Bollywood through a feminist lens

“Tattad Tattad” (Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, 2013)

“Tattad Tattad” is my platonic ideal of an item number: catchy, fun, a performance by a gorgeous actor, colorful visuals. Because this is a male item number, the focus is on Ranveer Singh’s desirability and coolness. But he owns that desire. All eyes on him because that’s what he wants; he has the power to command the action. Women try to take pictures of him, but no one is sitting passively, observing.

Even a number like “Kamli,” which showcases the actor’s body, the performance is still for a specific audience. Singh’s Ram is still performing, but to demonstrate how awesome he is. He is not hoping to be given something, to be given a space. He is taking that space.

“To take” and “to be given” probably define male and female item numbers, and, in a larger sense, the way society expects men and women to act.

As the song opens, Ranveer Singh is so cool. Idly riding a motorcycle sidesaddle with his shirt open and checking his smartphone. Everyone cheers as his hair blows in the wind and he smiles at the camera. The wind machine blows his shirt open and he blows kisses.

Compared to the dancing of, oh, any female Bollywood actress, extra, or backup dancer, his moves are incredibly simple. He stamps his foot. He runs a hand through his hair. All that matters is his abs. I’m trying to picture Katrina Kaif dancing in an item number like this and I’m just laughing.

In “Kamli,” “Girls Like to Swing,” any countless item numbers, the male audience tends to just sit quietly, staring, judging, evaluating. In contrast, Singh’s audience either moves with him (male backup dancers) or otherwise interacts with him.

When he removes his shirt, women scream and fan themselves, and one even faints. As he flexes, women reach out to touch his muscles. This is what Singh wants, and what his character allows to happen. He has the power to stop the women, the power to leave the space.

Obviously men reaching out to touch a female performer has a different connotation, that they own or are entitled to her body. With Singh, he is entitled to their adoration. I’m not sure, then, what the equivalent would be for a female actor in an item number. There must be something between an audience that passively stares and judges, and an audience that gets physical.

The male fantasy is to possess the woman. The male fantasy is to be strong and powerful. To be entitled. What is the female fantasy?

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