The YouTube thumbnail for “Girls Want to Swing” shows Priyanka Chopra and Anushka Sharma smiling into the camera, beckoning the viewer to join them. The camera is tight on their faces, and Sharma’s hand rests on Chopra’s shoulder. Chopra is cool, as always; Sharma looks inviting. The shot seems to tell two stories: the first is the typical male fantasy, “hey big boy, come join us!” But the second suggests female collusion, “come join the girl squad.”
This is a mainstream movie, so I have little doubt this image is ultimately meant for heterosexual male consumption. But for a moment, I can slip in my own fantasy, my fantasy of female consumption, platonic or romantic. They smile suggestively, but the close up leaves the suggestion to the imagination.
Besides being a feminist killjoy, I am also a historical killjoy, and so my quibbles are this:
- The cuts to Ranveer Singh could be left out, because boys are boring. Yet another item song where a man rather placidly watches a woman perform, how novel. He sits in a suit at a table and smiles at Sharma. I should make a master cut that’s just men looking, highlight how boring this dynamic is. He’s not an audience stand in when the audience is more than heterosexual men.
- Sharma and her backup dancers are dressed in beautiful 1920s flapper dresses, and their moves evoke The Charleston. While swing music technically got its start in ‘20s, its heyday was the mid-1930s to the late 1940s. At this remove, that’s all sort of morphed into “the past” and Dil Dhadakne Do is far from the only piece of media to conflate flappers and swing.
The song starts with a brassy upbeat as the spotlights showcase small groups of diverse dancers. The women’s dance moves evoke ‘20s dances like The Charleston and also traditional Bollywood dance moves but also, interestingly, voguing. Madonna’s video is an homage to the ‘20s and ‘30s, but the dance itself is from the 1980s. This mixture of costumes, music, and dance shows the item number’s strength in combining various art forms into something new, fun, and exciting. A 2015 movie using 80s/90s dance to suggest a 1920s stage show is a delicious layer cake: the dancers are enjoyable to watch as-is, and even more enjoyable to pull apart the references and callbacks.
Likewise, playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan’s voice is much lower than the typical Bollywood song, referencing the lower registers of jazz singers. The item number can showcase a different sound than one typically hears.
The costuming is beautiful, playful. The women wear makeup and heels, but the flapper-style dresses are cut in the androgynous style of the 1920s, straight up and down, with only a slight suggestion of breasts and hips. The camera certainly showcases shimmying hips, but they are less emphasized than they would be in a sari.
The chorus reminds us “Girls like to swing,” girls like to have fun, perhaps even have sex. This song fits in with the modern trend of item songs of female enjoyment, if not empowerment.
The dancers stalk into the audience, singing and shimmying. Sharma approaches Singh, first reaching out to him, then shaking her head and pulling Chopra up to dance. Chopra is dressed in a tailored pants and halter, another callback, suggesting the sexual ambiguity of Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s. The women smile, laugh, and dance together, and for once it seems like they are having fun with each other, not over, around, or about some guy. (It helps that in the movie Singh is Chopra’s brother.) Chopra blows a kiss to Sharma as she sits down.
And there the song ends, on the two women having fun, not on the men’s reaction.