As long as there have been ‘item numbers’, there have also been people protesting against them. Sunny Leone’s latest risque appearance in Madhuban serves as the latest example, with Mathura-based Hindu priests and the Madhya Pradesh government calling for the video to be taken down.

“Some vidharmis (heretics) are constantly hurting Hindu sentiments,” said MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra this Sunday to PTI reporters. “The video ‘Madhuban me Radhika nache’ is one such condemnable attempt. I am warning Sunny Leone ji, Shaarib and Toshi ji to understand,” he continued, referring to composers Sharib-Toshi.

“If they don’t remove the song after apologising in three days, then we will take action against them.”

What is Madhuban About?

As far as the music video’s actual content is concerned, it pretty much speaks for itself – note that it may be taken off Youtube by the time this article is published:

There’s no beating around the bush here – this is an incredibly suggestive music video, and at times almost to the point of parody.

Sunny gyrates to the usual everyday brand of Hindi dance music – flashing smiles, shaking her hips, posing for close-up body shots, etcetera. You know the drill by now – although the addition of Sunny posing alongside two musclebound models in plain briefs complete with bleached dreadlocks, admittedly made me chuckle for a moment.

Much of the imagery is commonplace in Indian dance music videos, and has been for decades. There’s nothing unusual here even with context to Sunny’s previous work.

The problem, however, starts with the song’s first line – “Madhuban mein Radhika nache re.”

Why All The Outrage?

Translated to ‘In Madhuban, Radhika is dancing away’, the line seems to be a result of a commonplace trope nowadays – Indian music producers snapping up references, lyrics, and even entire songs from Bollywood’s massive back catalogue.

In this case, the original song happens to be quite old:

‘Madhuban mein Radhika nache re’ was composed and written by Naushad Ali and Shakeel Badayuni respectively, and performed by the legendary Mohammed Rafi.

The scene is an interesting Bollywood tale all by itself – a lighthearted back-and-forth between Dilip Kumar’s Prince Dhivendra and Kumkum’s confident kathak dancer. Challenging her audience to perform a song she cannot dance to, Kumar’s young raja takes her on – resulting in a classic Radha-Krishna tune, executed with the kind of pure devotional beauty that contributed to Naushad’s fame and reputation as a composer.

In contrast, Madhuban opens with Sharib-Toshi chanting their own version of the line, as Sunny descends via rope into a packed crowd of background dancers. Helmed by veteran choreographer Ganesh Acharya’s conceptualization, the song calls on Radhika’s name every thirty seconds or so – even during a few shots of Sunny performing mujra steps in a pool, as background performers splash water across her body.

“We will go to court if the government does not act against the actress and ban her video album,” said Sant Naval Giri Maharaj of Vrindaban – a representative of multiple Priests’ organizations. “Unless she withdraws the scene and tenders a public apology, she should not be allowed to remain in India,” he said.

It’s something of a slippery slope, at least as far as Indian Twitter goes.

Several Indians agreed with Mishra’s complaints, arguing that the song was in ‘bad taste’ and legitimately offended public religious interests:

Others pointed out the minister’s various transgressions – especially public statements that were clearly misogynistic, inflammatory, and communal. Mishra resorted to the latter in a comment, “Radha is a goddess for us (Hindus) and we’ve temples dedicated to her. Why don’t Sharib-Toshi dare to make a video song pertaining to their own religion?”

Mishra has also caught flak for publicly condemning comedians Kunal Kamra and Munawar Faruqui.

Music label Saregama has responded as well, stating that the song will be taken down and edited to better respect hurt sentiments. Meanwhile, the song has been further popularized by all the controversy – picking up 11 million views in just 4 days.

“I have been lucky,” said Sunny in a statement, “that the audience has loved all my songs in which I have also showcased my dancing and this one kicks it up a notch. Madhuban has got immense love from the fans on social media.”

“It’s great to be a part of a song that will bid adieu to 2021 in style and welcome 2022 with a bang.”

(Photo Sources: Saregama India)