Bollywood’s uncharismatic relationship with objectifying women is a saga that has been called out only in recent times. Progressive stakeholders in the industry have started speaking up against issues such as pay gap, lack of women-centric films, nepotism, and objectifying roles that female actors are constantly bombarded with.
However, one topic that remains the bone of contention is the lyrics of item songs and peppy dance numbers — be it Honey Singh’s never-ending list of objectifying ‘raps’ or Kareena Kapoor shaking a leg to a song that literally called her a piece of meat in Dabangg’s Fevicol se.
Speaking at an event recently, veteran actress Shabana Azmi urged lyricists to be careful about what they are penning down with respect to item songs. While it may seem that Bollywood is trying to make a proactive effort to change its course with movies like Tumhari Sullu, Naam Shabana and Lipstick under My Burkha, it still has a long way to go before it can fully comprehend its hand in the portrayal of women for the masses.
Ekta Kapoor tried her best at showcasing the lives of four sexually-liberated urban women in Veere di Wedding and almost succeeded until Tareefan, the peppy song that aimed to portray what ‘female gaze’ looks like, was released. It seemed like Tareefan’s sole purpose was to prove that women can objectify male bodies too. However, Badshah’s rap complaining about how women constantly need compliments, dampens the entire point of the movie and the song.
National award winning singer Monali Thakur has often spoken up about vulgar and obscene lyrics being unacceptable. “Anything sensual and/or seductive, I personally do not have a problem with; I do not think it is bad at all. But everything needs to be graceful and classy. If it is crass, or indicative of something disgusting, it is unacceptable,” says Monali.
But why do these songs sell in the first place?
“The point is that our audience is not dumb, nor are they non-classy. Indian audience does have a great taste, we have produced amazing musicians. If we do go back to that era, what used to sell was great music and amazing melodies. But if labels and producers keep badgering the audience with a certain type of song with constant promotions, the audience does not really have a choice. And people do enjoy good dance number, not always the crass one,” adds Monali.
Rapper Pranav Chaganty of Kaala fame feels that it is important for singers and artists to earn fame first before they can take a stand. “Only when you have a social standing in the industry can you preach about how these derogatory lyrics need to be curbed,” says Pranav, adding, “Personally, I am completely against songs that demean women.”
However, are artists under undue pressure from producers and directors to produce a certain type of song or music? “Many a times they are, but not always. Different labels have different approaches to how they produce music. I personally have not been under such kind of pressure. But I do feel a genuine artist will not budge under such kind of pressure if ever faced with it,” opines Monali.
But Tollywood lyricist Sira Sri offers a different opinion as to why these songs sell amongst the Indian audience. He says, “The majority of the audience who call these lyrics problematic are middle-aged or older. That is the age when morality starts infringing into minds, irrespective of what they enjoyed in their younger days. But most patrons of cinema, at any given time, are in the age group of 18-25. I refer to mental age here, not just their chronological age. Films are made for them and songs are written for them.”