If you’re familiar with South Asian film, particularly the Bollywood scene, there’s a good chance you’ve run across an “item number” among the vibrant soundtracks: a musical portion with less to do with the plot than the desirability of its performers. Often, this is where up-and-coming young women poised for eventual stardom in the industry get their starts: as wordless item girls, dancing out racy choreography and meant to be overtly objectified for the general male gaze.
Based in Scotland and identifying his style as “Desifuturist”, art rocker Kapil Seshasayee aims to draw attention to the harm and misogyny embedded in this particular trope with the heartrending new video for the single “The Item Girl”, a darkly electronic take on Indian classical sounds and R&B grooves. Seshasayee describes the video as “an abstract character study of sorts, exploring the trope that the song is named for.” Diljeet Kaur Bhachu stars in the title role, her elaborate dress and makeup constantly tweaked throughout the video while she sits at the mercy of a male presence who hovers over her, directing her every move for a photoshoot. Initially serene, Bhachu loses her glow as she is adjusted, over and over, while the camera closes in on her seated form. “We wanted to create a really claustrophobic atmosphere on set through our lighting and prop choices,” Seshasayee explains.
What results is a piece to which the power of pathos and melodic complexity are equally crucial, a video that engages the mind, heart, and ears alike. Seshasayee’s voice is soulful and emotive, his guitar work technical and stunning; Bhachu, though largely stationary, conveys both hope and despair through exquisite facial subtleties. In the end, Seshasayee follows through on his intention, breaking down archaic, gendered roles of one medium with another – and doing it gorgeously.
“The Item Girl” was directed by Matthew Cowan from Production Attic and stars Diljeet Kaur Bhachu. The single is out now via Loner Noise.