Item songs have become quite the essential flavor of Bollywood movies. Without an item song, a Hindi movie seems meager. They do tend to imitate life, and what the society thinks, because they are created and consumed by us. They are a product of our need to glamorize what we like so that our opaque and sometimes “jaded” life comes out to be voluminous.
Firstly, the lyrics have to set the tone. They aren’t just any random lyrics though. It all started with "Sheher ki Ladki". Raveena Tandon looks drop dead gorgeous in the song which is often considered as the first item number in Bollywood. There were a lot of suggestively vulgar songs before this one but none of them had the constituents you need for the item song: An attractive girl, group of guys and symbolic dance movements. Thus to make the formula successful, you need the lyrics to actually make sense, to be logical. Like any book, movie, or work of art, they aren’t just made to make another song for the album. They are made to make a trend that has become an asset to a movie.
Secondly, more importantly, the item in the song. The attractive and dissolute woman trying to adhere to the male gaze. The Bollywood movie industry is often criticized for the raunchy woman that will dance on just about any music that sounds catchy. But actually, the industry has implicitly normalized the objectification of a woman as an “item”. Also, it takes a lot to be an item. It’s become a sought after role to portray. Many media outlets have even gotten into heated debates about which item girl is the hottest, thereby perpetuating the idea that actresses and women are seen only as objects of entertainment. However, a case can be made for item girls being far more subversive than their critics make out. At their best, with their solid dance moves, the right emotions and great costumes they have come to symbolise feminine power in its most beautiful – and even enfranchised – form. They have been packaged in a way that makes them an object of attraction for men and a body to attain for women.
Thus, we all like to get drunk or occasionally let our hair down to dance to Bollywood numbers, which we no longer cringe to. When you are entranced by these songs, you hardly think twice about the marketing strategy or the analytics that went behind it. Music is the strongest form of magic.