Bollywood through a feminist lens

Billi (“Na Maloom Afraad,” 2014)

To celebrate adopting two more cats, I wanted to write about an item song with “billi” in the name. This was the only one I could find. But that’s cool, I haven’t seen many movies from Pakistan. Most of what I know about Pakistan comes from Indian cinema, so that’s problematic at best.

The song is a fairly typical item song: a woman dances within a circle of men; the movie’s main characters (also men), wander in to her performance and watch her, entranced. Mehwish Hayat, (“Billi the cat”) is beautiful and moves seductively.

The “meows” on the soundtrack elevate the song, adding a little pizazz to an otherwise routine song.

The lyrics themselves are intriguing. On the one hand, the song celebrates love and youth. On the other hand, the metaphors used to show that love and youth are really about using an object — Billi, Hayat, women. “I’m the chewing tobacco, chew me. I’m the organ, play me.” She is a passive thing to be acted upon.

The next line: “I’m a bottle of spirits, I drink and make drinks.” More active, but the implication is that those drinks are for someone else, not her.

The male protagonists join her on stage and at first Billi looks angry, kicking at one. But then she smiles and dances with them. What are her desires? It doesn’t matter, she’s the chewing tobacco, chew her.

As the song continues, the metaphor becomes more explicit: “I’m the mattress, lay me. . . . I’m the gun, fire me.” Especially with the gun imagery, the implication could be something like “pleasure me, make me cum” but the words and actions are still designed for a male audience. This is an act to be performed together, but something for one person to do to another.

The song is catchy, Hayat is beautiful, and the lyrics lay bare what item songs are really about.

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Categorised in: Bollywood Adjacent, Item Numbers

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