Top-Grossing Bollywood Films Disappoint Feminism, Suggests Research

Dhoom 3, Chennai Express, Krrish, Ek Tha Tiger and 3 Idiots: what do these films have in common? Besides being major box office successes, new research published in the Journal of Gender Studies suggests that they have all failed the well-acclaimed Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test is a popular measure used to examine the representation of women in movies and other forms of media. The test has three basic requirements: 1) There must be two or more named female characters 2) Who speak to each other 3) About anything other than ‘men’.These three simple guides play a key role in determining the realistic presentation of women.

Frequently applied to Hollywood movies, a team of researchers at the Department of Psychology at Monk Prayogshala, India, adapted this test to the Indian setting, and found that the most commercially successful movies did in fact, showcase a poorer representation of women. Three out of these five films had no female-to-female conversations, while in the other two they took place much later in the film. Over 66% of these conversations dealt with issues stereotypically associated with females like men, relationships and fashion.

“Top-grossers continue to employ a single female lead to serve as eye-candy, serving little or no purpose to the plot. Such misrepresentations damage perceptions of women in society…” noted Prachi Bhuptani, one of the co-authors of the study. “Despite women working in various fields, side by side with men, top-grossers have not been able move past their restrictive view of the woman whose sole interest, and subsequently conversations, revolves around male figures in her life, or other stereotypical areas.” says Bhuptani.

The researchers assessed five movies each of three types. First, movies which were generating most revenue worldwide: Dhoom 3, Chennai Express, Krrish, Ek Tha Tiger and 3 Idiots. Second, women-centric movies, which focused on the socio-political and personal concerns of women: Kahaani, Heroine, English Vinglish, No One Killed Jessica, and The Dirty Picture. Finally, parallel cinema included movies aiming to facilitate social change through representations of reality: The Lunchbox, Shahid, Ship of Theseus, That Girl in Yellow Boots, and I Am.

The same-sex conversations throughout the movies were noted and categorised into three: First was stereotypical conversations which included topics traditionally associated with women like men, relationships and fashion. Second was non-stereotypical conversations which revolved around topics not traditionally associated with women like professional life, money, and business. Final category wastypical conversations which dealt with topics that were neither stereotypical nor non-stereotypical, but were relevant to the context, like a police officer giving instructions to a guard.

Interestingly, to study male-to-male conversations, a Reverse Bechdel Test was designed. These conversations were also divided into the same three categories. Stereotypical conversations for men included women, professional life, money, and sex. Non-stereotypical conversations included topics like other men, relationships, marriage, and fashion.

 Overall, the results revealed a lower number of female-to-female dialogues as compared to male-to-male dialogues across all movie categories, indicating the dominance of the male characters. While top-grossers fared most poorly, it was reassuring to note that female-to-female conversations largely comprised of non-stereotypical talk in women-centric cinema. Parallel movies comprised both stereotypical and non-stereotypical conversations. Interestingly, in the Reverse Bechdel, men did not exclusively speak to each other about stereotypical topics in any of the genres of films.

The authors go on to note, “The results indicate that characters in Hindi cinema reinforce gender stereotypes in top-grossing films, with female characters being mere accessories to the plot. They provide a distorted view of reality, which is consumed by the youth and adults in large numbers.”

However, the situation is not all lost. The advent of women-centric and parallel movies have taken the onus of presenting women in their true light, as individuals capable of balancing and excelling in their personal and professional lives. Movies like Gulab Gang, Queen and Mary Kom stand testimony to this fact.

It is hoped that these insights into Hindi films will create an awareness of the frequently objectified depiction of gender, particularly in top-grossing films. Such misrepresentations may be catering to public demand but they serve the greater evil of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Given the popularity of Hindi films across the globe, it is important for the film industry to take upon itself the onus of debunking gender myths, not propagating it. Realistic gender representation to the masses will take the industry one step towards gender equality.


Article details

The Bechdel in India: gendered depictions in contemporary Hindi cinema” by Hansika Kapoor, Prachi H. Bhuptani and Amuda Agneswaran (doi: 10.1080/09589236.2015.1102128). The article appears in the Journal for Gender Studies, Volume 24.

A copy of the paper is available to credentialed journalists upon request, contact Monk at or +91 9167226458.


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