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Last Updated 16.10.2019 | 10:17 PM IST
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The item girl’s ‘name’ syndrome

After Munni badnaam hui and Sheila ki jawani, the latest fad seems to be an item song with a definite female name. Tracing a booming trend.


Surely, veteran lyricist Qamar Jalalabadi could not have envisioned that he was being a pioneer here. All of 53 years ago, a sleek Helen sashays down a set depicting a stage complete with Chinese lanterns and other apt props. Packaged in Geeta Dutt’s voice, oozing sensuality in her career-rejuvenating song composed by O.P.Nayyar, the song Mera naam Chin Chin Chu stormed the hearts and charts with Helen essaying an Oriental and slinky-eyed diva.


One of the earliest songs to have male “extra” dancers doing their own thing, it was also the precursor, along with the same film’s other hit Aaiye meherbaan, of the contemporary cabaret song usually enacted by Helen.


Six years later, Subodh Mukerji draped his Junglee discovery Saira Banu in an exotic red party gown to sing a Hasrat Jaipuri teaser in Mera naam Rita Christina to hero Biswajeet. Shankar-Jaikishan composed this zingy Western number that Lata Mangeshkar had to come in to sing as she was the heroine’s voice oftener than not in those days .


In 1968 came L.V.Prasad’s blockbuster adaptation of The Prince And The Pauper – Raja Aur Runk. Kum Kum essayed a village belle who poses as Chameli, the flower-vendor, and enters a jail to seductively entice the guards and help the imprisoned hero (Sanjeev Kumar) escape. Such songs then were always situational and it got a desi and rural tweak (that has become so common now in the genre) as Lata Mangeshkar sang the peppy folk-based Laxmikant-Pyarelal-Anand Bakshi chartbuster Mera naam hai Chameli with the provocative lyrics Zaraa darwajja to kholon/Khadi hoon main darwajje pe badi der se! Now if that wasn’t an item number, what was?


Monica and Shabnam heat it up

Monica and Shabnam came together Munni-Sheila fashion (note the common M and S, though chronologically, Mera naam hai Shabnam from Kati Patang released a few months before Monica o my darling from Caravan. But the media not being what it is now, and there being no one-upmanship between these situational songs and the films themselves, though there was ample space to compare the reigning queen of dance, Helen, with the new challenger in Bindu.


Shabnam, as written by Anand Bakshi and sung by Asha Bhosle, was in the Mera naam… mode of Howrah Bridge and April Fool and also was Do Raaste-fame vamp Bindu’s first hit song. But though the song was big in its own way, if one must compare, the hands-down winner was Piya tu ab to aaja (that’s how the actual mukhda went) with common-to-both composer R.D.Burman joining Asha in the song in the cult hook-line Monica-a-a-a….O my darling.


This cosmetically-different mode where the hero voiced the femme fatale’s name in such a song had two follow-ups: Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen composed the hit Kammo, sung by brother Lalit Sen in Ziddi (1997) as Sunny Deol danced in his highly unique way. In 2008, Pritam actually used fellow music director Anand Raaj Anand’s voice in Billo rani from Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal for heroes John Abraham and Arshad Warsi as they romanced their girls while dancers serenaded in the background.


Yet surprisingly, the ’70s never went towards names within songs and were content with item numbers that went only as far as Mehbooba o mehbooba and Mungda main gudh ki kali that were adjectives rather than proper nouns. And by convention, an item song must have a hot quotient and the girl possess an innate element of spice, so mere musical references to heroines’ names like Leena and Ruby in love duets would not fit the bill!


The modern sirens

The clear precursor of the club song, as we know it in the millennium, is Laila main laila, sung by Kanchan for “it” girl Zeenat Aman, swinging along with cop-in-disguise Amjad Khan in the chartbuster Qurbani duet with Amit Kumar. The song was penned by Indeewar in his unmistakable lexicon and composed to a rousing percussive beat by Kalyanji-Anandji. The 1980 song today has edged ahead of the same film’s Aap jaisa koi in terms of enduring popularity.


If this club song was thus also situational, so was the next distinguished addition to this list – Hawa Hawaii, sung by Kavita Krishnamurthi (as Kavita K. Subramaniam was known then). Enacted with an incomparably saucy mastery by Sridevi in Mr India (1987), the hit number marked Javed Akhtar’s breakthrough as a writer of breezy numbers vis-a-vis his early poetic and sober numbers. The Laxmikant-Pyarelal hit also helped Kavita consolidate her popularity and make Sridevi (after Nagina) break through as a Hindi film diva, as distinct from the Southern thunder-thighs siren that she was since Himmatwala.


In the ’90s, Rahman’s musically-shallowest song in his smash debut Roja, Rukmani Rukmani shaadi ke baad kya kya hua sung by Shweta Shetty (with Baba Sehgal) proved the most popular. The song had high erotic overtones and came right in the middle of the sleaze-cum-double entendre wave prevalent at the time.


But again there was a wide interval before Kareena Kapoor went all glam to enact the Anu Malik hit Bebo main Bebo, a song with attitude that was “just perfect for my favourite heroine Kareena” as the composer then put it. Bebo, for those who came in (very) late is Kareena’s pet name, and this was a first in Hindi films.


Item bomb

With Sheila ki jawani’s English prelude-led What’s my name? My name is Sheila, things come full (contemporarised) circle from Mera naam Chin Chin Chu. And by a weird coincidence, the three numbers that are coming hot off the griddle next are all Mallika Sherawat items – we have Razia gundon mein phans gayi (Pritam/Thank You), which is making waves, Jalebi bai (!) in Double Dhamaal and Shalu in the comedy Bin Bulaaye Baaraati, both composed by Anand Raaj Anand. Clearly, Munni and Sheila do not know what they have (re-)started.


Screen India

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