You have to hand it to Katrina Kaif. She got rid of all her British contours and proved she's a pucca desi girl in Sheila Ki Jawani.
The latkas-jhatkas amidst the pots and the matkas in the inspiring company of Akshay Kumar did not come easily to Katrina. She got herself a belly dancer to make her belly button acquire a life of its own.
She lost weight and she gained that glorious and gorgeous gait to make the men drool and women smirk in the darkness of the auditorium.
This, just months after Katrina's would-have-been sister-in-law Malaika Arora sizzled on screen with Munni Badnaam Hui.
Sigh. Zara Hottie kay zara bach kay yeh hai Item-bomb meri jaan!
Is it just a coincidence that the three most cherished 'item' song queens in recent times have some kind of connect with Salman Khan? There was Aishwarya Rai Bachchan jiving to Kajra Re in Bunty Aur Babli three years ago with her future husband Abhishek Bachchan and father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan. Now there is Malaika's Munni and Katrina's Sheila act.
No one expected Kajra re would be such a rage. It spawned a virtual explosion of item songs ranging from Mallika Sherawat's clumsily performed Maiya Maiya in Guru to Malaika Arora's raunchy but ravishing Honth Raseele Tere Honth Raseele in Welcome where Anil Kapoor pranced all around Malaika.
There are item songs and there are I- thumka-songs. If you throw in a raunchy desi-folk beat into the item song like Shilpa Shetty's Main Aayee Hoon UP Bihar Lootne in Shool, Aishwarya's Kajra re and Malaika's Munni, you have a sure`shout' winner on your hands.
This is where the battle between Munni and Sheila really hots up. Though Katrina dances like a dream in Sheila Ki Jawani most experts feel the song is too urbane, chic and slick to make an impact in the interiors of the country.
But Katrina has a peculiar protest against Sheila Ki Jawani being termed an item song. Says the sizzler, "How can Sheila be an item song? I play an item girl in Tees Maar Khan.
But I am there throughout the film as the leading lady and I have a number of songs and dances. Isn't an item song one appearance by an actor and actress, like Shah Rukh Khan's opening-credits number in Karan Johar's Kaal or Lara Dutta's Aisa Jadoo Dala Re in Khakee?"
One 'n' gone
Katrina makes a valid point. How do we define the item song? It continues to be the domain of any top actress (and sometimes actor too) sweeping into sight for one song and then vanishing leaving a lingering impact.
By this definition Madhubala's immortal Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya in Mughal-e-Azam does not qualify as an item song. Hema Malini's Mujra in Pradeep Sarkar's Laga Chunri Mein Daag and Joothe Nain Bole in Gulzar's Lekin are item songs because Hema came, danced and vanished from the plot.
So, which is the first item song of Hindi commercial cinema? Long before Munni Badnam Hui darling box office ke liye, there was Mumtaz in a 1970 potboiler called Humjoli. She performed the first item song by a leading lady in Bollywood. The film starred Jeetendra and Leena Chandavarkar.
But there was a situation in the plot where Jeetendra needed to make his girl jealous by dancing with another girl, the hotter the better. The makers were thinking on the lines of the obvious. Helen, the ultimate item girl. But the ever-enterprising Jeetu had a brainwave.
Why not his pal Mumu? That's how commercial Hindi cinema's first title song; Tik Tiki Tiki Mera Dil Dole in Humjoli was born. The ever-bindaas Mumtaz got into the feathers, sequins and a body stocking that was meant for Helen. And boy, did she sizzle!
Today, the item song is just not the same. Is it a victim of overkill? Koena Mitra who has performed a couple of them seems to think so. Now in Los Angeles for the past few months, Koena says, "The item number is just not interesting any more.
Any and every one is doing it. What's the big deal? It has lost its exclusivity. I am done with item songs. Let the others do it." Raveena Tandon performed an item song Shaher Ki Ladki way back in 1996 in the film Rakshak. It was a rage.
Raveena says, "I had just gone through a period of personal stress and needed to get out of it. Suneil Shetty who was the hero of Rakshak recommended me for the song. I was like waaaat? But he convinced me. And I did Shaher Ki Ladki. My God! What a rage it was!"
The ultimate item girl or the IT girl as she was known, was Helen whose cabaret numbers warmed up the box office potential of scores of films in the 1960s and 70s right until her drizzle of sizzle in Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Deewana in 1978 in the film Don.
Helen once reminisced that she never thought of her numbers as item numbers. "I just did what I was asked to. I never questioned the choreographer. But I made sure I never crossed the line of decency."
All Helen's cabaret numbers were performed under strict self-censorship codes. Every inch of unclothed skin was covered in body stocking. The dance movements never crossed the limits of decency.
And pelvic thrusts which are almost mandatory to the average item song today, were a complete no-no for Helen. Ironically Helen's repertoire of cabaret dances were never given the status of dignity and grace in their heyday that they are given today.
While in the past, Helen's dances were often accused of being off colour, today, they are looked on as the epitome of grace and decorum. Recently when Ekta Kapoor needed a new-age Helen for her 1970s retro-gangster film Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai she auditioned dozens of wannabe Helens and finally zeroed in on Gauhar Khan who did scant justice to Monica, Oh my darling.
Guess we need more power for the item girl to rise and shine to a place where Helen's magic took those immortal cabaret numbers like Aa Jaan-e-Jaan (Inteqam), Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Caravan) and Mehbooba oh Mehbooba (Sholay).
It is plain to see that love them or hate them; most filmmakers can't do without them. Yeh jaam item numbers ke naam.