industry.
The article was originally published March 30, 2015, at Express Tribune Blog
Shumaila Shahani is a feminist based in Karachi. She is a practicing lawyer and founder of All Pakistan Feminists’ Association(a nationwide aliiance of feminists). She tweets as @ShahaniSays (twitter.com/ShahaniSays)