Friday, 16 December 2011

Reacting to Chikini Chameli – the official Song on Youtube by Karan Johar producer/director of Agneepath [film]

Recently, I came across a link to a song sequence, Chikni Chameli, from a yet to be released film, Agneepath, by the producer/director, Karan Johar. Suspecting a rich fare of music and dance lurking in store a click of the mouse away, my fingers did the salsa. What unfolded was abhorrent and repulsive.
Firstly, the title of the song track reeks of overt sexual tones. ‘Chikni,’ a word both in Hindustani and in Urdu language, is an adjective and feminine gender. The classical meaning is greasy or slippery as in loamy soil after rain. However, the slang or vulgarised usage means appealing, attractive, desirable, sleek, sexy, shiny, showy, and slick apart from other regional variations. Nevertheless, it is not very complimentary to call a woman ‘chikini.’ It is a euphemism for carnal desirability – an object of sexual consumption. Another equally important implied reference is to women of fair or white skin. Chameli, a Hindi equivalent of Yasmin in Arabic, is a white jasmine flower known for its strong exotic fragrance in many cultures across the world. ‘Chameli,’ though not very popular, is also a name for girls in rural & suburban belts of the northern stretches or the Indo-Gangetic plains of the Indian subcontinent. The combination of ‘Chikni’ (adjective) with ‘Chameli’ (proper noun) has unambiguous negative connotation, the phrase implies a fair coloured seductress or a white skinned temptress who exists as an object of sexual gratification for the alpha male. In fact, sub-urban hoodlums while eve teasing resort to calling names like ‘Chameli,’ to passing girls. Many a work of popular culture portrays prostitutes as dramatis personae named Chameli. Therefore, the phrase ‘Chikni Chameli’ has, understandably so, negative social sanctions. 
Secondly, the visual design, the mise-en-scène of the song, has a white skinned nubile woman skimpily clad in warm (yellow, reddish pink, and orange set of costumes) tones offset against a group of dark skinned bunch of young gun and laathi (bamboo-sticks) wielding clean shaven dacoits. The evening ambience, glow from the lanterns, and the dark green bush-shirts and whitish loin clothes of the dacoits function as a foil to the projected sexuality, foxiness, and implied physical vulnerability of the fair maiden - Katrina Kaif. In an another sequence elsewhere in the same song, Katrina Kaif swings from a chandelier above a horde of dark sex starved human wolves lusting to sink their teeth into the exposed dangling meat revealed through her underskirt, as implied by the camera angle. The visual metaphor of heat & fire for lust and youth comes into play when Katrina lights a matchstick by running it across her arm before lighting a dacoit’s beedi (local Indian cigarillo made from leaf and cut tobacco). It, also, serves as a signal to the stubble sporting, youthful, muscular male protagonist who is busy playing hard to get or is unmoved by the wiles of the gustily oscillating fair sex. Another cinematic metaphor reinforces the idea of women as objects of consumption, consumption as in alcohol and perhaps a possible subsequent headache. Kaitrina Kaif is seen vibrating like tin foil with out-stretched arms holding a bottle of alcohol in each hand as she furtively issues an invitation to a binge of indulgence and drink from the ‘bottle of youthful consummation.’ If we were to map the intra & extra diegetic gaze through the available version of the music video, most visuals from the song sequence follow a predictable pattern. Choreography is crass and unsophisticated, betraying bad taste. High contrast lighting ratio attempts to play the spasmodic danseuse in limelight and compliments her limited assets. In other words, it is Sheela ki Javani all over again. Karan Johar either lacks enough visual sense to conjure up the erotic and aesthetically pleasing text or is just a crude holder of the typical male gaze.
Lastly, the lyrics, too, are crass, bizarre, and vulgar. I will try to translate keeping the spirit, mood, and intention rather than transliterate the words. The opening stanza reads as follows -

(line 01)           Bichhoo mere naina badi zehereeli ankh maare
(line 02)           Kamsin kamariya saali ik thumke se lakh maare
(line 03)           Note hazaaron ke, khulle chhutta karaane aayi
(line 04)           Husn ki teeli se beedi chillam jalaane aayi
(line 05)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi
(line 06)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi..

(Translation to lines 01 to 06)

My scorpion eyes sting with poison laden wink...
This be-witching slender waist kills thousand with single swing,
I have come to en-cash thousand currency bills, [no idea what it means]
I light passion with the flame of my beauty… [Ignite male passion with her wanton beauty]
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol... [Implying that she has abandoned her inhibitions]
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...

(line 07)           Jungle mein aaj mangal karungi
(line 08)           Bhookhe sheron se khelungi main
(line 09)           Makkhan jaisi hatheli pe angaare le lungi main
(line 10)           Haaye! gehre paani ki machhli hoon Raja
(line 11)           Ghaat Ghaat dariya mein ghoomi hoon main
(line 12)           Teri nazron ki lehron se haar ke doobi hoon main

(Translation to lines 07 to 12)

I will revel in gay abandon in the jungle
I will play with [sex] hungry tigers, 
I will enslave the fiery embers [of passion & desire] on my smooth and soft palms,
Oh! I am a fish of deep waters, oh my dear,
I have swum many a river
Nevertheless, I cannot safely wade through the swirling depth of your eyes…

(line 13)           Hoye.. jaanleva jalwa hai
(line 14)           Dekhne mein halwa hai             
(line 15)           Pyaar se paros doongi toot le zaraa
(line 16)           Yeh toh trailer hai poori filam dikhane aayi
(line 17)           Husn ki teeli se beedi-chilam jalaane aayi

(Translation to lines 13 to 17)

Oh, your charisma and charm is a killer,
You look like tasty dish,
My love will consume you, a piece at a time...
this is an epilogue to the events yet to unfold, let me show you the future…
I will light passion with the flame of my beauty… [ignite male passion with her wanton beauty]

(line 18)           aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pavva chadha ke aayi
(line 19)           ayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pauua chadha ke aayi…
(line 20)           Banjar basti mein aayi hai masti
(line 21)           Aisa namkeen chehra tera
(line 22)           Meri neeyat pe chadhke chhoote na hai rang gehra tera
(line 23)           Joban ye mera crajy hai raja
(line 24)           Saare pardo ko kaatungi main
(line 25)           Shaamein meri akeli hain aaja sang tere baatungi main
(line 26)           Haaye! baaton mein ishaara hai
(line 27)           Jisme khel saara hai
(line 28)           Tod ke tijoriyon ko loot le zara
(line 29)           Choom ke zakhmo pe thoda malham lagaane aayi
(line 30)           Husn ki teeli se beedi chillam jalaane aayi

(Translation to lines 18 to lines 30)

The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...
the dry, barren, and drab community is blessed with joy & festivity,
radiance of your face...
engulfs my body in eternal grace…
my youth is brazen, O dear, [knows no bounds]
I'll lift all the veils, for I have no fear [transcend all boundaries]
come, share my lonely evenings,
in my words, you will find certain meanings,
There is ecstasy in this game...
Break open the lock for there is something to gain [wealth of my body]
I will caress and administer balm of my kisses to your wounds [wounds of violent passion]...

(line 31)           aayi chikni.... aayi.
(line 32)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi
(line 33)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi..

(Translation to lines 18 to lines 30)

Here comes the desirable…here she comes
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...

In short, the song, which is a teaser to the film, primarily serves to titillate carnal instincts of the audience. It is yet another example of a pathetic display of ‘objectification of women’ in traditional Hindi films from Bollywood, India. Song sequences, in particular, have become show windows catering to the baser needs of the audience from male designers of cultural text in a largely patriarchal society. Popular films tend to present men as active, controlling subjects and treat women as passive objects of desire. Men do the looking; women are there to be looked at! The cinematic codes of popular films ‘are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego,’ says Laura Mulvey[ i].Traditional films, Mulvey argues, do not allow women to be ‘desiring’ sexual subjects in their own right. Such films objectify women in relation to ‘the controlling male gaze’ (Mulvey 1992, 33), presenting ‘woman as image’ (or ‘spectacle’) and man as ‘bearer of the look’ (ibid., 27). Since, audience identifies with the male protagonist; they too are holders of this gaze. According to Mulvey, this ‘Male Gaze’ is responsible for overvaluation of the female image and to the cult of the female movie star – a logic that can help explain the recent rise in status and role of ‘item girl’ or ‘item number’ in Bollywood.

Femininity is a social construct, and thus the Lacanian statement that "Woman is a symptom of man." Some readers may argue that Katrina Kaif is not a passive player in the politics of sex. Is she not only educated and in more than one way - liberated, and a professional film artist by her free will. She [Kaif] exercised ‘choice’ by accepting a clearly defined screen role and, as well as, mutually agreeable professional fee towards the same. She by agreeing to be a catalyst in ‘manufacturing desire,’ and by her direct gaze both engages and deliberately challenges the voyeuristic audience, thereby, exercising her political power over her male audience – power that extends beyond the realm of the cinema screen into the everyday arena of life . Maybe, she draws satisfaction in this politics of power play by knowing how the spectator gaze (both voyeuristic and fetishistic) operates and that she can control and direct the erotic instinct, which focuses on the look alone. However, I have some questions of my own – how does the female audience view Katrina Kaif on screen? Do they actively gaze upon Hrithik Roshan (the male protagonist) in the film? Is there a guilt factor when women voyeuristically gaze upon the male protagonist?

The primary purpose of this uninvited splash of discursive narrative is to think critically about the powerful and prevalent cultural texts that surround us in our daily lives, and encourage working towards a better understanding of what our culture is saying to us through the cultural texts we consume. It is very important that we negotiate meaning about what our cultural texts say about us as a society. Nevertheless (on a lighter note), another tragedy ensues from the fact that Katrina Kaif is a strange spasmodic gyrator with little pretentions to dancing.


[1]Mulvey, Laura ([1975] 1992): ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. In Caughieet al. (Eds.), op. cit., pp. 22-34. Also published in: Mulvey 1989; Mast et al. (Eds.) (1992), op. cit., pp.746-57; abridged version in Bennett et al. (Eds.) (1981), op. cit., pp. 206-15; originally published in Screen 16(3): 6-18