Bollywood Baatein: Where are the item girls of yesteryears?

Do item girls have any hope beyond the sizzle-and-fizzle cycle? There’s no simple formula to dignity of labour in this sphere of activity

Bollywood Baatein: Where are the item girls of yesteryears?

Subhash K Jha

Kahan gaye woh log? Oh, those glorious women! And I’m not just talking about the screen queens from Sharmila Tagore to Sridevi to Shabana who have ruled my heart from the time I was THIS high.

What about Aroona Irani, Farida Jalal and Asha Sachdev? My Gawd, what an actress! Does anyone remember the sultry Sachdev? I think she was last seen in Fiza as Jaya Bachchan’s saucy ghazal-spewing neighbour. Older, but saucy and sassy.

I often think about these saucy wonder-wow-men and wonder what they’re up to now. Where’s Padma Khanna who did the bold bare-dare-stare striptease Husn ke lakhon rang…kaun sa ang dekhoge (which part of the body would you like to see?) in Johnny Mera Naam 35 years ago. Padma wanted to act. She even replaced Mumtaz opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Saudagar. But they just wanted her to heave and thrust.

We know where Helen is, thanks to her Salman connection. But what happened to those other vibrant dancers? Women of such voluptuous substance that they make our average item girl today look like an anorexic oddity.

Where’s Faryal, the item girl from the late 1960s who for a brief while sizzled in cabaret numbers and then disappeared? Jayshree T and her sister Meena T? The sisters together danced through scores of potboilers, sometimes together. When I saw Shilpa and Shamita Shetty set the rains on fire in the track Baras ja… in Fareb I was reminded of the ‘T’ sisters, both probably contented housewives now in places where cameras go only to click family pictures.

Or Laxmi Chhaya? The Gujju bombshell who shook up the screen with one item song after another in Mera Gaon Mera Desh, and then vanished, although she had comedian Agha singing an entire song—Tu hi meri laxmi tu hi meri chhaya—dedicated to her in a movie.

Laxmi Chhaya came to an undeserving tragic end when she died in near-penury some years ago.

“Just a small snippet on the 8th page announcing the death of a sexpot who had men throwing coins at the screen each time she shook her hips and quivered her lips. That’s why I opted out when I could still hear wolf whistles in the dark. Better for us dancers to settle down before it’s too late. Unlike other actresses, we dancers don’t get mature roles later. We’re as good as our last gyration,” a leading item girl of the 1970s had told me when I met her some years ago.

Bollywood Baatein: Where are the item girls of yesteryears?

Fat and unrecognizable, draped in a cotton saree, this yesteryears’ bomb had gone from wow-man to no-man without becoming a woe-man.

Better that the screen sizzlers opt out before the twilight of their years. That’s why I worry for Rakhi Sawant. We pretend to laugh WITH her rather than at her, as we used to. Rakhi has become the cynosure of a kind of inverted we-love-the-verny-variety of womanhood attention.

It isn’t good for her. Rakhi will soon begin to believe in the myth about her career.

Please note, Item Girls come with an expiry date. Negar Khan who two years ago cavorted with orgasmic opulence almost tingle-handedly has gone back home (wherever that may be).

And where is Mummaith Khan? She scorched up the screen gyrating to the Seekh le… number in Munnabhai MBBS. Thereafter this half-Pakistani half-Tamilian sizzler did a couple of other forgettable item songs before fading in a darkness outside the one in the movie theatre.

Do item girls have any hope beyond the sizzle-and-fizzle cycle? When Mallika Sherawat got an item song to do in Guru she apparently requested a bit of dialogues and scenes to put some man (emotion) in the meat rather than just the meat in the man.

But then as one item girl recently told me, “It’s different for the heroines doing item songs. For us girls who do only the c…k tease, life is no different from the bar girls. Once when I went on the set the producer’s assistant loudly shouted for me to take off the towel draping my upper torso. ‘Thodi der mein sab dikhega,’ he shouted. I died on the spot.”

Item bombs are susceptible to constant lewd behaviour. How to get away from it? There’s no simple formula to dignity of labour in this sphere of activity. You either ‘heave’ it or you don’t.

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