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  • Kanika Bhatia

Bechdel had it right.

Most great ideas are born of humour or grief. Your limbic system is extremely relaxed or charged in either of the circumstances and I like to believe they are drivers of thoughts. Obviously with the ongoing war on mental health (because we can debate even about the things everyone should largely agree on), my disclaimer stands that suicide, self harm are in no way suggested as great ideas. Adversity has led to innovations and often a funny conversation has much more insight than Instagram offers. 

Back to a space where disclaimers aren’t needed, I wanted to talk about one such brilliant idea born of a comic strip - the Bechdel-Wallace Test. If fair representation, progressive content matters less to you, you probably haven’t heard of it. But here’s a very minor history lesson to establish context. Alison Bechdel ran a fairly successful (1983-2008) comic strip called ‘Dykes to Watch out for.’  The comic highlighted conversations amidst characters, chronicling their love, lives and political contexts. Yes, they featured under-represented groups like lesbians and gays at that point of time, but that doesn’t discount or add to the Bechdel Tests history and shouldn’t be defining biased views. A certain comic strip by Alison Bechdel became the foundation of this yardstick of well, reality in movies. For a movie to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test it had to pass three criteria. It ought to have two female characters, who are blessed with the ability to talk (revolutionary), and talk about something other than a man. Simple right? Apparently not. You will be surprised with the number of movies that fail the test. Infact an annual survey by VitaminStree points out how only 4 movies in 2018, and only 2 in 2019 passed the Bechdel test in our very own mainstream Bollywood. With great shock to bhai fans, none of his movies made the cut, but then neither did URI, gully boy and Kabir Singh (no kidding). One of the movies that actually passed this test in 2019, Mission Mangal, took 5 female actors and a whole spatial concept. That’s how hard it is for our storylines to fight for representation and a female voice (quite literally).

Over years other alternatives to the Bechdel test were organically created, however none achieved equal press and favour. There is the Mako Mori test, which demands a female character with her own individual narrative in the plot and she doesn’t exist to support a man's story. Now wouldn’t that be setting the bar too high? And my favourite one is the Sexy Lamp Test. Kelly Sue Deconnick, is the inventor of the said test, and to quote the writer, “if you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.” Well, I was surprised how many failed this in my head. I am talking to you, Housefull series. 

Why are we discussing the Bechdel test after my last assessment on Netflix’s Bulbul? No, even though Covid has most of us devouring content, this isn’t a social assessment of our theatrical productions. It’s driven from a recent observation during a casual chat with a friend of mine. Each time she and I would reconnect, which was once a month largely, we would only discuss our respective partners. A little salt bae sprinkle of work, but in the broader sense of the word, our catch up sessions involved his relationship with me, his work, his stress and his future plans. This was fine, till I noticed, I mentioned the person I date in every third sentence. No matter how, when or what is the context, my partner is a part of that conversation sitting miles away. Once I mentioned him to a lady at a checkout counter at my regular grocery store post picking a packet of cereals he loves. The obsession thankfully wasn’t limited to me. In a recent visit by my best girl to my place, we spoke about him, her future imaginary partner, the ghosts of past boyfriends, and all the men who have impacted our lives in the minutest manner. My conversations with my mother involve my father, my boyfriend, my brother in law and now my nephew on a daily basis. I don’t remember the last time I asked her how she was doing, just her, barring all testosterone based factors around her. 

Why is it so hard for two women to have a conversation that doesn’t involve men at all. Just a deep, meaningful conversation about life, death, stars or tampons for all I care without mentioning men at all. Or is it even important in the first place? I know it’s not my hidden feminist propaganda to wipe men out of every breathing moment of a woman’s life but it is surely something to think about. Do men, in their locker rooms, bar rooms, or gym sessions talk about women at all? And if they do, how long do those conversations last? And if this is the reality around me, are these movies showcasing anything that’s not true? I rather not scrutinise the content creators in that case. However, I do think it’s time for a change, on an off screen. 

One of my first attempts to remedy this scenario is going to be rating the conversations I have with people around me. Can we retain a conversation without talking about men and their thrown around effects? The insightful exchange that isn’t shadowed by a man’s reference deserves an A, and that’s all I am going for right now. 



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