As Kollywood is bursting at the seams with gory films and cold scripts, the absence of item dancers who gyrate sensually to songs that usually don’t have anything to do with the story, seem to die slowly.
Rewind to 10 years, Tamil films had item dancers who had their loyal fan bases, who used to visit the theatres just to watch their favourite sirens trying to seduce the hero. Sensuality did sell to packed houses!
Item numbers were exclusive to the realm of vamps like Aalam, Helen, CID Shakuntala and Jayakumari who ruled the roost in 60s. Later, the platform was taken over by Silk Smitha, Anuradha, Disco Shanthi, Jothilakshmi and Jayamalini. Though most of these actresses have faded into oblivion, there are a few who survive on character or mother roles.
Glam doll Anuradha, who has been able to attain a level of class and sensuality, is still continuing her love with acting in the serial, ‘Thangam’ (Sun TV). Anuradha, in her heydays, was famous for her skimpy clothes and killer figure. But unlike some of the heroines of today, on screen, even in a two-piece swim suit, she was one of the most graceful item dancers of her times. In fact, she, and even Silk Smitha, always wore skin-coloured body stocking beneath their skimpy costumes.
Anuradha’s electrifying performance in ‘Machana paaradi’ with Rajnikanth, (‘Thanga Magan’) is one of the classics. Explains Anuradha, “In 1980s, there was always a special actress who had makeup done like a vamp and danced alongside the hero. So, we were introduced as a comparison to the heroines. But today, it is ironic to know that the mantle is being overtaken by top artists like Simran, Neetu Chandra or Shriya.”
In those days, when every film had a song that would have an item dancer performing a cabaret, Anuradha broke the chain by performing character roles in ‘Simha Sompanam’ and ‘Nermai’ with Prabhu, ‘Pudhu Yugam’ and ‘Madurai Soodan’ with Vijayakanth.
“My mother was a hair dresser, so entering the film industry was easy for me. I came into the film industry to be a heroine. But though my career didn’t take off as expected, I have quite a few films to my credit that has brought me appreciation,” reveals the actress.
Those silver sequined short skirts with embellished head gear, leather shorts and plunging neckline blouses wore by Anuradha did heat up the sensuality of the songs. Her costumes in every film were a highlight. Apart from those skimpy outfits, she brought in the trend of cowboy leather jackets which caught the attention of many fans.
“There were no designers to design our outfits. We had a costume designer who will pick and choose what kind of clothes would suit the item song,” says Anuradha. “I did a film, ‘Cowboy No 1’ with Arjun and Sasikala, where I had to wear cowboy costumes with those matt-finished leather jackets, boots and hat. It was one of my favourite costumes.”
Unlike other item dancers, Anuradha has no sob story to tell us. “I was always under the guidance of my parents. I entered this industry because I love films. But the industry is vast and the exposure you get can be easily misused. That’s why we have lost many good actresses,” says Anuradha, who has acted in more than 700 films.
Many actresses these days, whether for an item song or a heroine’s role, are competing with each other to shine in the showbiz industry. But Anuradha says her relationship with her co-artistes was different, and they’re good friends even now. “Many have asked me if Smitha and I hate each other. I used to rubbish all the reports because we both were good friends and even the day before her death, I spoke to her. Disco Shanthi and I are still in contact. We meet often, share our bit of gossip and cherish the good old days.”
So will she come back for one song?
“No, I don’t think so. I would definitely come back to films but I would prefer character roles to prove my acting prowess,” she says.