|‘I am not an item girl, I am a performer’|
13 August 2012
I remember that when the music of the film Janbaaz released in 1986, it became hugely popular.
I remember that when the music of the film Janbaaz released in 1986, it became hugely popular. Of its songs, Pyaar do pyaar lo, went on to become a blockbuster, with a very glam Rekha in a special appearance for the song’s video. That is my earliest memory of an item song performed by an actress who is not a vamp. But I do not remember Rekha being referred to as an item girl. I wonder when and who coined the term.
My career graph has been unlike any actress in Bollywood. I started out as a ramp model in 2002 and then became a VJ on a film entertainment channel before participating in the dance reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa in 2009. I was the runner-up but the dance show marked the start of my screen career. I have also been a part of and danced for the musical Zangoora: The Gypsy Prince at Kingdom of Dreams in Gurgaon and have done 700 shows since. So why should I have to shy away from dancing on the screen — something I love to do — just because a few people are quick to tag me as an item girl, a term that already passes a moral judgement on me notwithstanding my overall talent as an actor? A song can be an item song, but a girl cannot be an item girl — she will be an actor, performer or a dancer.
Dance songs and item numbers are important to the marketing of a movie. So much so that actors such as Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have also performed to such numbers in their films. How I am perceived in a song depends on my performance and intention — am I doing an item song because it will get me publicity or because I am a talented dancer? Katrina Kaif has a large number of item songs to her credit, but that does not nullify her success as an actor. Malaika Arora Khan is a talented performer and dancer, which is why some of the biggest filmmakers have her on board for dance numbers.
Similarly, I do not do item songs in order to gain publicity or mileage from them. I don’t need to do that because I don’t believe in following the industry’s norms. I made my acting debut with an understated character of a regular but feisty girl in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year in 2009, instead of waiting to be cast opposite a big star or in the lead role. Yet, I have worked with some of the best people in the film industry. I did a song for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Aan and another for Milan Luthria’s Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. My recent film Ishaqzaade was with Yash Raj Films.
I am extremely proud of my role in Ishaqzaade, and the two item songs in the film– Chokra jawaan and Jhallah wallah —were integral to my character as the nautch girl Chand Baby. The lyrics of these songs are beautiful and Habib Faisal read them out to me during the narration. I like the real portrayal of my character too — a regular girl during the scenes and glamorous for the songs. And why not? Looking glamourous and fit is important to the visuals of a dance number, which is supposed to entertain the audience. But is that really supposed to take away talent from an actor and make me an item girl instead?
(As told to Dipti Nagpaul-D'Souza)
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