The Evolution of Bollywood Item Songs: Analyzing the Sexualization of Females through the Male Gaze


The final project exhibited here is a video essay about the male gaze and the way that it manifests itself in Bollywood. Bollywood, which is the most popular film industry in India, is notorious for treating women as objects. The objectification of women and the blatant sexism present in Bollywood movies is what sparked my interest to create a video essay exploring this idea, specifically focusing on item songs. An item song, by definition “are big budget song and dance numbers” that often feature a popular heroine and are released in order to generate buzz surrounding the release of a film. It’s a marketing tool that’s used to get people talking about the movie before it’s released in theatres. However, this is what the current definition of an item song is. My video essay incorporates items songs that were released before this became the definition, which meant that older movies were using them as fillers during a movie. A song that was separate from the plot and story line, in order to keep audiences entertained.  My research question for this project was to try and question how the male gaze manifests itself in South Asian society and how this has impacted the way item songs have evolved over time, into something sexual that are now being used to promote films and keep audiences entertained.  I approached this project by choosing four different item songs that were popular from various eras in Bollywood. The first song was from the year 1972, the second one from 1998, the third from 2005 and the last from 2012. This way I made sure that there was a gap between each, in order to see the way the songs had really evolved. In my video essay, I focused on four main aspects; facial expressions, clothing, lyrics and camera angles.

Here is a link to the project that I’ve posted on YouTube:

Creating the Video:

From the beginning of this project, I knew that it would be presented as a video essay since that was the only way to  clearly articulate my thoughts regarding a series of item songs that are presented in Bollywood. I had already figured out which songs I wanted to work with, so collecting those videos wasn’t the difficult part. The most onerous part of this entire project was cutting my video clips and figuring out which parts of the song to show and talk about in the context of this project. Many times throughout the construction of this video I felt like giving up and focusing on only two songs – one from an older era of Bollywood and one from a newer era. However, I enjoyed working with my topic and realized that if I had to put in extra effort I was willing to do so. The program that I used for the creation of the final video was iMovie, and since I had never used it before it took a bit of time before I learned the settings. Plenty of times I ended up cutting out clips that I needed, only because I was learning how to use the program. However, this ended up working in my favour since my original video was about eight minutes long. Accidentally cutting out those parts made it about six to seven minutes. Ultimately I played around with the settings more and cut down the video even shorter. I’d say that the most difficult part of this entire assignment was putting together the actual video. In my proposal I talked about how I wanted a three minute clip and then a voice over explaining everything in the back. However, the picture we have in our mind is not always what the final result will be. I accomplished the voice over part easily but I wasn’t expecting the introduction and the conclusion of the video to be quite so long as well. If I wanted I could have opted to simply include pictures with text in order to introduce my work but I decided that having a series of item songs presented in the introduction would not only enhance my project but it would also encourage other people to watch the entire thing rather than watch a minute into the video. I worked on each part of the video separately and so the introduction was the first thing that I completed.  After that was finished, I focused on each individual song and kept cutting clips until I was satisfied with what I had. The next step after this was to write out what I was going to be saying and talking about for each song,  including the introduction. Once I figured that out, my work got easier and all I had to do was record the voice over.  Originally, I never planned to include a conclusion but seeing as how I did the introduction, it logically made sense to include one. Overall, I’m proud of the piece that I produced, even if it isn’t the one that I imagined when I wrote my proposal.

Critically Analyzing the Sexualization of Females in Bollywood:

The purpose of doing this video essay was to analyze the way that the Bollywood item song has gone from a playful and fun dance number, to something more provocative that is now being used in order to sexualize a woman’s body. My video essay specifically goes through the different periods of Bollywood, from the early 1979s to the late 2010s in order to show how this evolution has taken place. Anyone who watches the video can already pick up on the fact that there is a distinction between the way that item songs were presented back then and the way that they are presented now.  The main argument that I was making through the construction of this video essay was the fact that male gaze manifests itself in Bollywood, in such a way that we almost do not notice that it is happening. This is partially because women have always been sexualized, so we aren’t surprised or shocked when they’re continuously presented on screen as such. However, the level to which they are constantly objectified was never studied.  My project is a video essay which is not only engaging for viewers but also demonstrates how the male gaze manifests itself in these songs. Rather than just simply discusses the issues and complications that exist in Bollywood, in regards to the male gaze, my video essay allows viewers to engage with the songs and make observations for themselves in order to see how this works in Bollywood. Another important aspect of this video essay is the fact that, the male gaze has always been looked at, as something that is prevalent in the West, specifically Western media. However, in doing this project, I wanted to focus on the fact that it is also prevalent in East and manifests itself in South Asian media as well. As a society, we are so used to focusing on the West and the issues that surround women there, that we often tend to forget that the East exists and the same issues that are a problem in the West also exist in the East.

Asha Parekh in the 1972 item song Kanta Laga

Theories that Shaped the Project:

The main research that I’ve used in my project is Laura Mulvey’s essay in which she discusses the male gaze. However, although this was the initial starting point, I found other research that was more relevant to my project. I’ve also used the limited knowledge that I have in regards to Bollywood movies and the objectification of women. The other research articles that I’ve included specifically focus on the way that item songs have always been presented in South Asian media specifically Bollywood. Some of the articles that I looked at, also discussed the male gaze in the context of other films besides Bollywood. India is such a vast country that people tend to forget that other film industries exist outside of Bollywood. A specific article that I looked at, focused on the way that females were sexualized in South Indian specifically Tamil films. Furthermore, an article by Amita Nijhawan discussed the ways in which item songs worked as big budget dance numbers in order to enhance a movie. Like I mentioned in my digital project, the main reason an item song is included in a film is because, the girl dancing in the song usually includes a popular actress of the time so that the film can generate buzz without paying for marketing and publicity. Item songs are a marketing tool but they are also used in order to enhance the male viewing pleasure and treat the female like an object rather than a person. In my project, I’ve chosen to focus on four main things which are relevant to the way an item song is constructed. I chose to look at facial expressions, clothing, lyrics and camera angles. These four elements are crucial to the way an item song is constructed and presented to the public because when they are made, people tend to forget that women are also in the audience watching. Unlike the songs being produced today, item songs back in the late 70s and early 80s were more playful and fun, something that took the audience away from the storyline for a brief period of time. However, over time people in the industry realized that these were bankable and could be used in order to profit and generate buzz about the movie. All of this knowledge along with the way that I’ve grown up listening to certain Bollywood item songs is what helped shape this project and allow it to come together the way it did in my video.

Katrina Kaif in the 2012 item song Chikni Chameli


Throughout the construction of this project, I’ve learned that it is important to critically look at and question what we view, not just in movies but also in any type of media. Bollywood has always been sexist. It also doesn’t help that the South Asian society in general is quite demeaning towards women. There really is no way to combat this sexism or the fact that women are turned into objects for the sake of pleasure so that men can enjoy watching them onscreen. That isn’t to say however that things cannot change. They can, except in an industry as big and well established as Bollywood, which makes it harder to go back to doing something when you’ve been doing it a certain way for so long. For them to go back to making item songs, fun and playful rather than sexy and suggestive would change the meaning completely for starters and it would also come at the expense of losing their audiences.  Men don’t watch these songs so that they can enjoy the music and the dancing; they watch these videos because they are filled with attractive women wearing little clothing on screen, shaking their hips suggestively. At the end of the day, there is no permanent solution. The male gaze exists and has been existing for a reason. Hopefully the definition of an item song is altered so that women aren’t treated like objects in the future.

Works Cited:

“Bangle ke peeche…Kanta Laga.” Youtube, uploaded by Filmi Gaane, 2 December 2015.

“Best Item Songs of Bollywood 2015: Video Jukebox/Latest Hindi Item Songs: T-series, Youtube, uploaded by T-series, 30 December 2015.

“Chamma Chamma.” Youtube, uploaded by Captainjeet007, 24 October 2012.

“Chikni Chameli.” Youtube, uploaded by SonyMusicIndiaVevo, 26 September 2013.

“Kajra Re.” Youtube, uploaded by YRFMusic, 27 May 2011.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Nijhawan, Amita. “Excusing the Female Dancer: Tradition and Transgression in Bollywood Dancing.” South Asian Popular Culture, vol. 7, no. 2, 2009, pp. 99-112doi:10.1080/14746680902920841.

Pruett, David. “It Looks at You: The Returned Gaze of Cinema.” The American Journal of Semiotics, vol. 17, no. 3, 2001, pp. 271-273 Research Library,

“Official Best Item Songs of Bollywood”, Youtube, uploaded by T-series, 30 October 2014.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.”