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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

The Bechdel Test, also sometimes known as the Bechdel-Wallace Test after its creators Alison Bechdel and Liz Wallace, is a test to measure the representation of women in film. The test first originated as an idea or proposition in 1985 in Bechdel’s weekly comic strip series called ‘Dykes to Watch Out For.’

The comic strip showed two friends in a conversation where one explains a “rule” she has on the basis of which she decides whether to watch a movie or not. The three basic “requirements” she holds are – “One, it (the movie) should have at least two women in it who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.” These three requirements formed the basic criteria for an informal test to evaluate the portrayal of women in movies, and was later officially named the Bechdel Test.

On the surface, this test seems fairly simple and easy to pass. All you need are AT LEAST two distinguished and named female characters who are shown to be talking to each other at some point about something other than a man. To a 21st century young female viewer, these seem to be the bare minimum conditions that filmmakers can apply to their movies. Yet, the fact that very few movies actually pass the test is surprising and concerning on so many levels.

Bollywood has an inconsistent relationship with this test. Although there are some movies that pass the test, there are many that fail, and then there are those that pass owing to just one scene. There are filmmakers who abide by the test, and there are those who consider it trivial and tend to dance to the beat of their own drum, often undermining what the test stands for.

Here’s a list of a few movies that pass or fail the test –

  • Dangal – PASS – This 2016 blockbuster, revolves around the lives of and portrays the success stories of two sisters – Geeta and Babita. Aspiring wrestlers, the movie shows their struggles and ambitions. The two, along with other female characters in the movie, are shown talking to each other on multiple occasions in the film and almost all of their conversations are devoid of any mentions of men. Thus, the movie passes the test with flying colours.
  • Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya – FAIL – This 2017 movie openly compares girls to liabilities and boys to assets not only through words but also through the portrayal. Although it attempts to fight the concept of dowry, the ways in which it does so are problematic. All the female characters other than the “heroine” exist in the periphery of the film. The female lead is shown to be career-driven and addresses that multiple times, however, even conversations about her career and ambitions somehow involve mentions of men and marriage. For that reason, the movie fails the test.
  • Bahubali 2 – PASS – Although primarily a “male-centric” film, the movie shows strong female characters, who during the course of the film, are seen talking to each other about something other than men, thereby passing the test. This 2017 movie also turned out to be a huge commercial success.
  • Kabir Singh – FAIL – Rooted in misogyny, this 2019 movie is highly problematic to say the least. It does not represent many female characters in the first place and the female lead is shown to be submissive, seemingly having no mind of her own and keeping her head held low almost throughout the film. There is no doubt that the movie fails the test miserably.

Although seemingly impressive, the test comes with its own set of criticisms. Considering its basic premise, one could argue that it is limited in its scope and cannot be the only measure of representation of women in the film medium. Rather, it is just an important aspect one should consider when watching a movie. Of course, there are films that pass the three basic requirements, but is that enough for it to be marked as a film that represents women fairly?

There are films that meet the three requirements but the overall role and representation of women in the film is questionable. War, starring Hritik Roshan and Tiger Shroff, for example, passes the test by just a one-line scene between two women but the movie doesn’t represent women in the best way and they exist only in the periphery. The converse of this is also true, movies which seem to empower women and are considered “women-centric” like Veere di Wedding, show most of the conversations between the women to be centred around men. It is also important to note that the test is somewhat superficial and only talks about the representation of women in films in terms of the screen space they get and does not focus on the nature of their conversations. So, although films may show two women talking at multiple occasions about something other than men, the conversations might still be underlined by stereotypical and patriarchal ideologies thereby limiting the scope and representation of women.

It is important to realise that “when considering the quality of representation in media, we should favour actual analysis and critical thinking over meeting requirements.” Therefore, although a good start, the test cannot be the only method for measuring, analysing, and scrutinizing the role and representation of women in the film medium.

Dippanshi Kapoor

Delhi South '24

A twenty year old English major, Dippanshi would rather observe the world than be a part of it. For someone who loves reading, writing, and watching movies, she is afraid she never does enough of any of these things.