The ‘Item Number’ in Indian Cinema: Deconstructing the Paradox

Isha Jain


The “item number” is a hyper-sexualised song-and-dance performance that is characteristic to mainstream Bollywood cinema. When viewed in the context of a general tendency towards the censorship of public depictions of sexualized women in other spheres of the Indian polity, the ubiquity and popularity of item numbers reflects a confounding cultural paradox. The aim of this article is to deconstruct this paradox, by identifying the narrative structures and plot devices employed by film-makers to market these performances without suffering the disapproval of either the Indian State apparatus or the purportedly prudish Indian cinema-goer.

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