Reclaiming Subjectivities: A Psychoanalytic-Feminist Perspective on Item Songs in Contemporary Indian Cinema


  • Syed Zulkifil Haider Shah University of London
  • Elijah Cory University of Pennsylvania



Item songs, male gaze, Bollywood, Psychoanalytic Feminism, feminine subjectivities


Item Songs have recently become established as new genre of songs in the mainstream Indian Cinema, although they have remained a part of Bollywood movies since at least the 1970s. Such songs, despite their widespread appeal to masses, have often been panned by Film critics (particularly from the Radical Feminist School) for their erotic dances, and an overly glamorized and sexualized depiction of half-nude female bodies. Based upon the textual analysis of two popular item songs in recent Indian cinema, Sheila ki Jawani from Tees Maar Khan (2010) and Munni Badnam Hui from Dabangg (2010), this paper seeks to problematize such readings which focus exclusively on the issue of the objectification of women through the concept of the male gaze. Drawing upon more recent studies in Psychoanalytic Feminist Scholarship, the paper departs from this conventional understanding. It argues that such item songs can also be interpreted as a means of liberation for women, and as devices for reclaiming the narrative on female sexuality, and a woman’s right to her body. More broadly, using Judith Butler’s concept of Gender Performativity in the Feminist Phenomenological tradition, the paper argues that items songs can be construed as performative acts that subvert the male gaze and viewed as constitutive of new feminine subjectivities in  the contemporary Indian society.

Author Biographies

Syed Zulkifil Haider Shah, University of London

The author is currently pursuing an LLB from University of London, where he is a recipient of University of London Achievement Awards. Alongside, his studies, the author also works as a Freelance writer. The author holds a BSc in Social Sciences and an MA in Critical Theory from the French Department at King’s College London. He has previously taught Anthropology, Literature and Psychology at Mushtaq Gurmani School of Humanities & Social Sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Elijah Cory, University of Pennsylvania

The author is a graduate of School of Arts and Sciences at University of Pennsylvania, where he was a recipient of Jaffe Family Scholarship Award in History of Art. The author has also served as Director’s Council, Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


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How to Cite

Shah, S. Z. H., & Cory, E. (2019). Reclaiming Subjectivities: A Psychoanalytic-Feminist Perspective on Item Songs in Contemporary Indian Cinema. CINEJ Cinema Journal, 7(2), 82–100.