Madhuri Dixit is horribly ingratiating these days. Her tragicomic attempt at a comeback is not subtle. Every dance reality show wants her as a judge, and she obliges. She often enthusiastically shimmies and vellicates with the contestants. Her appearance as an “item number” in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani sums up her impatience for resurrection. The industry is not cooperating, it appears. Dixit ruled the box office for years almost entirely because she was a ravishingly graceful and vivacious dancer—none matching her in the body’s movements except perhaps, Vyjayanthimala, who also happened to have an actor in her. Is it ironic then that in the history of the “item song”, Ghagra is an unforgettable debacle? No, it is not.
“TV pe breaking news haye re mera ghagra
Baghdad se leke Delhi via Agra.”
Hardly breaking news. In the hyper-glossy, hyper-energetic scheme of Ayan Mukerji’s movie, this song is a lazy and hideous afterthought. The set design is cheap. Background dancers overpopulate the frames. The lighting is gaudy. Farah Khan’s choreography is without any flair. Madhuri’s diaphanous dupattas change from one colour to another, the ghagras closely resembling those on mannequins in the hoi polloi fashion shops of Dadar.
Despite the nonchalance of the makers, Madhuri looks gorgeous; her grace can’t hide behind the ugliness of the production. It is obvious why she agreed to do it. This is a film driven by popular stars Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone. It has great music, slick production details, beautiful costumes and lavish sets besides charismatic performances. Why did the producer and the film-maker include this song? Either as a statement, having the diva of Bollywood do an item number for your movie, or as a way of reaching the mass audience, beyond the film’s core audience—the multiplex-goers of metros and A-towns. Going by the slight effort that has gone into it, the producer and director don’t seem convinced enough by any of these reasons.
What Ghagra does best is reaffirm the importance of the item song in the insecure life of a Bombay cinema actress. For the producer (and director), the item song is not an aesthetic or plot device. It is a way to amass audiences beyond the multiplex—to throw in a raunchy, objectifiable female element that attracts the whistles. They could do with a Priyanka Chopra or a Madhuri Dixit or just any leggy model from any country in the world. By agreeing to do item numbers, our actresses validate its appeal. In the recent film Shootout at Wadala, directed by Sanjay Gupta, there are three item songs, one of them with Chopra.
The “item girl” is a superficially evolved vamp. Once it was a way of distinguishing women who showed their skin and consequently never married the hero. The best vamps are unforgettable in their signature swagger and style. Madhuri made the dance number a reason a producer made money. Today, the dance number is pointless except for the actress or starlet who needs some eyeballs. It is humdrum and asinine, unable to even offend the moral edifices of prudes. For the item song to make sense, it needs money, imagination and some balls—it can’t be just a floating device for actresses.