An item song can be described as the sizzle that is supposed to sell the steak, the steak being a movie
An item song can be described as the sizzle that is supposed to sell the steak, the steak being a movie. It doesn’t necessarily have to fit into the plot but acts more like comic relief, if you may, in a Shakespearean play. Its objective: it has to entertain and when devised for a South Asian audience (because here is where items numbers have originated), it has to have some definite sex appeal. Since this is a proven misogynistic society that we live in, most item numbers therefore are of a woman dancing to entertain a group of men. The setting could be cabaret at a club, a truck driver’s ka mela or in some cases, even a wedding. India has nailed the item number and Pakistan’s fledgling film industry is trying. Instep lists the 5 item numbers to have set the screen alight in the last couple of years and whether they are sexy or sorry acts of desperation.
Item: ‘Masti Main Doobi’
Film: Main Hoon Shahid Afridi
What would you get if you put Mathira and Mahnoor Baloch in an item song? You’d expect some heat but in reality the song blew hot and cold. In Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, director Ali Raza Usama (and song director Saqib Malik) tried to create magic by using the two ‘bold and beautiful’ actresses but forgot that neither could actually dance. Mathira did render some belly dance moves effectively but the aesthetics of her costume were so last century that her moves were completely overshadowed by her blingy choli. Sung by Neeti Wagh and the film’s musician Shani, the song was a disappointment for Mahnoor Baloch fans as a) they didn’t expect her to fall from grace and b) if she were to dance then they expected some class. But that’s just how we feel; for many it was a treat of a lifetime because they had never seen the bootilicious side of Mahnoor Baloch!
Item: ‘Rabbi Ralli’
Film: Karachi Se Lahore
Director Wajahat Rauf’s debut flick had not one but two item numbers that "were essential to the plot" we were told. The first was the fairly melodious ‘Rabbi Ralli’, which featured debutant Mantaaha Maqsood as the seductive Khushi. Mantaaha, who is a very popular fitness instructor in Karachi, is beautiful but we have to say that she did not fit the mold of a club dancer at all; the veteran Jawed Sheikh had more moves than Mantaaha. That said, Ali Hamza and Zarrish sang the number composed by Sur Darvesh and despite its flaws it was instantly liked by audience when the trailers came out. The mujra number was not really integral to the plot but was necessary for the character development of the older couple.
Item: ‘Fair and Lovely Ka Jalwa’
Film: Jawani Phir Nahi Aani
Humayun Saeed’s JPNA is all set to hit the screens this Eid ul Azha and the first jolt - once you get over Hamza Ali Abbasi’s shenanigans - is the shocking placement of a fairness cream in the lyrics. Sure we heard and enjoyed ‘Fevicol’ and have accepted the mention of Zandu Balm in more than one song but ‘Fair and Lovely Ka Jalwa’ was shocking as it was not used as a metaphor; it was a serious tribute to the fairness cream. However, even the offensive lyrics "Chakh Fair and Lovely ka Jalwa" (taste the miracle of fair and lovely) could not steal the limelight from what has to be the worst choreography in a dance number. Ever. All four men (Humayun Saeed, Ahmed Ali Butt, Vasay Chaudhry and Hamza Abbasi) have two left feet, which makes eight left feet in all. The aesthetics of the song are as offensive as the men’s attempts to dance. And Sohai Ali could have been the saving grace of the song except she channels a bit too much Lollywood starlet.
Item: ‘Tutti Fruity’
Film: Karachi Se Lahore
‘Tutti Fruity’, at least is a hidden tribute to an ice-cream (Cornetto), which otherwise has a lead role in the film. Pint size Ayesha Omar picks up the pace for this song - set amongst a ‘driver’s ka mela’ - and sings and dances in it. It could have been another ‘Beedi’ since the setting is the same but Ayesha is no Bipasha and the song, with its saccharine sweet lyrics ‘badi cutie wutie hoon main’ has no salt at all, pun intended!
Item: ‘Selfiyan Re Selfiyan’
Film: Wrong Number
Picturized on starlet Sohai Ali Abro, ‘Selfiyan Re Selfiyan’ became quite the anthem when the film, Wrong Number was released. Sung by Aliya Waqar and composed by Waqar Ali, the song if done right could have become the anthem of a selfie-obsessed nation but sadly it came, it made you dance and it disappeared. Yes it does tap into popular culture and the obsession with selfies quite well but it also caters to one of the sponsors of the flick, namely Rivo. This ‘Selfiyan’ song would have been even worse had the music composer gone for Humera Channa who sang the ‘PG’ rated ‘Kundi’ song in the same film!
Honourable Mention: ‘Billi’ from the film Na Maloom Afraad can be credited for starting the ‘item number’ trend in Pakistan’s rejuvenated film industry and why wouldn’t it - Mehwish Hayat’s easy and natural footwork, the sexy vocals of Saima Iqbal and in-your-face lyrics by director Nabeel Qureshi and producer Fizza Ali Meerza all synced perfectly. We have to say that ‘Billi’ is the only item number in recent films that had a hummable melody, fairly decent aesthetics and enough sizzle to sell the steak.