Bollywood through a feminist lens

“Kamli” (Dhoom 3, 2013)

“Kamli” is an acrobatic strip tease. Katrina Kaif performs alone, amidst metal and sparks, as others watch. Aamir Khan sits in a chair, watching, unimpressed. She starts the song fully clothed, but it is clear she is vulnerable and he holds the power.

Yet the sequence reveals the power of Kaif’s body (and any stunt performers who subbed in for her). She dances but she runs up walls. The sequence could be recut so that she is a superhero.

Her clothing is uncharacterstic of an “item girl.” Dhoom 3 is set in the US, so it’s possible the overalls are meant to evoke American fashion. (They weren’t in style when the movie came out but had been previously and would be a few years later.) The overalls are patched, suggesting poverty and desperation. However, they also allow for a slightly different strip tease sequence.

First Kaif removes her trench coat and hat and then the overalls to reveal a long white shirt, thigh high stockings, and short shorts. After she removes white the shirt, she is left in a short black tank dress’ her final outfit is a white tank and black shorts.. Her moves are sexy, sexual, but also strong. She break dances (ish) and her limbs are large, taking up space. She twirls on a pole, runs. She has clearly defined muscles.

She twirls on a rope and looks like she is having fun. Indeed, Kaif is probably in so many item numbers because she is so captivating, looking like she is really having a good time. Sure, you can enjoy her body, but this song, this movement is for her. Khan continues to watch, impassive, but his power dissolves as you realize how bizarre it is that he isn’t reacting.

Finally, she reveals her tank top is actually strips of cloth. She places the end in Khan’s hand, then unwinds the strip of fabric. Even though he is holding it, she performs the action; she is in control. Now she is in shorts and a grey bra/tank. Costume changes are so important. Her dance moves now highlight her six pack, instead of her breasts or butt (though they are still prominently displayed).

The song ends in a more stereotypical pose: her leg up over Khan’s shoulder, seemingly offering herself to him (this is an audition within the film’s plot). Yet she looks strong and powerful. If Khan tried something, she (looks like) she could take him.

The lyrics may suggest a standard love song, but the video is about the strength and power of Kaif’s body.

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  1. “Dard-e-Disco” (Om Shanti Om 2007) – Feminist Bollywood

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