Bollywood is an industry where a huge amount of money is pumped to make a film. Hence the filmmaker uses all the tricks of the trade to make a film commercially successful. Song and dance are two key ingredients that not only make the film entertaining but also bring in business. Besides, the sale of music records also gives an additional share of profit to the producers. And last but not least, an item song in a film attracts the so-called frontbenchers. Frankly speaking, the success of a movie depends more upon the front-benchers as they are much more in number than the upper class!! In addition, it is the frontbenchers who are most avid movie buff hence film producers have to please their patron.
Thus the item numbers in Bollywood have been around for decades. The item song is a raunchy dance number, where the dancer often wears skimpy clothes. From the days when Dilip Kumar was the superstar of Bollywood to the present day, the ‘item’ songs have continued to rule Bollywood. With times the item songs have undergone a sea change, both in terms of outfits to actresses dancing on item song, to the degradation in the lyrics. Everything has changed and evolved with changing trends and taste of the present era.
In the 50’s the first actress who started the trend of item songs in Bollywood was Cuckoo, an Anglo-Indian actress, who was a master of pop dance. In fact, she is the mentor of Helen, who became a sensational cabaret dance of the ’60s and ’70s. Cuckoo ruled Bollywood in the ’40s and ’50s and charged a whopping Rs 6000/- per song (An exorbitant amount in those days). Cuckoo had no formal training in dance but she was a self-made dancer. In addition, her ‘Firang’ appearance (as she was Anglo-Indian) made her look stunningly gorgeous. She did many hit films like Mehboob Khan Anokhi Ada (1948) and Andaz (1951), Aan (1952).
After, Cuckoo, Nadira took the stage. Being a Jewish, Nadira too had a different look than other Indian actresses. In addition, like Cuckoo, Nadira was also modern and did high society sophisticated roles. Her famous song Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh… in Raj Kapoor‘s Shree 420 has immortalized her Indian cinema.
In fact, the popularity of item song is so intense in Bollywood that even esteemed filmmakers like Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt could not remain aloof from including an item steamy song in their film for commercial success. In the 50’s the item songs were in the form of the Mujra, for instance in Bimal Roy‘s film Devdaas (1955) Vyjayanthimala dances on the song Ab Aage Teri Marzi…However, with changing times. Mujra was replaced by club songs like Guru Dutt used an item number in his earlier hit film Aar Paar (1954). The song Babuji Dheere Chalna… became such a huge hit that even today it is a memorable song on the radio. In fact, Sapna Mukherjee even made a Remix of the song and the video did good business.