Thank you to Akshat for bringing this to my attention! I have no strong feelings about it, but I am finding it fascinating to consider from all angles and puzzle over what I would do, or what I would want someone else to do in this situation.
This will be a fun post to write! A combination of audience, text, and industrial analysis, because all of those things combine to influence what happens to film. Part of what makes popular culture studies so fascinating to me! It’s the intersection of so many things.
Sorry, this is going to be a lot of me-me-me, but it will also be a little bit of a discussion of the responsibility of public writing and education and stuff. So that will be fun! Oh, and it will answer a question that a lot of people have been asking me lately.
Don’t panic, he still doesn’t use the buttons. And one of them is white, so a little see-through. It’s all good.
He already gave us a Dear Zindagi trailer, which was wonderful, but just to make sure we fully celebrate, he gave us another video as well!
So, yesterday I talked about how Shahrukh’s film Trimurti from the 90s echos the themes in Dilwale (plagiarism? An homage? Laziness? Who’s to say?!?!) (it’s laziness). But Trimurti isn’t the only film that explores concepts which are touched on by Dilwale. Going back into the 90s, we find Dushman, another film in which Kajol fights for her sister, triumphs through violence, and then turns to love.
I found her! Just now! My favorite item girl! Her name is Mumait Khan, and I just learned that an hour ago after being her fan for a decade.
I first noticed her in a song in Hulchul:
That’s her in the more yellow-y sari, with the face piercings and the awesome attitude. Actually, they all have attitude in this song. Whenever I read a think piece about how sexy item numbers are bad for women, I want to make the author watch this! They are just freaking dominating that village square! And if men choose to watch them, they take it as their due, but they aren’t doing it for the men, they are doing it for themselves.
Anyway, shortly after that I noticed it was her in this song from Asambhav too, with a very poorly fitting blouse:
So uncomfortable looking! I just want to hoist that blue thing up! It’s way too tight, and way too low. But otherwise, this song is awesome again. She’s trapped on an island with a bunch of horny terrorists, and she is in complete control.
So far as I could tell, the only time she actually had a speaking part in a film, instead of just doing a fabulous dance in the background, is in Lucky: No Time for Love. Maybe to punish her for having lines, the dance number they give her is much less awesome than usual:
The only bits that are awesome are thanks to her. The other three girls are giving me more of a “innocent school girl about to be raped by a bunch of creepy guys” vibe (that is their school uniform, and they are 17). Whereas she is giving me more of a “not so innocent young woman about to happily flirt like crazy with everyone in sight and then leave them wanting more” kind of feeling.
Anyway, I’ve been seeing her pop-up here and there for years, but it was impossible to figure out her actual name. Even imdb doesn’t help, since it’s not like she has a named role in the film. I tried searching for “actors in common”, but Indian film is such a small world, every movie has multiple actors in common, and I couldn’t sort her out from the rest.
But tonight, thanks to a recommendation from a friend who knows more about the south than I do, I am watching Chatrapathi, a Telegu movie with the same director and star as Bahubali. And there she is! At first, I am just super happy to have a new song with her, and then I realize this is finally my chance to find out who she is! Sure enough, there is only one person in common between Hulchul and Chatrapathi, Mumait Khan. According to imdb, her father is from the south, her mother is from Pakistan, and she grew up just outside Bombay.
But I was able to find out even more than that! That name sounded familiar to me, so I dug through my books, and she was actually profiled by Anupama Chopra (love her!) back in January of 2005. Her life story is kind of old-fashioned, actually. Just like Helen or Nargis or Meena Kumari, she went to work at a young age to support her family and film work was all she could get. Her father was laid off, she had younger siblings, the family was struggling, so at age 14 she went to work at the best job she could get, dancing in films, in the chorus for $35 a day. After years of work, she finally got her big break, age 17, in Munna Bhai MBBS (love the movie, so-so on this particular song actually, but her attitude is fabulous):
Two years later, when Anupama interviewed her, she had made enough to move her family out of their house and into a modern apartment. She was also rumored to be about to break through to the west, possibly be featured in a music video. And, because of this, she said she was experimenting with piercings and tattoos. Which, no-no-no-no-no! She was already tattooed and pierced and awesome, right from the start. More likely, some manager had told her to say that it was for the West, so she could pretend that at heart she was still a good, traditional, Indian girl.
But the thing is, she is! At least, she is a traditional Item Girl. Helen, the greatest of all item girls, has an almost identical resume. She was sent out to support the family in puberty the best way she could, as a background dancer. As a teenager, she was finally given her big break and her star-power and personality was immediately recognized. It’s still recognizable, watch this song and tell me you don’t immediately fall in love with her:
She also never became an actress, never had more than a few lines in a film, but instead spent her career being the sexually confident and aggressive woman that the heroine could never be, but that the audience, both male and female, needed to see.
I don’t know if it is because of a childhood spent dancing their heart out, or the knowledge that they could support a family better than a man before they were 16, but I feel like these two women, Mumait (so happy to have a name for her!) and Helen, have a certain something when they attack the camera in these songs that is just missing from the new faux-item girls.
I’m talking about songs like this with Priyanka in Ram-Leela:
Or Katrina Kaif in Sheila:
Don’t get me wrong, those songs are great, but they are just missing something that you get when it is a whole-hearted item girl, someone who knows she will never be that girl the hero falls in love with, that this is her one moment in the sun. That we may never even know her name, but by she will make sure we never forget her!
Kat and Priyanka want me to love them, Helen and Mumait DEMAND that I worship them.