Why is this manoeuvre so effective? Is it simply because the advertisements directly play on the biological needs of men?
Women are showcased as agents to enhance the marketing and sales rather than as a free-willing customer in their own right. Sexual innuendos and pictures with themes of rape, loose women and provocative dressing are common in television advertisements, magazine front covers and huge billboards. Sex is used to attract indelible attention. Advertising without the flaunting of sex is unthinkable in the present day.
Surveys show that half-naked women in advertisements generate atleast 23% more profit than any other ads. Weren't Indian men supposed to love their women in Sarees and fully-clad churidars? The politicians say the Indian women need to be modest, chaste and decent.
In the recent rape cases, numerous politicians have blamed the victim, for wearing inappropriate clothes, for going out late in the night and what not! When women in item numbers present themselves as tandoori chicken to be feasted with beer in the night, this only justifies that the movies and advertisements are made for the male gaze and feed this male attitude.
What do scantily clad women in the Item songs signify? Is it sexual empowerment? Is it a sign of liberation or a construct of objectification? On the recent program on NDTV 'We the People' televised on January 13 - Cinema: A cult or misogyny, Priyanka Chopra a leading female actress, had a view that these women in item songs are not objectified, they are portrayed as powerful and sexually aware; ready to capitalize on their sexual appeal, to get what they want. She said that although women are presented erotically, the method of portrayal is different. Women are presented as not seeking men's approval but as pleasing themselves, and, in doing so, they just happen to win mens admiration, commonly termed by feminist researchers as sexual agency.
But the lyrics of item songs contradict her views; the recent numbers of Kareena Kapoor in the Fevicol song and Malaika Arora in Munni Badnaam have lyrics which do not support her claims on sexual agency; in my opinion it only re-conceptualises objectification!
Television and cinema is one of the strong influences of the Indian youth. The question is not if we should censor sex, the question is why men cannot control their carnal urges? Is objectification in Indian cinema to blame for all the atrocities committed against women in this country?
Advertisements of men's undergarments such as jockey, VIP-Frenchie and Playboy also show men almost naked. Aren't men also shown as objects of desire? Aren't these men not posing almost nude too? Salman Khan strips in all his movies, Shahrukh Khan is famous for his item songs Kaal and Dard-e-disco; John Abraham is a known favourite among women for his excellently carved body and its erotic showcase in movies like the film Dostana. Aren't these visuals supposed to influence women too?
Consent is the discriminating factor between objectification and liberation. With the upheaval of anger for crimes against women in this country, the cinema and the media are the primary targets for corrections. Making censorship stringent and showing women in stereotypical roles such as housewives, sisters and covered up slaves is not the solution!
In fact, it is regression, a correction cannot be made by censoring women showing flesh. If seen carefully, women are routinely objectified in cinema even when they are fully dressed. Baring-it-all has a minimal correlation with objectification, it does add to the sensuality but any visual - be it an advertisement or an item number - has an underlying message and as long as the message out rightly does not point out to objectification, censoring women showing flesh will only help in bogeying the cultural values and stifling conversations on women rights. It is bizarrely associated with something occidental, hedonistic and decadent.
Obscenity is not the right word to evaluate censorship, it should be evaluated on the basis of the content and the message it strikes upon impressionable India. Sex and intimacy is a subject that needs to be treated with subjectivity rather than objective rules, media needs to focus more on promoting respect, dignity and sexual integrity for women in India.