Friday, December 17, 2010

Tera (Item) Number Kab Ayega?

Courtesy -

Given the recent fever over Munni and Sheila, I strongly believe would-be parents have one more criteria in selecting a name for a child, especially a girl-child - never select a name that can fit into an item number. But that is easier said than done. One would have thought it’s the sexy sounding ones which fall prey to bollywood. But bollywood proved us wrong. Prior to Dabaang, the name ‘Munni’ conjured images of a sweet, cherubic child. Thanks to the item number, the innocent ‘Munni’ became a slutty Lolita.

Sheela/Sheila is the name of my mom’s generation as far as I know. I have not come across any of my friends name their children ‘Sheela/Sheila’. So I can safely say ‘Sheela/Sheila’ largely represents a population of middle-aged women. I feel truly sorry for them. Farah Khan says the song should be taken in a humorous way, and we should just enjoy Katrina’s dance moves. Of course we will! But we are just a wee bit worried about those million men in India who can’t help touching themselves in public, who can’t stop making passes at women in public, who won’t miss a chance to rub against a woman in a crowded bus. Sheer misery if such fellows come to know that one’s name is Sheela/Sheila or Munni.

Item numbers have always been a part of Bollywood. Only earlier, they were not called ‘item numbers’. They were a part of the narrative sequence. Usually, the songs took place in a club, where the hero has gone to drown his sorrows in the ‘bothel’. Or, the hero is an undercover cop and has gone to this club to spot the villan. Or, it would be a ‘jashn-e-shaam’ at the villan’s monstrous palace where he has captured the hero’s sister and mother. In all cases, the ‘item song’ would usually be a cabaret where Helen would shake her booty. In those Eastman colour movies, where the virtuous hero and heroine were allowed to barely clasp hands and hug each other, these cabaret songs probably offered the sexual release for the audience. All the cabaret songs have one theme, and one theme only. A sensuous woman boldly proclaiming her sexuality, daring, cajoling, inviting men to errr...hmmm. Sorry I’m a prude.

I believe the first name that succumbed to the cabaret was Laila. From Laila to Sheila – we’re getting there I suppose! The only common thread I find in names that feature in ‘item numbers’ is that the names are short and sweet, usually two syllables. Not that you are still safe. Remember ‘Shabnam’ in Kati Patang? ‘Pyaar se log mujhe Shabbo kehthe hai’. Or Monica. Which will immediately be followed by 'oh my darling!'The only way to prevent bollywood ignomy for your child is to go back to the old method of naming.

See in those days, no one really fretted over names. No one gave a crap about ‘the name has to be rare’. It was all based on the horoscope. Depending on the star, some name would be allotted. If you were born under ‘Swati’ ‘Kruthika’ etc. then there was no need to think. Your name would be Swati and Kruthika. In most cases, one would be named after some ancestor. Take any Iyengar family, and you will have a million Seshadris. They are all distinguished by native places, employment, physical characteristics. For example, on my Mom’s side, there were a couple of ‘Kannan’s – shortened to ‘Kannu’. One was a ‘Bus Kannu’ on account of his employment with KSRTC; while the other was ‘Depot Kannu’ – he worked in some depot somewhere. Whenever these gentlemen visited, it would be announced 'Bus Kannu has come', or 'Depot Kannu has come'. The gentlemen did not mind - it was their identity.

In most cases, names would be derived from our Hindu Gods. It would simply be Laxmi, Saraswathi or Parvathi. Or names from Mahabharata and Ramayana and our Vishnu Puranas – Rukmini, Shabari, Urmila etc. In some cases where they did not have the patience to do even this, I guess they named the baby after its physical Gundamma (the round one). Yeh, life was simple then.

So! Here’s the deal if you want to insulate your baby from Bollywood assault.

1. Select the name of a goddess. Who can dare give a sexy spin to a holy name?

2. Let the name be more than three syllables. E.g. Rajarajeshwari (from the Lalitha saharsanama!)

3. Be as unimaginative as possible. Errm...Varalakshmi. It is simple; a direct name of the Mother, and as my grandmom used to opine ‘the name fills your mouth. So nice!’

4. If you are in doubt, add ‘amma’ to the name. For example, you want to call the baby Lakshmi. But you never know with Bollywood fellows. So just call the baby Lakshmamma.

5. If you can’t think of anything, naming your baby girl after your grandmom or great-grandmom is a good idea. You can throw in your village name too.

Item numbers have always been a part of Bollywood, and they will not go away. If someone includes ‘Bollywood’ in a university syllabus, I bet ‘item numbers’ would be a specialization. It is an interesting study – the ‘progress’ of the item numbers. Earlier, you would never have a leading lady do a cabaret. The leading lady represented a certain virginal morality. And so, cabaret meant two things – Asha Bhonsle and Helen. If you ask me, all those Helen numbers are as good as any burlesque shows in today’s Paris. Helen’s classy sex appeal, her costumes, her expressions are unmatchable. Like I said earlier, the cabarets would kind of flow into the narration, and you would miss a significant piece of the story if you stepped out for a smoke. But the item numbers as we see today are more raunchy and slutty than classy. There is no simpering indirect innuendo. Some of them are so bad that it looks like a foreplay before an orgy. Perhaps in terms of progression, the leading lady no longer represents a pseudo morality, and so we don’t have a specific ‘Helen’. Yes, Malaika seems to be the flavour but we’ve had everyone shake their booty – from Katrina to Aishwarya. I guess the only constant factor in today’s item numbers is Sunidhi Chauhan.

Bollywood has a habit of repeating tried and tested formulae. ‘Lost and Found’, ‘Multi starrers’ ‘Revenge against system’ etc. Now with Munni and Sheila’s success, all we can do is wait and watch. Who is it going to be next? Mina? Nina? Anju? Manju? YAAAAAAAH Madhu?

I leave you with my favourite number -
 ©Sumana Khan - 2010


  1. One of my classmates in primary school was 'Ascharya'. And I was surprised every time our class teacher called her name. :D
    One girl in high school was 'Kathakali' LOL... Kathakali!!!

    Babies become grandmas should their parents take your suggestions: Gundamma, Lakshmamma, and what was the other one? Rajarajeshwari ante.. Yen creativity nappa! Maarimutthu bedva?

    However, according to me, the next in the line for item song is 'Dolly'.
    And also beware. Sumana might become Summi in some song! :D

  2. @Karthik...can't believe kathakali! LOL! And if at all your prediction re. name comes true...will legally change it!

  3. This was a fantastic post. One of the best blog posts I have read. Plus the title was also quite good. Hats off. :)

    As for Item Numbers- I guess they will continue till eternity.

  4. Hey Satwinder! Thank you for stopping by :) Wish you a very happy new year!

  5. My name is Vishwanath and I am not a hero.
    Vishwanath is another name for Lord Shiva Himself.
    I would have thought Bollywood would spare me!
    There was movie titled Vishwanath
    The hero Shatrughan Sinha was named Vishwanath in this movie.
    It was released sometime in the late seventies or early eighties.
    My friends had a great time pulling my leg.
    There were plenty of jokes about me and my name during this period.
    Reena Roy, the heroine too figured prominently in these jokes.

    1. ha ha! let me see if i can catch a few scenes in youtube!

  6. Bus Kannu and Depot Kannu made me think of a fixture from my father's childhood.

    In the town where my father was born, there was a bus conductor who had collected a string of degrees -- he was therefore aptly called Degree Rajanna.