Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Kette Thomas

Committee Member 1

Karla Kitalong

Committee Member 2

Dana Van Kooy

Committee Member 3

Nancy Barr


An item song is a provocative musical song and dance sequence that appears in Bollywood films that have little to no connection to the film’s plot, performed by an item girl for the male gaze. Contemporary Bollywood item songs have become highly contested social and political texts in the discourse surrounding rape culture in India. This research explores the socio-cultural context of rape culture in India and examines what makes item songs a popular and acceptable form of entertainment in a patriarchal, conservative society where sexualized violence against women is a major cause for concern.

The study also addresses the narrative, visual, and lyrical characteristics of ten of the most popular item songs from 2012 – 2019. Using a hybrid theoretical framework that brings together the male gaze theory, intersectionality, and postfeminism, this study analyzes the ways in which rape culture is manifested in the cinematic techniques and song lyrics. I argue that item songs mirror certain characteristics and tropes that invoke rape culture. I conclude that the songs reveal four main characteristics: glamorization of illicit activities and behavior, sexual objectification of the female body, alcohol abuse, and violence.

The research argues that contemporary item songs are a popular source of sexist imagery and a powerful cultural influencer of sexual violence against women in India. Moreover, this study suggests that item songs desensitize the Indian public and contributes to the normalization of gang rapes in the country. Ultimately, the study emphasizes the need for the Bollywood film industry to introduce more nuanced narratives about female sexuality and reconsider the ongoing stereotyping, objectification, and misogyny of item songs, and recognize their wide reach and influence on the attitudes and behaviors of Indian people.