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Bollywood, Bechdel and 2014: Baby Steps, Folks

How difficult can it be for two women to have a normal conversation in a Bollywood blockbuster?

A look at the 10 biggest Bollywood hits of 2014 and how they treated their women (Spoiler: Expect the Worst!)

Another year, and another assortment of blockbusters, pulpy B-grades movies and the oddball character driven pieces passed us by. On the bright side, 2014 was a breakthrough year for real women in Bollywood,  with plenty of interesting female roles with nuance and shade. But the not-so-bright side of the story is that the trend didn’t carry over to the Blockbusters, aka the biggest money makers of the year. Yes, Dedh Ishqiya allowed Madhuri’s magic and Huma’s sensuality to drive the narrative, while Queen liberated Kangana Ranaut and Lisa Haydon from the purgatory of playing second fiddle to beige-coloured men, but these were not the films that raked in millions of viewers (or crores of money).

The masses still went to see their favourite Khans strut their superhero stuff and their favourite dour Devgan sleepwalk through his dance packed action (or is it the other way round? Who knows, or cares!).  They went to see women dance around poles  or gyrate across the club floor in front of a strategically placed wind machine and that is why, unfortunately, only one out of the ten biggest movies of the year passed the Bechdel test.

As a quick reminder, to meet the Bechdel Test, a movie (1) has to have at least two women in it (2) who talk to each other about (3) something besides a man. Here is how the 2013 Bollywood Biggies performed on the test. 

1. PK

Bechdel Test: Fail. There was one conversation between Anushka Sharma’s Jagat Janani and Rukhsar Rehman’s Pakistani Embassy Receptionist, but the discussion was entirely about Sushant Singh’s Dreamy Eyes, and who can blame them!

On The Brighter Side:  Isn’t it amazing that we can basically copy and paste our description from the previous year’s biggest film! PK scores a perfect 10 on the Aamir Khan Movie Scalein which every scene must have another character talking about the Aamir Khan character with awe and wonder. For a movie that busted so many stereotypes with panache, shame it didn’t do much to the stereotype of Khan supremacy.

2. Kick

Bechdel Test: Fail.

On The Brighter Side:  Unlike a lot of earlier Salman Khan heroines, Jaqueline Fernandez seems in on the joke. Her gentle air of amusement goes a long way in reducing the otherwise creepy vibes created by the age-disparity between the lead male and female.

3. Happy New Year

Bechdel Test: Fail.

It disappoints us that Farah Khan- possibly the one woman director with the clout and ability to shake things up – continues to churn out the most banal female characters imaginable. And yes, we buy her screed about “Entertainment before anything else”, but surely women can entertain in more ways than just titillating over-choreographed dances?

On The Brighter Side: Despite her inexplicable love for a slut-shaming hero, Deepika Padukone’s Mohini was the standout performer in a half-baked film. Half Rakhi Sawant and half Mata Hari, we couldn’t help fall a little in love with her, even as we struggled to laugh at the tired jokes in the script.

4. Bang Bang

Bechdel Test: Fail.

On the Brighter Side: The best that can be said about Bang Bang was that it objectified its male lead (a sun-bronzed, Miami-louche Hrithik Roshan) just as much as it did Katrina Kaif.  More of a glossy vacation advertisement than a feature film, the script let down both its star performers with equal disdain, preferring to focus on their sculpted abs instead.

5. Singham Returns

Bechdel Test: Fail.

On The Brighter Side: Of the five films mentioned so far, Singham Returns perhaps gives its heroine the most to do. Not enough to really matter to the story perhaps,  but Kareena Kapoor’s Avni is allowed to be funny and angry and entertaining in a way that Hindi film heroines rarely are. So kudos for that !

Also Read: Get to Know Bechdel Test Inventor Alison Bechdel 
6. Holiday

Bechdel Test: Fail. What else do you expect from a movie whose title declares that”A Solider Is Never Off Duty”?

On The Brighter Side: In an industry in which the heroine is almost always a college girl – irrespective of whether her hero is aged 14 or 40 – Sonakshi Sinha portrayed a professional boxer with a mind of her own. The MBRB Editors have always cheered Sona, and wish she’d choose such roles over the pointless Rajjos and Chandas

7. Jai Ho

Bechdel Test: Fail. We can’t remember the last time an actress of Tabu’s stature was wasted in a movie.

On The Brighter Side: Theatre veteran Nadira Babbar made a rare big screen appearance as Salman Khan’s mother. Pity that it was a blink-and-miss role, but what else can we expect from a movie that is of the Bhai, for the Bhai, by the Bhai (we kid you not, Bhai’s Bhai Sohail Khan is the director).

8. Ek Villian

Bechdel Test: Fail.

On The Brighter Side: We would have loved to say that Shraddha Kapoor rose above the exceedingly silly Aisha, but sadly, she was perfect for the role. If we managed to sit through the giant sized logical flaws in the movie, it was thanks to the men – the smouldering hot Sidharth Malhotra and the common man serial killer Ritiesh Deshmukh.

9. 2 States

Bechdel Test:  Fail. Despite significant roles for not just one but three women (Alia Bhatt as Ananya, Revathy as Ananya’s mother Radha and Amrita Singh as Arjun Kapoor’s mother Kavita), every single conversation between the ladies is about the men (mostly Arjun Kapoor!) Okay, maybe when the MILs are snarling at each other, they utter two words that are not directly about the gentlemen – but!

On The Brighter Side:  If there is anything we dislike more than a movie full of clichés, it is a movie that pretends to be original/modern while being riddled with clichés. Despite the completely unimaginative use of two fine actresses (Revathy and Amrita Singh), it’s the women who lift the movie – none more than Alia Bhatt, who infuses the done-to-death Ananya Swaminathan with a rare charm and elegance.

10. Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

Bechdel Test: Pass, Pass, Pass! Leading lady Kavya (Alia Bhatt) video chats with bestie Gurpreet about wedding lehengas. And the women in the movie are more enlightened, and entertaining, than the men. Ok it’s Second Division when compared with a Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, but have you seen the first nine movies on this list?

On The Brighter Side: Varun Dhawan & Alia Bhatt ki Jodi Number One. The spoofing of DDLJ – can we please grow up and stop touting it as the Best Romance Of Our Generation? Varun Dhawan’s Humpty – oh wait, we already said that, didn’t we?

The Characters That Stayed

The plucky women in Dedh Ishqiya and Queen are not the only ones who made us proud in 2014. The following films may or may not pass the Bechdel test, but at the very least provide their performers with an interesting feminist note to play with.

In Bewakoofiyan, Sonam Kapoor played Maira, a rising banker who earned and spent more than her boyfriend unapologetically. In fact, both Maira’s ambition and materialism are accepted as personality traits and not looked down upon by a supportive father who is justifiably proud of her. And when her unemployed boyfriend does begin to grudge her success, she may be portrayed as being slightly insensitive, but the script sides with her throughout. For that, the movie deserves to have done better than it did.

In Mardaani, Rani Mukherjee plays Shivani Shivaji Roy, whose gender is just one aspect of her personality. She is not a good cop for a woman, nor a cop who is good because she is a woman (Rani doesn’t play her as someone particularly more empathetic or intuitive than the rest). But a good cop, and a woman. Just because.

In Hassee To Phasee, Parineeti Chopra plays a straight-talking, nerdy scientist who is awkward around people, a far cry from the bubbly Bollywood heroine who can render Arnab Goswami speechless. And when she realizes she is in love, she has no qualms in “proposing” to her man.

In the otherwise problematic Gulaab Gang, Juhi Chawla’s Sumitra Bagrecha connives, dispenses her own brand of justice, and chews scenery with the kind of gusto that is normally reserved for evil ‘male’ politicians in khadi vests and Nehru caps. This year’s Supriya-Pathak-in-Ram-Leela good honours go to her!

In Haider, Tabu sears and crackles as Ghazala, a Kashmiri half-widow caught in the cross-hair of politics,desire and terrorism – when all she wants is a normal life with a devoted husband and a loving son. Bollywood, how about a remake of Gone Girl with this stunning actress, or at least this version of The Good Wife?

Is Bollywood getting better at depicting its leading ladies? Tell us on Facebook & Twitter, or drop us a line at Keep returning to MBRB as we delve into the world of women through the lens of books, travel, pop culture and more!

Cover image courtesy: Santa Banta. Images from collage sourced from Rediff & Filmibeat

2 Comments on Bollywood, Bechdel and 2014: Baby Steps, Folks

  1. not a co-incidence that all the better movies this year had great female lead roles (in-fact you could say they drove the movie) – Queen, Hasee to Phasee, Dedh Ishqiya

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