Does reel imitate the real? Bushra Ahmed on testing the Bechdel test in real life in the face of Veer Di Wedding
Last week, India saw one of its first ‘women oriented’ film release. Veere di Wedding, the cast emphasised was not a ‘chick-flick’ but a film about four childhood friends and their lives. And after much marketing brouhaha, where the lead actors of the movie promoted the movie in couture, talked endlessly about their off-screen camaraderie, delighting the panting media with quotable quotes, the film managed to do what it wanted all along—grab eyeballs and start a conversation. But is it the right one?
By now, the film has already earned over Rs. 50 crore and spawned many articles and reviews — it is an #EverydayPhenomenal film in the end (It’s an inside joke, see why by clicking it) and as one of the actors in the film, Swara Bhaskar said, it has taken 105 years for Bollywood to make a movie about four women and their lives. So do we indeed have our very first film on women in India? Especially one that that is not only about four women and their lives, but also produced by a woman and co-written by one?
Let’s look at the trusty old Bechdel test for answers. Alas, the film fails miserably on that account because the women in the film only talk about sex, boys, hook-ups, make-up, and then sex and boys again. Yes, they talk to each other (2 out of 3), but it fails the last and biggest parameter of the test—talk to each other about something besides a man. Now would be a good time to hazard a guess and dare to suggest that the director and producer wanted to create India’s very own Sex and the City (which by the way is celebrating 20 years of being on air and sparking its very own similar debates). So then, do we in Veere di Wedding, have a very real portrayal of real-life Indian women of urban India and can we say yay feminism! Maybe not.
To figure this out, I decided to apply the Bechdel test to my own life. For if reel-life takes inspiration from real life, is there a problem with us, the urban women of India then? After all, I am in many ways a prototype for it — a single woman, in her 30s, living in the big city, trying to work her way through bills while still trying to cling on to the vestiges of living the (poor?!) life of a writer. Of course, the test’s first rule is that it is to be applied on a work of fiction, but let’s still make this a one time exception.
I am surrounded by women in their 30s, all of whom would be slotted in what is commonly understood as strong, independent women with minds of their own, making their way in the big world, with their head and courage held high. Many of us met through work, some through friends and over the years, cliques formed.
Let’s talk (just) about men, baby
It all starts with one incident that makes you question your own self, doesn’t it?
Two months ago, as I sat guzzling negronis at a bar with someone who I was meeting after a very long time, after the preliminary catch-up and how-we-need-to-meet-more laughter, she proceeded to tell me how she felt good and empowered in life now. I obviously wanted to know the secret and learn from her happiness, who doesn’t want to be happy?. What followed were a stream of sentences, that were liberally sprinkled with I-Love-Sex (I counted 15 times in a 4-hour meeting), details of raunchy encounters, and a liberal dose of if women need to be ‘free’ they need to be free about sex too. In parts, it made sense; in part I thought the excessive glasses of negroni had fogged my mind. But apparently not. In fact, next time the Ethical Slut was thrown in. Aaah feminism, and its popular (and often problematic) appropriation.
When it happened again; I thought if it was my fault. Did I unwittingly incite such questions and reactions in women. But I have recently met women who every time, tell me in extreme detail, sometimes accompanied by juicy screenshots, stories of simultaneously dating men they meet through Tinder and Instagram (I am very curious about this new side of Instagram!). I know women who, when I ask about their creative projects at work, first launch into a tirade of how they are confused if they should sleep with a coworker. There are even conversations where solemn ‘I-am-sorry’ have been exchanged if one woman dares to acknowledge in public that she has not been intimate with a man or woman for some time (No! pursuing a career is no excuse). There was even a tragi-comic situation, where I found myself unwittingly part of a quasi-stalking scenario where an obsessive lover just wanted to toss her hair in disdain at her ex at a literary party. Just in case you’re wondering what is wrong with all this; nothing at all, unless obsessive preoccupation with men is your thing.
Twisted Sex Positive Feminism
Clearly, feminism and sexuality have fused, gotten mangled, and mutated into a monster of a different kind. Do we now only understand feminism through the lens of ‘let’s abuse and fuck as men’ to get back? That seems to be the message women seem to be getting. But can you blame us? Stuck between Cosmopolitan’s sex-goddess move of the day and the sleep-your-way-into-his-heart articles, women have become a confused lot. And with that, I see me and my 30-something, strong and successful women friends stuck in the same quagmire trying hard to figure it all out.
The issue is the uni-dimensional adopting of feminism and ignoring its rich and multi-faceted concepts. Sex is empowering and after years of repression it needs to be out in the open; but can your bedroom (or kitchen, or office; whatever floats your boat) be devoid of politics and critique? All this seems to almost reduce feminism to a caricature.
Matters become complex in India: it is a society that makes sex taboo and growing up involves covering your body from ‘bad stares’ and avoiding boys like the plague. For most women, once they descend into the portals of youth, all glowing and ready to make their first foray into a relationship of any kind, all they meet is confusion and sometimes fear. Add to it the baggage that they should get married ideally before the big 3–0 hits. So the average Indian woman’s relationship with men is fraught with tension; it is changing but in the process this ‘tension’ has mutated into a warped sense of self.
It is time for a different kind of self-awareness to dawn. Feminism cannot be boxed into a reactive box where it becomes regressive; just in a different way. It should not become a simplistic they-can-so-can-we (the ‘they’ here being men of the world). There is more to this journey that has been going on for a century now. A woman is more than just the happiness of her clitoris and the curve of her waist, let’s look beyond.
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