Do we want our children singing and dancing to ‘Baby doll mien sone di’?

Published: January 27, 2015

Even in the minds of the least prudish among us, a little girl singing, “Munni badnaam hui” sets off some kind of an alarm.

At ease, liberals, as this won’t be a furious grandparent’s rant on the corrupting influence of today’s music. This is a critical analysis of the influence of modern “item songs” on young people, without invoking a moralistic argument.

Veteran actor, Shabana Azmi, recently rebuked item songs in the following words:

“I am saying let it be an informed decision. I am not going to dictate what you should do. But be aware that when you do a song like that it is leading to the sexualisation of children and there are four-year-old girls dancing at all kinds of weddings to really bad songs.”

Stating the obvious has rarely been this controversial.

Conservatives admonish racy songs for being inconsistent with their moral values, often resorting to slut-shaming tactics. That, gratefully, is not Shabana’s argument. She’s assuming the approach of a classic feminist.

Liberals sometimes mistake the explosion of Indian and Pakistani item songs as a dawning of a sexual revolution; a way of restoring sexual rights to individuals. What we are stoking instead is a culture of objectifying women even further so that their worthiness is now measured largely by their ability to attract men.

What is basically a tool for sexual gratification is now being played on a loop at wedding parties, for uncles, grandmothers, and children to dance to. Even in the minds of the least prudish among us, a little girl singing, “Munni badnaam hui” sets off some kind of an alarm.

Item songs used to be essential to the story; performed, for instance, by a lead actress playing a courtesan at a royal enclave. Now they’re nonsensically shoved into films to boost ticket sales. The popular item song “Billi”, for example, has absolutely no relevance to the movie “Na Maloom Afraad” and appears almost disruptively in the middle of a rather grave scene.

Blushing parents rush their children out of movie theatres to escape a scene depicting a healthy sexual relationship between two consenting adults. Come Katrina Kaif gyrating among 28 men, few uncomfortable coughs are elicited.


The first scenario is considered a social aberration, while the second is viewed as a perfect woman’s natural habitat. She’s a dream girl, an archetype, visually and behaviourally attuned to the male senses, never complaining about guys staring and groping at her to their hearts’ content; complaining is just something “whiny” and “oversensitive” women do.

From a very early age, we start drilling a toxic idea into girls’ minds that their primary gender-based responsibility is to look pretty. Not just ‘well bathed’ pretty, but plastic pretty with waists smaller that the circumferences of their heads. We flood them with images of what women are supposed to look like, and lyrics about what women are supposed to do, to gently remind them of their purpose on Earth.

Unsurprisingly, that takes a toll. Girls become obsessed with their looks far more than boys do, and as proven by the American Psychological Association (APA), experience a wide range of developmental issues. Such girls grow up lacking confidence in their clinically healthy bodies, and are more prone to depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Naturally, an adult artist has the right to create what he pleases, and an adult consumer has a right to purchase it. But it may not be completely inappropriate to put warning labels on Yo Yo Honey Singh CDs and movies featuring item songs, not too dissimilar to those on cigarette packs.

We need whatever it takes to insure that we’re better informed of the effects of such products on the society, especially on the young.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • racer

    Thanks for talking about it. These item songs have become so easily a norm in our society. 10 year olds dancing on “Saari night besharmi ki height” is not cool guys, not cool.Recommend

  • murgi swaminathan

    Its all cool, wee should loosen upRecommend

  • Yolo

    Thank you for writing about this – a much needed issue. Indeed, what is up with all these songs? I can name quite a few sadly: “Munni badnam”, “Sheila ki jawani, teri haath na aani”, “Beedi jilalylee jigger se, jigger barrri aag hai”, “Aj blue hai paani..girl what you’re waiting for”; “47 weight kurri da, lakh something”…And the list goes on and on. I remember going to a Mehndi once, and literally thinking I’m hallucinating hearing the song which was on FULL speaker volume..I couldn’t believe my ears. You know what the song was?
    As “Racer” pointed out..the song was “Saari night besharmi ki height”. Ahem. At a mehndi. Nuff said. I was too embarassed imagine what ghar walay must have been like!Recommend

  • Reddy

    this is what happens when you concentrate more on religion,culture and leave maths…there are people in india who watch a movie every day not because they love the stars in the movie but cuz it is the most available and accessible form of entertainment,fortunately they are more practical in their approach towards movies than anybody else , they don’t want anyone giving them a gyan about society & what to do with one’s life,definitely not through a movie, they watch a movie for one reason and one reason alone, entertainment…when they watch a movie they watch it for gravity defying fights,chases, dialogues in the middle of a ferocious fight ,taunting villains with witty one liners,racy songs,heck they even watched avatar and avengers …the kinda business these people bring to a movie is much more than condescending,hypocritical,self loathing multiplex goers …by day they earn their living and by night they choose their entertainment,Recommend

  • Asad

    Don’t like something, don’t watch it. Simple!Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Err its not that easy. U need to be deaf and blind to follow what you say . sometimes it blares full throated from rooftops sometimes it glares from TV screens prime time .Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Media is known to play a role in the development of our collective psyche, even if the lessons masquerade as pure entertainment. I offered evidence for this in my blog.

    I’m not even saying it’s a conspiracy by the media. But I am saying it’s a problem that needs to be corrected.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    For more than 10,000 years men tried to get women out of their clothes. They tried every tactic that they had but each and every society equated covering up with being civilized while dresses and attitudes as are portrayed in these item songs were equated with low morals and mostly with prostitution.
    Then came the 20th century and along came “liberalism”. To the great astonishment(and for some happiness) of people, women shed their modesty through their own will. While going naked was once a mark of prostitutes and women of low morals there are now nude protests and topless book reading in the Central Park.
    This led to objectifying of women and many men now look at women as sex objects.
    To the people who think that these are all “rights” of a woman. “Would you like your daughter to dress up as these models and do what they do”?Recommend

  • wb

    Absolutely not. Not even Indians should be watching these sexist crap.

    Understand that India is a country that celebrates sexism and sexual harassment.

    Don’t believe me? Watch a movie called dilwale dulhania lejayenge. In this film, for more than an hour and half, the hero sexually harasses the heroine and finally the stupid girl with no self-esteem falls in love with the man who harassed her sexually.

    This is supposed to be the biggest hit in Bollywood.

    This will also tell you the mindset of us South Asians and how we celebrate the vile behavior of heroes and heroines on screen.

    I’m sure most of the comments which are likely to follow will express shock at my comment and probably a couple of them will make an attempt to use their brain and think about what I’ve said.

    ET, I know some of your moderators are die hard DDLJ fans and you keep blocking my comment every time I bring this up and expose your own mindset.

    But don’t block it and let the readers decide.Recommend

  • wb

    I’m sure they’re. But their children are not likely to be.Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    “…more than 10,000 years men tried to get women out of their clothes”
    Huh? Where? Which continent? That long ago they had clothes?
    !0,000 years ago there were hunters/gatherers. It was stone age. Wearing
    skins of animals. moving from place to place in small family groups. At any
    time of the day, the pressing need was – where the next meal was going to come from. Walking around nude WAS the norm. Except during cold months
    Nobody was worried about getting women out of their clothes. See old
    documentaries of Papua/New Guinea. When stone age tribes were discovered there in the 60’s. Or see National Geographic Specials about indigenous tribes/people of the Amazons. Nobody,…. wearing nothing,Recommend

  • Salman Shareef

    Then they complain Rapes are increasing in the society.Recommend

  • mimi sur

    Cool…At the end of the day, what do you want. Do you want us to impose a ban on driving car on ladies ? If you put a moral brigade in our society, then in future that moral brigade will eat up the whole society . Let it be free, society will shape up itself . Recommend

  • Sami

    I will suggest you to study more history. 10,000 Years ago there was no concept of Organized Religions and all people were living in Caves. Christianity and Islam are only less than 3000 years old. According to the Cave drawings clothing concept was not prevalent and people were more concerned with their hunting abilities rather than with Morality and Modesty. Even some thousand years ago In order to preserve blood lines marriages among the close blood relatives was not an issue as well. Egyptian warriors and Kings were famous for this.

    So your concept that someone have tried to get women out of clothing is somewhat bizarre given you have given a timeline of more than 10,000 years. Also i could not understand that why We Equate Liberalism with Clothing?. Liberalism has a pretty wide dimension and interestingly every person in the modern World practice some form of liberalism but people in countries like ours detest it at the same time.

    Also I have asked many Westerners and for them Modesty is associated with your simple way of life rather than exclusively related to your clothing but in my country Modesty is mostly associated with Girl’s clothing only and i think that is a major difference in thinking in West and East.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I must say that you’ve made a point…….ok, a valid point.
    Taking this a bit further, these ‘ item numbers ‘ are subject to the market forces of demand and supply and the demand will always be there because men make up 51% of the world population. So your idea of sticking on a label saying something like ‘ Kareena is dangerous for you health ‘…….may work.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Yeah sure – stuff about ‘what your right hand possesses’ was written in the 20th century. Women in the 21st century have more options than ever before, including the option to disrobe before a crowd or to go around clad in a shuttlcock – I may not recommend either, but I possess no authority to dictate clothing choices to these women, and neither do you. This has nothing to do with what you would LIKE your daughter to do – fact is that your daughter too has the right to be clad as either of these women or different from either, unless you want to control her and force her to dress as you choose. Don’t try and hide a regressive value system behind a flimsy argument on objectification of women. (Note: I do believe that lack of creative marketing and strong storylines forces Hindi film makers to adopt the item song with scantily clad female route, which is unfortunate).Recommend

  • xyz

    its natural . dont try to stop it. men will fantasize women and vice versaRecommend

  • saki M

    Finally someone has written about this behemoth trend of item songs, seriously these item songs are seem to be getting worse day by day; with each new of them is launched -_- …… i don’t understand that what is the point of using abusive, flaw and vulgar language in these songs?? i mean is using of flaw n lose language , half naked women and indecent dance moves show u more liberal ??? then i m extremely sorry that u r being misguided & misapprehended!!! we don’t like these songs at any cost, no matter how much extravagant or lavish u made ’em…. Stop wasting ur money on this crap !!!! It has now become an embarrassment to watch movies with family;………*deep sighs :(Recommend

  • Marty

    Surely, it’s the women’s fault. Just like it’s the kid’s fault for going to school on Dec 16th.Recommend

  • nishidin

    Did not know about this song… so looked up after reading your comment and it is not an item song and is not really objectifying women. The lyrics of this song maybe meaningless but do not dehumanize women. So, part of the problem is that most of our population just like you do not even understand the problem. Men and women mingling, having fun , partying , being sexually explicit are not the problem.. The problem is dehumanizing a person, which is what most item numbers do.. And they do that because our societies are sexually repressed and our populations are hypocrites. The same guy who bashes an item song in public watches it when he is alone. If he was getting any action in real life, he would not be obsessing about skimpily dressed women making stupid dance moves.Recommend

  • Shabana Nisar

    I don’t know from where you are dragging liberals into this conversation? I am a totally liberal person but I have never let my kids watch this filthy stuff. on the other hand, i know of many people who are conservative by every defination, but are completely fine with their 5-years, 10-years dancing to these item songs.Recommend

  • wb

    What stone age? Do you even know when was Adam and Eve created by God?Recommend

  • Jamor

    You are absolutely right.People blame western culture for the sexual harassment of women,while forgetting the part played by movies in influencing youth.What message does movies of this type send.You attract girls by wolf whistles and lewd comments rather than having a normal conversation with a girl.When a foreign girl talks to a man ,he mistakes thinks that the girl is sexually attracted to himRecommend

  • DaniyaalS

    Item songs aside there is a general lack of parental control in our society today be it console games to item songs in Bollywood movies. Parents need to assert control on what their children watch and listen to.Recommend

  • Chitralwala

    Emailed to PEMRA and CII and Sindh Secretariat. All your comments
    will be forwarded from now on. Because ET will not censure you. Your
    other vile and anti Muslim/Islam comments are duly noted and forwarded
    You need to be banned from this website. Will start forwarding to the
    Ministry of Information, too. Your type of sick behavior does not belong
    in a newspaper.Recommend

  • wb

    Thank you for mentioning the last thing.

    I forgot to mention it myself.Recommend

  • wb

    You use 100 different names and you threaten me of Pemra and CII and now other secretariat?


    What are CII mullahs going to do? Trace my IP and hack my computer? LOLRecommend

  • wb

    Also, think about it. If I’m banned from commenting, the whole bunch of ET readers will be without a great source of great wisdom and a great source of knowledge and a great critic of all sorts of lies and bigotry and the only person who keeps things real here :) :)Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Let me be clear. I don’t mean nudity is ‘dangerous’. If men and women are both depicted equally in sexual ways, that’s different.

    But if women are mostly singled out in sexual displays, it perpetuates an idea that females are somehow *meant* to serve as eye-candy, or at least, more than men.

    Consider the number of female item songs, versus male item songs.Recommend

  • Grace

    It’s just silly for Pakistanis to be watching Indian movies and listening to their sings when they should be promoting their own culture instead. Why can’t Pakistanis just accept that Indian culture is a certain way and either enjoy it as such or not. The same way it makes no sense for Pakistanis to complain about what is in French movies or Italian movies. It’s not their culture and not their concern The only problem is that Urdu is like Hindi which is why uneducated Pakistanis watch them because they don’t understand any European language. If we had better Pashtu, Punjabi and Sindi movies, Pakistanis would stop watching silly Indian movies completely.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Maybe I am getting old and jaded, but the modern item songs sound monotonous and uncreative copies of each other. None are memorable and very few are singable like the older ones from more innocent times. Somewhat like rap (crap?) and most contemporary country songs from Nashville, TN. I am not sure young girls lip-synching and dancing to those songs really understand them anyway. And why aren’t parents doing their job of parenting and not using a firmer hand? Yes, there are feminist implications. But the worry should be more about the quality of music and lyrics themselves so that the children won’t know what is really good music. (Isn’t Shabana Azmi’s husband a famous lyricist and has he not contributed to some bad music himself over the years?)Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    I agree with some of the points and their feminist implications of objectification of women, but do young girls really understand the lyrics to be influenced one way or the other? Most new music (that is since the 1990s) – whether emanating from the US, Canada, Britain or Australia or South Asian “Woods” seems to have less of everything: musicality, quality, creativity, memorability. It is like Rap (crap?) – loud, throbbing, indistinguishable,and unmemorable. (I wanna get outta there as it comes on.) The flourishing of freedoms (including speech and expression) has created more choices today than ever before in human history. If you don’t like something, ignore it and listen to stuff you really like. And parents should not forget about parenting. And talking of objectification, of men and women, children, but also other species. Our planet is being commodified to a dangerous and unsustainable level The insatiable East Asian appetite for sea food, raw materials, and irreplaceable large land mammals (among them body parts of tigers and elephants) worries me more than some crude item numbers.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    ET moderators watch movies? ahh! you guys do have some concept of a life……Recommend

  • Hasan

    Once a product is put out in the open market labels ratings banns cant really keep it from the public little girls and aged uncles alike will listen to it !
    The problem is not realizing the responsibility that every basic right of freedom of expression comes with! Whatever that sells should just not be put out there.. The producer needs to Conscious of the responsibility and the harmful effect there works is having and should curtail it ! The DJs should be given a song list Parents and elders should take that responsibility as well !
    PS: I don’t think Shabana is being a Feminist she is just being a worried elder who happens to be associated with the very industry that is causing so many rapes in India itself.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    I love how he goes on about himself. He sure has a very high opinion of himself and he makes no bones about it . Very amusing. :DRecommend

  • نائلہ

    If you are talking about WB, then I agree with you. Recommend

  • Parvez

    So you want Salman Khan to do a solo item number…..naah, won’t work. Remember its ‘ item numbers ‘ that we are talking about and suggestive sexy item numbers should be a no-no because children watch movies. A middle of the road solution to me seems to be an ‘ item number ‘ with both …like the Slaman / Kareena’s Favicol number in, I think it was ‘ Dabang ‘. Salman almost up-staged her in that one.Recommend

  • Ram

    stop telling people how to lead there life, provide them with education and a sense where they can make independent decision as a free person, you know you have a freedom rightRecommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Apart from lamenting , the only solution I can think of is – we can /should not ‘react’ at all when we see ‘such’ movies / posters. lets not avert our eyes / change the scene or topic / try to divert the kids’ attention elsewhere / go all blushy / rigid /self conscious . Lets act nonchalant when we watch with them around .The more we say – dont watch – the more they will preene – the more they will know there is ‘something’ out of ordinary. Kids can ‘sense’ the air around you see. I mean we cant watch /control /guide them 24 hours . We dont know what sights they watch when , where , with whom …Recommend

  • Gp65

    there is no evidence that rapes are increasing. What is increasing is girls reporting rape because they have a greater confidence in police and less worry that they will be stigmatised when they are the victim. Also media coverage of rapes is increasing- at least in India. That is a good thing since it is leading to progress in rape related to laws, in societal attitude toward rape victim and in debates about strategies to reduce rapes (better policing, better lighting, phone numbers that girls can text when they get into an auto rickshaw or taxi and so on.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Javed Akhtar and Gulzar have penned some item numbers which are sensuous but they are never vulgar. The filming of their songs maybe vulgar but not the songs themselves. Kajraare by Gulzaar is one such example.Recommend

  • LS

    So what happened? Oh maybe their computer is not working because of power outage? Or there isn’t gas in their bike to reach office…? Please share the response you get, when and if you get a response…

    My take PEMRA and CII and Sindh Secretariat would have better things to do…Recommend

  • wb

    Oh no. Don’t underestimate them. They have already hacked my computer and stole all my pornography collection.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I did reply but ET lost it somewhere.
    Item numbers SHOULD NOT be vulgar ( as children watch movies ) and most of them are not. Middle of the road solution is to have both male and female in the item number…….this was done quite successfully in Dabang with Salman and Kareena in the Favicol number……Salman almost up-staged Kareena….almost.Recommend

  • LS

    Oh how naive of me. I thought they were only interested in bestiality, if at all.. glad I am wrong here considering the report published a few days ago….Recommend

  • LS

    So there are no rapes in Pakistan’s esteemed society I assume? It’s hard to believe that… Did you know in 2009 a report was published that only 5% of cases are reported? Unlike in India where most cases are?

    See this report to open your eyes you guys are modern day champions of burning brides too…

  • KlingOn2K

    Do we want our children singing and dancing to ‘Baby doll mien sone di’?

    Absolutely not! You want your children to surf the Islamic State websites, discontinue their education and turn into Jihadists. I haven’t heard from parents who want the authorities to ban such websites.
    Singing and dancing are part of the culture of this region for thousands of years. Don’t make it a religious issue.Recommend

  • concerned

    Absolutely agree with faraz there.It is as if you have given words to my thoughts. These songs are a cultural invasion once we realise it will be too late.Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    And what exactly is Pakistan’s culture? Racing camels? Do you know how far back Pakistan’s history goes?Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    Maybe the answer lies in stopping this incessant preaching. Being a Muslim does not mean you’re collectively owned.Recommend

  • JD

    I agree with @racer. The problem is not just limited to item songs. The lyrics that goes with any song or the dialogues that are spoken have their affect. The word “besharmi” in “Saari night besharmi ki height” is enough to tell what it is suggesting.

    Someone with mature mind listening to these lyrics can differentiate to what it is suggesting. An immature mind of children on the other hand just sings the song because they like its music.

    Such language might not have an immediate effect, but with time, things become more racy. The level of acceptability of the society increases. This decides where as a society you are heading.

    I also somewhat agree with @nishidin. These songs are added to movies because this is what sells. We as society are part of the problem. We need to correct ourselves before pointing fingers.Recommend

  • Sara

    Very well written…………..My first experience of reading the Male wisdom on the topic:-)….The logical, scientific and unjudgemental approach was impressive. Thanks a lot….Many people will disagree with your views but as a medical doctor and researcher, i am a witness to the physical, emotional trauma and crisis of the general population brought by such extreme entertainment. Balance is the key, i believe, to a good entertainment.Recommend