In the opening frames of the much-publicised Ek Do Teen number from Tiger Shroff’s Baaghi 2,Jacqueline Fernandez is shown taking off the shrug she wears over her multi-coloured bustier with a pack of salivating men around her. As she zips the jacket open, a pair of eager hands peel the jacket off her. This is the new-age Mohini who is little more than a rag doll being yanked around by a pack of hungry wolves. Fernandez, who has never been a great fan of expressions, lets her abs do all the hard work. And her abs say only one thing. “Do I turn you on?”
Cut to the original Mohini, an assertive, confident woman from 1988’s Tezaab, who takes to the stage to actually engage with her audience.
“Kahiye! Kya sunenge aap?” (Tell, me what do you want to hear?), she asks with a non-committal shrug.
Mohini, who is haunted by the memories of her toxic love affair with Munna (Anil Kapoor). Mohini, the working woman who has a troubled relationship with her exploitative father. Mohini, who brings her angst to the stage, is definitely not a rag doll. Not even when she is performing in an auditorium full of screaming fans. Madhuri’s Mohini does not yearn for male approval.
Agreed, these are two entirely different films and two entirely different situations. While Tezaab’s ‘Ek Do Teen’ came as a turning point of this revenge drama, the Baaghi situation is way more in the item number mould. But did we really have to make the song all about objectification of the female body?
Here, every plot complication is diluted to make Jacqueline Ferandez’s ab shine. It’s also interesting to note how the stage is bleached of any female presence apart from Jacqueline. In the original, Madhuri shares the stage with a gaggle of female back-up dancers in frilly tops, in Baaghi 2, we have male back-up dancers who register every twitch of Fernandez’s body in their faces. The male toxicity level of this number rivals that of ‘Fevicol se’ and ‘Chikni Chameli’.
Madhuri’s Mohini was a performer and she owned the stage. Jacqueline’s Mohini is a seductress, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if she had more agency – just what Anarakli of Aarah fought for.
In the 30 years that have passed between Ek Do Teen of Tezaab and Bhaaghi 2, things have changed in Bollywood for good and for bad. But one thing is for sure, its treatment of women and their bodies has gone from bad to worse. But who cares. The video has already garnered 2.5 million views and by all means will be a chart-topping dance number.
Even if the video breaks all records, for old times sake, Madhuri’s Mohini should sit down for a chat with Jacqueline’s Mohini and find out how did things go this bad in Bollywood. How did we reduce dancing to acrobatics and expressionless zumba classes? How did the pernicious male-gaze become so strong that even a bad film could be sold with a ‘good item number’?
The Mohinis on the dance floor need to have this conversation urgently.