Item songs are mostly common in Bollywood and Lollywood, and are enjoyed by a huge audience, even children who aren't even aware of what is happening in such videos and how much demeaning the lyrics are. These songs have a very similar theme that is being followed: the item girl (usually who is dancing in these item songs) is dancing infront of one or several men, trying to please them with sexualised dances, while wearing a small blouse with a deep neck to attract the male gaze. The dressing of these item girls has been normalised today due to the excessive screen time they get in several movies, so it isn’t as much of an issue that it used to be. However, many people would argue that these item girls should be allowed to wear the dressing they want, but yet most of them would not know that it’s not them deciding that what they want to wear, but it’s the men behind the camera roll that are deciding what those women have to wear to seem empowering to some and giving arousal to some. This is a picture from a Pakistani item song “Kaif o Suroor”, showing a culture which is not portrayed in Pakistan in any ways.
The main thing to determine whether the item songs are demeaning or not is the purpose behind it. In its definition, item songs are a musical number inserted into a film that does not have relevance to the plot or are just used to distract the main plot for the movie. So are these songs really necessary? Not for the movie, but for the director and producers to gain more audience, maybe yes. These songs are mainly hit songs that make a lot of money, they're danced upon, listen to, and this is what they're main objective is; it's providing nothing meaningful in the movie or isn't even relevant.
Scenes like such show rowdy men surrounding the item women. They are shamelessly leering the girl. Such portrayals objectify women and show that women are a property of men which they can enjoy. Therefore, these videos promote rape, and the rape rates in India and Pakistan have increased since such portrayals.
So, do women actually feel empowered by these item songs? Looking it through a feminist lens, such songs have provided fame to many actresses, but this fame has kept them limited to these item numbers, and for such purposes, they have altered their bodies to willingly attract men to deduce arousal from their moves. Nora Fatehi is an example of promoting such ideal body types which attract the male gaze. They have done many surgeries to enhance their butts and their breasts so that they can get the jobs in the film industry, or else they’re not hired for being skinny or they’re bodies not being that alluring.
The before and after picture of Nora Fatehi shows her body enhancements so that she can fulfil her dream of becoming an actress/dancer, but till date, she hasn’t gotten a meaningful role and is always shown in songs that are sexualising her body in multiple ways, with the camera angles set in such manner. Their “two minutes of fame”—the songs in the movie, give them a lifetime of being a target of sexism.
Well, I don’t think that “Munni being Badnaam” or “Sheela ki Jawani” is empowering in any sense, with the lyrics of such songs, in my opinion, it’s just a way to provide pleasure to men and to attract them. Munni and Chikni Chambeli only exist to tease, to arouse and then to leave. They have no past, no future, they just happen to exist coming straight out of a man’s guilty fantasy, just to serve the cis-het, patriarchal world. No women would like to be called “Chikni” and in no manner is this empowering, or making the women in general feel powerful individually; such things just promote harassment in streets by men calling women “Chikni” and then whistling, groping has become common, and the society we’re in, women cannot travel without men to be protected by men.
There is now an item song culture in both India and Pakistan, and this is the thing that hypersexualises women, and in my opinion is the most problematic thing in a movie, along with the sexist jokes/remarks that are made.