Bollywood (“Bombay-Hollywood”) has been aound since the early 1900’s, when the first silent feature film was made in India. Like their American counterparts, the films greatly represented the culture of the people producing them, and the societal issues of the time.
Today, in addition to Indian films being inspired by Hollywood, we see Western films that are informed by Bollywood culture, at least in part. Remember Bend it Like Beckham? And who can forget Slumdog Millionaire?
The music and dance included in small part in these films first introduced me to Indian dance. I was, and still am, mesmerized by the colorful saris and ornate jewelry.
More recently, however, I have become interested in a few questions raised by the beautiful dances I’ve seen. Where do they come from and what do they hint about Indian culture? Do they simply reflect modern society, or do they also influence it?
The dances in Bollywood films are usually based on classical Indian courtesan dance or folk dances, combined more and more with Western styles (probably learned through MTV!). The hero or heroine is center-stage, with a supporting troupe in the background. As in our American musicals, song and dance in Bollywood films usually fit right into the action of the movie, even if they seem a little melodramatic and forced. They can represent part of the plot itself, or an external protrayal of a character’s throughts.
What bothers me a bit is what have become known as “item numbers.” As you might imagine, the “item” is the gorgeous woman who immediately attracts attention with her coy regards and her seductive dance moves. Traditionally, these “item girls” were courtesans dancing for rich clients as part of cabaret shows that had nothing to do with the actual plot.
If you haven’t already, take a look at the video included in this post, from the Bollywood classic Hum Saath Saath Hain, produced in 1999. Undeniably intriguing, right? Three beautiful girls dancing to win the affection of three attractive men, to the approval of their parents – particularly their mothers. They look happy – and maybe they are – but they are still “item numbers.”
In an article written by Mandy Van Deven , founder of the Feminist Review blog, I find that “India’s Women Find Empowerment in Exotic Dance.”
“Lessons for striptease, burlesque, lap dancing, and pole dancing are the newest class offerings at local fitness centers and dance studios in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore,” she says.
She asks Sneha Krishnan, editor and co-founder of the feminist webzine Sa, about the erotic dance moves too. “I think one big reason is Bollywood. Sexy dances have become, increasingly, the symbols of liberation in Bollywood cinema, and as always, Indian women are following.”
So, courtesan dances have become symbols of liberation? Mandy Van Deven goes on to report that “the classes’ reputation is bolstered by husbands and boyfriends responding positively to the, er, stimulation.”
Which leads me to wonder, how far have women come – in general, not just in India – when they consider it a form of liberation to take on the role of a courtesan and entertain men with their bodies, for fun?
At Anchal, we know the price women pay when they are forced into this kind of situation…so why would more affluent or fortunate women even hint at it?
What’s your opinion on the matter?