My friend loves Pakeezah, so I thought I’d cover the famous item number from it, “Inhi Logon Le Leena Dupatta Mera.” During the course of research, I found this wonderful article from Scroll.in, “Was the famous ‘Pakeezah’ song an ‘item number’ originally?” So clearly I had to rethink everything.

A search on YouTube reveals the scene from Pakeezah (1972), as well as various covers, remakes, and remixes. I had to add “Himmat” specifically to get a video from the 1941 movie.

The most famous version of the song, then, is a courtesan performing for a largely male audience. Other women dance in the background for their own audiences. Our courtesan is framed within her dancing space, thus including the movie audience into her onset audience. She is full clothed, including long pants and a top with long sleeves, and her moves are certainly tame by 2018’s standards. Her clothing, jewelry, and other accessories suggest a bride. But even if she is not scantily clad or performing wild moves, she does fulfill the most important aspect of an item number: a woman dancing while men watch.

The 1941 version is quite similar: a courtesan surrounded by a group of men. She is wearing a sari, so we see some of her stomach. And the lip synching isn’t very good. Still, the actress is beautiful and it’s fascinating to see how much and how little have changed in 70 years.

The song was then parodied in 1943’s Aabroo. Clearly, the tradition of Bollywood movies responding to each other goes back a very long time. (This is a traditional song, but that it had been released in a movie a few years prior is probably not a coincidence.) In this case, the singer is male. He dances coyly and uses a dupatta as a woman would. He performs in a house, though, and both men and women look on. As the song draws to a close, the female audience member turns on the radio, as lively “modern” music plays. Everyone dances.

I don’t have enough cultural IQ to understand the parody here, but I love that this scene plays with gender representation and the interplay of old and new.

Youtube user Syed Younus took a scene from the 2006 Umrao Jaan (“Salaam”) and put Inhi Logon. . .” over the soundtrack. Aishwarya Rai’s dancing matches up well as she performs for a mixed group. Her character, the title character, is also a courtesan. This shows the power and problem of traditional art: that her moves match up is, honestly, really cool. What an amazing connection from 1941 to 1958 (when Pakeezah first began filming) to 1974 to 1981 (when Umrao Jaan starring Rekha came out) to 2006. But this also shows what can happen when tradition becomes too entrenched in art. Should those dance moves match up so well?I’m not suggesting we eschew every piece of traditional art, but perhaps we should consider why we return to those stories. What other kinds of traditions are being upheld?

But speaking of tradition, Youtube user Liza Amin made a similar edit. The song is played over a very modern video produced by a very modern belly dance troupe. (I think? Honestly, the women look like they could be Pussycat Dolls.) I couldn’t find info on the original video or troupe. After all of the beautiful, chaste versions of this traditional song, the very modern version is shocking. The dancers remove burka-style robes to reveal modern belly dancing outfits. The women are certainly talented. But I’m curious about Liza Amin’s intent. Matching a song and performance she liked? Showing the true nature of what it means to be a “courtesan”? Saying something about the male gaze?

Well, enjoy, anyway:

Posted by Natasha

Natasha received her MA in Literature and Culture in 2008 from Oregon State University. Currently she lives in Oregon with her husband and cats.

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