Gender bias in films: Time for a scene change

Yeh Jawaanai Hai Deewani  

A comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, back in 1989, first featured an idea. It delved into the world of cinema to fish out gender bias that is deeply entrenched in popular fiction. It’s not that people weren’t aware of this bias until she wrote about it, but Bechdel voiced it with clarity and logic in an easily measurable manner. Now popularly called the ‘Bechdel Test’, it requires movies to fulfil three conditions: it must have two women characters (that they should have a name was a condition added on later); they must talk to each other; about something other than men. Seems simple enough, but it’s surprising how many mainstream films fail to pass this test. It underscores how often women are underrepresented in our films and how popular culture is happy to portray them as mere accessories to the larger scheme of things.

Thillu Mullu

While the film itself is a flimsy effort at recreating the laughs of two cult hits ( Gol Maal and Thillu Mullu), its portrayal of women is nothing to write home about, expectedly. It has four women characters played by Kovai Sarala (Senthamarai), Isha Talwar (Janani), Mounisha (Kavita) and Sachu (the heroine’s grandmother); all playing the usual small-time roles propping up the ‘real’ heroes. However, surprisingly, if one were to look at Thillu Mullu strictly from the original test’s point of view as conceived by Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace, this film just about manages a ‘pass’ — a couple of college girls (unnamed) very briefly interact with Kovai Sarala about spreading awareness on dengue in her slum.


Fukrey indeed has more than one named woman character. The funny and, ironically named, non-gender stereotypical ‘villain’ Richa Chadda as Bholi Punjaban, Priya Anand as Priya and Vishaka Singh as Neetu — all three who in their own ways take charge of their situation and end up as the real heroes of this hilarious small-town film with a big heart. Yet, the film does not even scrape through the Bechdel threshold. Priya and Neetu spend nearly all their screen time talking to men and in the case of Bholi Punjaban who fleetingly speaks to women under her control it is only to ask about men. This is telling of the inherent bias in movies that goes almost unnoticed, especially when writers come up with seemingly ‘strong’ and ‘central’ women characters whose interactions with other women are bare minimal or totally absent.

Theeya Velai Seyyanum Kumaru

To begin with, it has to be said that for a significant period of the film, the main woman character played by Hansika Motwani (Sanjana), does not have any lines. And whenever she or the women around her talk, throughout this film, it is about men — either in general or the ones they are dating. To delve any further looking for evidence of any real portrayal of women, in a film in this genre would be futile. So we move on…


This new Telugu film starring ‘Mass Maharaja’ Ravi Teja, Shruti Hassan and Anjali is the story of three men, gangsters to be precise, crossing swords. There are two named women and while one of them Anjali, at least speaks to another female character (albeit about the ‘hero’) the other, Shruti has not one dialogue with women in the film. Balupu fails the test.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Though one doesn’t always expect much from a big banner film, the presence of Kalki Koechlin (Aditi in YJHD) who’s earned somewhat of an edgy reputation for the characters she plays intrigued us. So we ventured out to watch YJHD and came out surprised. The film’s two leading ladies are played by Kalki of course, with her easy, affable presence and Deepika Padukone (Naina) who starts off as a nerd and ends the film on a ‘high’ note, playing a sociable, party gal. Together, these two ladies, pull off a Bechdel win for YJHD. Kalki and Padukone have conversations that aren’t about men but about their own selves and life. Heartening indeed!

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 3:12:16 PM |

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