Koka Koka Koka Kadithe Kora Koramantu Choostharu (They kill me with their looks if I wear a saree.)
Potti Potti Gowney Vesthey Patti Patti Choostharu (They scan me with their eyes if I wear a skirt.)
Koka Kadu Gownu Kadu Kattulona Yemundhi (Neither the Saree nor the gown, it is not in the dressing which matters.)
Mee Kallallone Antha Undhi Mee Maga Buddhe Vankara Buddhi (It is all in your eyes. Men’s thinking is a twisted one.)
The song ‘Oo Antava’ starring Samantha Prabhu and Allu Arjun from the film Pushpa has been applauded as being a progressive one for its choice of lyrics that brings out the societal hypocrisy when it comes to women and their clothing choices. The Internet is divided on whether the actress’s active choice to be sexualised is one she makes for herself or is it the misogynist patriarchal perspective that makes the choice on her behalf. But a few pertinent questions need to be raised before buying into the progressive narrative the song is being branded as.
Can item songs go beyond sexualisation of women?
The song is rarely a departure from the item songs we have had before. When we view an item song, we analyse it by looking at how the actress is hypersexualised through gestures and the environment of her dancing amidst a group of drunk men who in every way try to diminish her dignity. The perspective of the video is defined by male gaze so that people remain hooked to their screens irrespective of whether they are focusing on the lyrics or not. The problem with Oo Antava is that the lyrics are antithetical to the video. Harassment is normalised throughout the song and the presentation is carefully crafted to make it appear as if the actress is enjoying the harassment. It seems like a false narrative is being built throughout wherein objectification and harassment is being normalised for the dancers and the lead actress involved. The narrative in Oo Antava is an increasingly harmful one because when we view it in the larger context of the society around us, there is an attitude amidst the majority of the population that women enjoy coercion, harassment, and catcalling.
While one might argue that the simple basis for the song is that the actress is feeling empowered by choosing to shoot the song, the concept of choice in the larger context is still dominated by how the industry decides to promote her empowerment as, that is through reducing her to an object that is to be viewed lasciviously. Empowerment is, thus, again being defined by the larger forces of patriarchy that stereotypically portray women as bold and audacious and by extension of that, as someone who can be reduced to being a mere sexual object.
Standing in 2022, it is indeed a breath of fresh air that item songs are taking into account and reflecting upon societal issues, but the larger question is do we need to use item songs sexualising bodies at all to sell movies? So when the makers of Oo Antava claims to be taking a stand, it is not and instead is a form of tokenism and a leap into the bandwagon to mark themselves safe from being called out as yet another item song objectifying women. Running Oo Antava as a progressive one suits the interest of the marketing gimmicks of the makers. At the end of the day, the aim is to promote the song enough for it to be even more popular than the movie itself, in case the movie was to flop. When it is catchy enough and calibrates the right amount to take over Instagram and YouTube reels, it is indeed, a success. The purpose of the song was never to take the burden of addressing a social issue but to be presented as an embodiment of progress. The truth is society enjoys item songs as they are and at the end of the day, the choice of lyrics rarely has an impact.
Oo Antava is a classic example of choice feminism where it successfully has depoliticised itself enough to be excluded from the judgments of radical feminists and has enabled the privileged understanding of feminism as non-threatening and capacious for even bigotry to exist in it.
Also read: Item Songs, Transness And Guilty Pleasure
The song does not offer the political consciousness that the issue it is seemingly reflecting upon comes with. Women in India have been fighting for the right to wear what they want for ages. The question of “what she wore” is raised every time a woman is sexually harassed, molested or even raped. Therefore given the sensitivity of the issue, it is wrong to reduce it to a mere commodity of a catchy song.
Natasa Aziz is a third-year B.A.LLB student at the Department of Law, Calcutta University. She occasionally writes articles to express her opinions and thoughts on a plethora of things. A unique perspective is what she seeks to offer. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.