In a shabby room somewhere in India, a girl puts on an odd assortment of ‘hot’ clothes and proceeds to dance out a standard hands-and-hips routine for the hip-hop song ‘Oh Nanana’ by Bonde R300. The clip runs for fifteen seconds.
A quick glance at other videos in her profile reveals an assortment of Bhojpuri, Punjabi and of course, Bollywood songs – all danced in various levels of competency. It’s equal part seductive, and funny, and pathetic, and hopeful, and a hundred other things.
Welcome to the odd world of the dancing mobile app ‘Tik Tok’, formerly known as Musically, and my wide-eyed journey through it.
I know what you are thinking. “This pervert is going to use a mountain of words to justify an evening of being a lech.”
Well, yes. But that’s beside the point. Firstly, we call to call ourselves ‘sensual connoisseurs’, thank you very much, and secondly, I promise I will make a vaguely intellectual summation in the end to justify the following ramble about pouty girls and transparent tops.
Side Note: To get it out of the way at the very start, let me make it clear – the app is also full of very talented dancers, musicians, magicians and comedians. This conversation is not about those with talent or a love for dance, or just doing something fun.
So back to the girls. Extremely, almost recklessly and indeed unscientifically broadly speaking – there are two kinds of users of the app. The city girls and the small-towners.
And how they use the app, and their various approaches to gathering interest or seduce is an interesting study in itself.
The city girls mostly go for the ‘unattainable’ vibe, which they can easily pull off. Generally fairer, with well-tended hair and makeup, they move and swirl with the ease of someone who either dances in clubs regularly or at least can check out a series of YouTube videos.
Their favourites seem to be the jeans shorts, the crop top and whatever hip hop song is the flavour of the season. The backdrop is usually a beautiful wall of a room, with pictures and fairy lights.
It is all made with a very self-aware vibe – “Why yes, I too have googled that special thing that men do when they see hot women and as long as no one mentions it (though we all know it), I shall giggle and act pricey and you can comment ‘nice dance, ma’am’ in my videos – because self-respect and respecting all women is like, super important, you know.”
(The good–looking city boys get the privilege of saying ‘looking good, baby’ and even the occasional like for their comment – usually with a smiley face.)
The small-town ones, on the other hand, are playing for higher stakes, with fewer privileges.
Their rooms are messy, with usually some sort of cupboard and bed in the way, or it is sometimes a terrace or even outdoors. They have no practised moves and if by some mistake there is make up, then it will make your eyes bleed.
They are going for the forbidden vibe, and it practically vibrates off the screen. They know what they are doing is ‘wrong’ according to every one they met (even the men who watch it faithfully), and unlike the city girls – they are in actual trouble, possibly even real danger, if caught.
They, in fact, are playing off our self-awareness – of the dangers they are facing, the many taboos they are breaking and the fact that any one of the girls you see, demure and covered, in the town temple during Dussera could be the one swaying to ‘Patli Kamar’ in the dead of the night in a see-through dupatta and black bra.
That itself is worth a thousand jeans shorts – because the forbidden fruit is so much sweeter.
Personally, my heart is with the small-towners. They try harder, have a larger cultural barrier to overcome and in general seem more inventive.
The city ones have no dedication to the craft. They heard somewhere that crop tops were cool, and they had the shorts in the closet anyway, so now it is apparently time to show the boys what a real woman looks like.
In the rural scenes, all this is true commitment. For one thing, the peer pressure to do this is practically non existent as far as I can tell. And more importantly – with little reference material save absolutely terrible item songs on TV, much of it is self-invented, which is a treat just for its sheer variety.
Besides, while western musicians can bray all they want about sex and drugs, they can never quite match the sensuous possibilities of a “Neend Kho Gaya Hai, Kuch Toh Ho Gaya Hai”.
Along with the magic, you also have the ‘escape’ factor – a big deal for a small town. As I shared these thoughts with a friend of mine from a small town in Odisha, I felt what she indicated was the best summation – “When you are from such places, you are so desperate to get out, to be rid of those restrictions and limitations, that you end up doing anything. ”
When you are willing to risk it all, for the small thrill – sexual or otherwise, that is where art, and even true seduction, lies.
And it is this seedy heart of India where my attention truly lies.
It’s all a package.
The grimy walls and the hesitant steps. The desperate scramble down a slippery slope that you can never climb back up from. The abandoning of all propriety for the sake of a single moment of vindication, adulation, desire and acceptance.
And that exhausted moment, when the lights dim and reality seeps back through the cracks even as you realise that you have done more than you ever intended at the instigation of a stranger online and whatever demons or hopes fuelled you this far.
And you will do it all again…tomorrow, and the next day, and forever. You will shine in your tiny spotlight – perhaps the only one you will ever get. And if you have to do it in a see-through dupatta – so be it.
It is enough to get anyone’s heart hammering. Even if it comes in 15 second clips.
Or so I assume. But then again, what do I know?