I’m Too Sexy For You: Beauty Through Agency in Indian Cinema

I'm Too Sexy For You: Beauty Through Agency in Indian Cinema

Katrina Kaif is sexy. At the beginning of her latest item number, “Sheila Ki Jawani”, Kaif can be seen wearing a sheet alone, pumping her chest to every beat of the drum. The music video goes on to feature the actress in similar skimpy outfits, running her hands up and down her body and shaking her hips across a stage for an intoxicated audience. Additionally, flames burst up behind Kaif at regular intervals, while water from above drenches her body toward the end of the music video. The combination of the choreography, costumes, and sets transforms Kaif into a symbol of female beauty and sexuality, justifying lyrics about the actress being “too sexy for you” and not “within your reach.” While the music video’s blatant eroticism is relatively new to Indian cinema, the idea of a female being too attractive for a male has been a repeated narrative throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Older films, however, capture this beauty and sexuality through agency given to the female character.

Examples of such agency can be seen in Mala Seena’s Meena in Pyaasa (1957), Nargis’ Radha in Mother India (1957), Madhabi Mukherjee’s Charu in Charulata (1964), and Smita Patel’s Sonbai and Deepti Naval’s Saraswati in Mirch Masala (1985). Each of these films gives its female characters tremendous authority, enabling them to continuously resist male characters for their own self-interest. Thus, rather than their physical beauty being used to make the too good for men, its their great agency and willpower, or the idea that women and their families should stand above all else.

My music video combines scenes in which the characters noted above exhibit their agency to male characters; it is set to the aforementioned song “Sheila Ki Jawani” from Tees Maar Khan (2010). As the lyrics speak of a woman being too sexy for any man, scenes show sexiness through agency exhibited by Meena, Radha, Charu, Sonbai, and Saraswati throughout their films. Further, certain scenes of the video, such as the two final clips from Mother India and Mirch Masala, evoke the unique type of feminine beauty discussed by both Gayatri Chatterjee and Amitabha Bagchi in their respective works. While the characters may not be sexy in the Sheila sense of the word, their beauty no doubt comes through with their agency, indeed making them “too sexy for you.”

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