By Poulomi Das
In March this year, The New Yorker magazine decided to analyse Oscar nominees for Best Picture against a Bechdel Test. Named for the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the 1985 test prescribes that at least two women – on screen, in a novel, any work of fiction – ought to talk to each other about something other than a man. This year, in the wake of #MeToo and a rally for gender-equality in Hollywood, seven of the nominated nine films, including The Shape of Water and Lady Bird, made the cut.
The Bechdel Test poses three questions:
1. Does the film have two or more (named) female characters?
2. Do these characters talk to each other?
3. If so, do they discuss something other than a man?
Obviously, most of Bollywood, barring the odd Lipstick Under My Burkha, Tumhari Sulu, or Raazi, would gloriously flunk the test. But that’s not what we’d expected of Shashanka Ghosh’s widely anticipated Veere Di Wedding, starring Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, and Shikha Talsania. Not only is it one of the few times Bollywood has put together four talented actresses in the lead, but the film is also produced by two women and co-written by one.
To be fair, the film does honour the first two requirements rather ably, which would be an incredible feat, if it didn’t embarrassingly stumble while trying to fulfill the third condition, of whether the women in the film talk to each other about something other than a man. The answer is, hardly at all.
From the very first frame – the four besties celebrated the end of board exams at Kalindi’s (Kareena Kapoor) Pinterest-inspired castle (calling it a house would be a disservice) – it is evident that we’re in the universe Aisha left behind. At 17, their discussions range from condoms, marriage, boyfriends, sex, to some more boys.
Veere Di Wedding’s portrayal of the Urban Indian Woman, and her concerns, is about as realistic as Narnia Image Credit: Balaji Motion pictures
After a 10-year-leap, Sonam’s Avni is introduced as a divorce lawyer (after playing a tabla player in Padman, the actress is now on a mission to tick off every profession on her childhood fantasy list) who wears all the fake eyelashes available at Sarojini Market. Shikha Talsania’s Meera is a young mother married to John, an American, and Swara’s Sakshi is a divorcee whose first exchange is with a group of nosy neighbourhood aunties inquiring about her estranged husband, Vineet. The protagonists only talk crores, Manish Malhotra, Sephora, and Kalyan Jewellers.
Avni’s mother (Neena Gupta) doesn’t survive on oxygen, but on a drug called Bharat Matrimony, so none of their interactions go beyond why the daughter doesn’t want to marry a random guy. Kalindi’s future mother-in-law, on the other hand, can’t stop raving about her precious son. The veeres Skype to discuss nothing but Kalindi’s fiance Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas); while Sakshi chides Avni for “wanting to have sex with someone called Nirmal” and mocks her for sleeping with her married boss.
You’ll never guess what they are talking about. Yep, men.
An hour into the film, they have golgappas and talk about the men on matrimonial apps, give kissing tips that Avni should utilise on Nirmal, and flock to the bathroom to bitch about said man. They try locating a missing Kalindi but first ask Avni about the man she hooked up with the previous night. They have a huge fight and angrily throw each other’s bad decisions in the other’s face. I waited with bated breath, for maybe the bad decisions didn’t involve a man. Seconds later, I was proven wrong.
They suddenly go on a patch-up trip to Phuket to discuss Rishabh, Vineet, and John. They watch the sunset but also try calling Rishabh. They go drinking but hear Kalindi drunk-crying about how much she loves Rishabh. They go for breakfast and discuss Sakshi being blackmailed by Vineet, (although, Swara is a hoot in the scene with the dildo). I could tell you more, but you already know the rest.
It’s as if Veere Di Wedding refuses to have any emotional depth only because it fears that its protagonists might have to talk about something other than men. It seems to think having four women in a frame is more than enough; so naturally the film’s plot is dismissed even more offhandedly than their conflicts or talk about money.
Funnily enough, the one scene where two female characters in the film are not talking about men, they’re talking about a brand placement: “Air India is always on time”. There’s also that other brief scene, where the four friends find the wedding lehenga of Kalindi’s dead mother and hug. At least, clothes can make them forget the existence of men.
Of course, even though it’s 2018, it’s still super refreshing to see female characters who drink, smoke, cuss, and hookup with abandon. But the film’s portrayal of the Urban Indian Woman, and her concerns, is about as realistic as Narnia.
In a recent interview, Swara Bhaskar pointed out how it’s taken mainstream Bollywood almost 105 years to make a film about four female friends having fun. Might have been too much to wish that the film also pass the Bechdel Test. It’s not perfect, but we’ll have to take it.
Poulomi Das is an author at Arre.
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