The demise of the traditional vamp, as heroines fulfil that role

2013-10-10 00:00

IN the seventies, it was almost mandatory to have actress Helen in skimpy costumes gyrating her way through songs as the vamp, and sometimes the gangster’s moll, in almost every Hindi film. It was something no lead actress would dare do for fear of ostracisation, although a few, such as Vyjyantimala, were brave enough to appear in bikinis.

So what happened to the screen vamps such as Helen and Bindu? They were slowly phased out as lead actresses became increasing bolder in dropping their saris in favour of dresses and skirts that shifted higher than the ankle, which had been the only permissible thing for decades.

Today, top actresses vie for and get paid millions of rupees to perform just one song in a film while clad in teeny weeny costumes, invariably surrounded by salivating men in a nightclub or party. The mandatory song is still there, but its style and performance have changed dramatically.

Double entendre lyrics are the order of the day, often just bordering on crudity and vulgarity to avoid the censors’ scissors, although a few have ended up on the cutting table after the censors’ intervention.

With rapidly increasing acceptability from audiences, and in fact demands for more from them, film-makers continually defy attempts by Indian women’s rights organisations to stop them, and they try to outdo each other with every film by seeking out the top names in the industry.

The really big breakthrough in giving actresses credibility in this genre came in 2006 with Bipashu Basu’s raunchy song Beedi in the film Omkara.

After many attempts by other actresses in the ensuing years to emulate this, Katrina Kaif arrived with a bang when she performed Chikni Chameli in Agneepath in 2011, followed quickly by Sheila ki Jawani in Tees Maar Khan, which would have been a dud at the box office had crowds not flocked there repeatedly to see the song being performed.

Malaika Arora was next, in the same year with Munni Badnaam Hui in Dabangg, followed by her hit Anarkali Disco Chali a few months later.

Not to be outdone, Katrina’s arch rival Kareena Kapoor took over the role in the sequel to Dabangg a year later with Fevicol Se.

Even top actress Priyanka Chopra and former Western porn star turned Bollywood actress ,Sunny Leone, tried to outdo each other with item songs, as they have become known in the industry, in Shootout at Wadalla earlier this year, with less impact than their predecessors.

Clearly, the item song, which is often included to titillate audiences rather than being essential to the storyline, is here to stay.

So who is next on the list? Producers are willing to pay exorbitant prices for a top actress to do just one item song in a film, with their investments quickly recovered at the box office and by the sale of music and video rights for the songs, so the trend is unlikely to end any time soon.

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