" is a term commonly used in the Indian film industries
, such as Bollywood
, to describe a catchy, upbeat dance sequence for a song in a movie that has no relevance to the plot of the film.
The original item number
The classic meaning of "item number" refers to highly sexualized songs with racy imagery and suggestive lyrics. The "item number" would feature an "item girl" who appeared in the film as a dancer, usually in a bar or nightclub, and was only in the film for the length of that song. It was often frowned upon at that point in time. Today, it is a commonly used term with hardly any negative connotations to it.
The modern item number
The term "item number" has now been relaxed to include almost all upbeat dance numbers involving either a woman in skimpy clothing, or a "guest appearance" from a star who is only in the movie for the length of that song. It is a common occurrence for these item
numbers to occur in the opening and closing credits of Bollywood films. These days, there are many exceptions. Even if the lead or supporting actress dances to an upbeat song in the movie, it's sometimes still considered an item number. For example, Sushmita Sen
played an important role in the movie Sirf Tum
but her song in the movie can easily be referred to as an item number today.
In the late 1980s, the Ek Do Teen that was added to the movie, Tezaab
afterthought, which transformed Madhuri Dixit
and made her a superstar. Some
consider her to be the pioneer of the modern trend.
But the actual pioneers of this trend—not the term—may be Helen, who did such numbers from as far back as the 1960s, along with Bindu and Aruna Irani in the 1970s.
Actress Urmila Matondkar is one of the most successful item girls. She was featured in
"Chamma Chamma" in the 1998 film China Gate. Baz Luhrmann's 2001 film musical,
Moulin Rouge! used a westernized version of this song.
Although there have been many songs that fit the descriptions of item numbers in the early and mid 1990's, the term itself was coined when Shilpa Shetty danced for "Main Aai Hoon UP Bihar Lootne" in the movie Shool. This is perhaps the first time the media actually referred to Shetty as an "item girl" and the scene as an "item number".
Malaika Arora Khan and Yana Gupta are "official" item number dancers. They have said they don't want to act in movies since they earn sufficient amount of money by just doing one song.
Abhishek Bachchan became the first "item boy" with his performance in Rakht; Shahrukh Khan also performed an item number during the opening credits of Kaal but had an item number in the true sense of the word with "Dard-e-Disco" in the Farah Khan directed Om Shanti Om where he was shot in typical "item girl" manner with bare six pack abs; however the number did have a meaning within the plot. He also performed an iten number for the recently released movie Krazzy 4.
In Krazzy 4, Hrithik Roshan also has an item number during the end credits.
Origins of term
The origin of the term is obscure. It may or may not have something to do with the term "item bomb" (a corrupted form of "atom bomb"), a slang term used to refer to a sexy woman. Many movies use this addition in their films as a marketing tool that is used as a trailer or a teaser to publicize the movie on television
music channels. Sometimes established female and male actors will lend a "special appearance" to an item number to enhance the film's marketability. Item numbers of this genre are generally less sexualized and have more of a pop flavor.
History of Item Numbers in Films
Item Songs Performed By Actresses
- 1971 - Piya Tu Ab To Aaja - Caravan
- 1973 - Aaj Ki Raat - Anamika
- 1975 - Mehbooba Mehbooba - Sholay
- 1978 - Yeh Mera Dil - Don
- 1994 - Tu Cheez Badi Hai - Mohra
- 1996 - Shahar Ki Ladki - Rakshak
Malaika Arora Khan
- 1999 - Maine Aai UP Bihar Lootne - Shool
- 2000 - Macarena - Kushi
- 2004 - Saiyaan Mora Saiyaan - Garv
- 2000 - Mehboob Mere - Fiza
- 2001 - Shakalaka Baby - Mudhalvan
- 2001 - Shakalaka Baby - Nayak
- 2002 - Khullam Khulla - Road
- 2004 - Saaki Saaki - Musafir
- 2003 - Babuji Zara Dheera Chalo - Dum
- 2004 - Oh! What A Babe - Rakht
- 2004 - Manmadhan - Manmadhan
- 2005 - Kadhal Yaanai - Anniyan
- 2003 - Dilli Ki Sardi - Zameen
Item Songs Performed By Actors
- 2004 - One Love - Rakht
- 2006 - mehbooba mehbooba- [ram gopal verma ki aag]
Objectification of women in Bollywood has become increasingly rampant, accompanied by a spurt in the demand for item girls. As a result, many top stars are doing item numbers, and the phenomenon is becoming less stigmatized. Many new women entering Bollywood find item numbers a more amenable shortcut to success, as opposed to more traditional roles with no guarantee of eventual stardom.
Former item girls in pop songs outside films, Rakhi Sawant and Meghna Naidu, for example, are now quite in demand and very popular. Today, they are even being given lead roles in commercially successful movies.
As of 2007, Mallika Sherawat has become the most expensive "Item Girl", as she charged Rs. 15 million (roughly US$375,000) for the song Mehbooba Mehbooba in Aap Ka Suroor - The Real Love Story
Notes and references