Item Girls and Objects of Dreams: Why Indian Censors Agree to Bold Scenes in Bollywood Films

  • Tatiana Szurlej Manipal University
Keywords: Bollywood, songs, dance, eroticism, body, pleasure, prohibition


The article presents the social background, which helped Bollywood film industry to develop the so-called “item numbers”, replace them by “dream sequences”, and come back to the “item number” formula again. The songs performed by the film vamp or the character, who takes no part in the story, the musical interludes, which replaced the first way to show on the screen all elements which are theoretically banned, and the guest appearances of film stars on the screen are a very clever ways to fight all the prohibitions imposed by Indian censors.

Censors found that film censorship was necessary, because the film as a medium is much more popular than literature or theater, and therefore has an impact on all people. Indeed, the viewers perceive the screen story as the world around them, so it becomes easy for them to accept the screen reality and move it to everyday life. That’s why the movie, despite the fact that even the very process of its creation is much more conventional than, for example, the theater performance, seems to be much more “real” to the audience than any story shown on the stage. Therefore, despite the fact that one of the most dangerous elements on which Indian censorship seems to be extremely sensitive is eroticism, this is also the most desired part of cinema. Moreover, filmmakers, who are tightly constrained, need at the same time to provide pleasure to the audience to get the invested money back, so they invented various tricks by which they manage to bypass censorship. The most widely used ways to trick the censors are movie songs, so often underestimated, especially in the West, which however are not, as some would like to see them, only an unnecessary addition.

Bollywood films are often called musicals, but the examples show that all the songs, not only item numbers and dream sequences, play quite a different role in Indian movies than in the classic Hollywood musicals. There is a very deep logic lying behind film production, and popular Indian cinema uses its songs to show everything that is impossible to show in the story. Filmmakers know very well that songs are the element of fantasy, which when used in a story about everyday life, can show things that are impossible in natural experience.


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Author Biography

Tatiana Szurlej, Manipal University
Tatiana Szurlej is a graduate of Indian philology and film studies at the Jagiellonian University and a PhD graduate at the Faculty of Philology of the Jagiellonian University. She is interested mainly in Indian popular culture, especially cinema. She is the author of essays on Indian popular cinema, written in Polish, English and Hindi and published in several journals such as the “Cracow Indological Studies”, the “Hans”, and the “Pahal”, as well as a doctoral dissertation titled: Tradition, stereotype, manipulation. The courtesan figure in Indian literature and popular cinema.


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