Two women with names. A conversation between the said women. A conversation bereft of mentions of men. Sounds simple enough? That’s all Bechdel test really is. Almost too simple, some might say. While your first instinct might be to dismiss it as facile, the Bechdel Test is actually a very good indicator of whether or not a film could be said to have female presence, in the true sense.
The test was conceptualized by a graphic artist named Alison Bechdel, back in 1985 in her comic, Dykes To Watch Out For. While not necessarily demanding a feminist perspective or shades of women empowerment, it still manages to give an insight into how a film fares as regards telling stories about women.
In Bollywood, while we have the occasional Queens , The Dirty Pictures, or Dedh Ishqiyas, majority of the films fall short. Despite the long overdue furor about having more films that are both consequential, and portray strong female characters and protagonists, the industry continues to largely be a man’s world. The most glaring proof of this, ironically, is the fact that a woman-centric film is still celebrated and welcomed like one does a desirable, yet rare occasion.
2015 was a year of many putative women-centric films. You had the controversy-ridden, yet well-received Bajirao Mastani, which boasted not one, but two strong-willed, formidable female leads. Yet, their lives and conversations revolved around Bajirao – a man. NH10 had exchanges between Anushka Sharma and Dipti Naval, the former the absolute, undisputed star of the film and the latter a pivotal character, important to the plot. Riveting as it was, the tirade revolved around a man. Piku was endearing and moving, but, the character’s conversation with the other women in the film also happened to be about a man.
Even with the bar set so low, female representation in films seems to continually let down.
Even so, here are some 2015 releases that did make the cut.
Angry Indian Goddesses
It was given the moniker "South Asian Bridesmaids". Pan Nalin’s extraordinary storytelling was mirrored by the seven female leads of the film. It was billed as the first ever gal-pal comedy of India. Needless to say, there was a very strong dialogue between women, which covered a wide range of topics, including, but not exclusively, about men.
In spite of all the flak it was on the receiving end for, Calendar Girls had florid discussions about ambition and career, quirky chats about life and experiences, and even some fervent confrontations. Bechdel test was not just passed, it was aced.
Dil Dhadakne Do
A fairly unexpected contender, this film offered the viewer a slew of female characters belonging to the upper crust of the society. Not a women-centric by a long margin, Dil Dhadakne Do managed to scrape through owing to a fleeting, almost forgettable conversation about Priyanka Chopra’s Ayesha and the cousins, Divya and Putlu, where they talk about Divya’s career plans.
Tanu Weds Manu Returns
Complete with the bluster of Kanpur and the swagger of Haryana, this unconventional love story has instances where the protagonist Tanu and her best friend Payal talk about life, pregnancy and getting hammered. Apart from being fun, at times bizarre, and downright preposterous for most part, Tanu Weds Manu Returns manages to pass the Bechdel test
Another unexpected addition, Shandaar manages to pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. When Alia Bhatt’s Alia and Sanah Kapoor’s Isha, who play sisters in this romantic comedy, interact, you can see the sibling revelry shine through. They are seen chatting about their problems and aspirations. A surprisingly touching scene has Alia encouraging the overweight Isha to shed her complexes and embrace herself the way she is.
The poor score of Hindi films that pass Bechdel test is quite an eye-opener. It’s about time the film-makers took notice. Here’s hoping Bollywood gives women’s stories their due.
* The set featured image has been taken from the comic ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’ by Alison Bechdel.
— By Maitreyee Avachat