Sarkai Liyo Khatia…Chikni Chameli…Sheila Ki Jawaani—Bollywood has its own history of problematic item songs and the even more problematic stories behind them. In fact, the #MeToo movement in Bollywood had its roots in an item song. As most of us know, Tanushree Dutta had catalysed the movement after accusing Nana Patekar of sexually assaulting her during the shot of an item song. Surely, this speaks tons about the deep-rooted misogyny of Bollywood and how women are seen and objectified in the industry.
Choli Ke Peche again happens to be one of those infamous item songs known for its innuendo and suggestive lyrics. Neena Gupta is one of the actors who appeared in the songs and has now opened up about the experience in her autobiography Sach Kahun Toh. Recollecting how all of it transpired, she shares, “When I first heard the song, I knew it was catchy. But when Subhash Ghai told me what my role would be, I wasn’t so keen anymore. I liked the fact that my part was sung by my friend Ila Arun, with whom I had acted in many films.”
Turns out Neena’s apprehensions about the song were well-founded as something super embarrassing followed soon. “They put me in a tribal Gujarati outfit and sent me to Subhash Ghai for approval. ‘No! No! No! No!’ he shouted. ‘Kuch bharo.’ I was so embarrassed. In my opinion, he was referring to my choli and stating that it needed to be filled. It wasn’t anything personal, I knew. He had visualised something . . . bigger for the rendition. I didn’t shoot that day. But the next day I was presented to him in a different outfit, with a bra that was heavily padded, and he seemed satisfied. Subhash Ghai was very particular about what he wanted, which was why he was such a good director,” she shares.
Now, while Neena might have seen it as the director’s insight, we honestly see it as blatant misogyny and objectifying. Did he comment on her body? Yes. Was he okay with how it looked? No. Did it make her uncomfortable? Yes. It really cannot be any clearer than this.
That said, one’s current terms with the director, place in the industry, and the future projects–there is just so much that actors have to put at stake while messing with filmmakers. Long things short, it isn’t an easy job to put things as they are in the Indian film industry when you are still a part of it. However, while we do appreciate Neena for opening about the horrors of the industry we really wish that she hadn’t combined it with a lousy excuse for Subhash Ghai’s behaviour. After all, it’s the post #MeToo era and a tad too late for baby steps, right?
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