Big-budget films shouldered by predominantly male actors or ‘stars’ across film industries, have recently brought back audiences to cinema halls post the pandemic. They have also set ground-breaking records at the box office. In fact, some regional films have appealed to pan-Indian audiences, which has broken the barriers of language and culture.
But these super-hit films have considerably failed in their representations of women characters.
Established by American Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, the sexy lamp test is an experiment that aims to assess the significance of women characters in the film. If the women characters in the film are replaced by ‘sexy lamps’ and the story still works, then the film fails the test.
On the other hand, the Bechdel’s test evaluates a film or series based on how they portray women, with respect to featuring atleast two women, who talk to each other, and discuss something other than a man.
On that note, Silverscreen India compiles a list of recently-released films, which earned over 100 crores at the box office, to determine their representations of women characters.
This pan-Indian film from the Kannada industry starring Actor Yash, which was released on April 14, grossed Rs 546 crores in four days at the worldwide box office. Directed by Prashanth Neel, KGF Chapter 2 is the sequel to the filmmaker’s 2018 blockbuster KGF Chapter 1.
Actor Srinidhi Shetty essays the role of Reena, Yash’s love interest. In a scene, Yash who plays Rocky takes Reena hostage and refers to her as “entertainment.” Miserably, Reena falls in love with him. When her character is assessed through the sexy lamp test, the film still works. But the irony is that the film’s crux is centered around a son’s attachment to his mother. Yash worships his mother but ends up pursuing another woman against her will. The film fails both the sexy lamp test and Bechdel’s test as there are no instances of women speaking to each other in the first place, let alone about something other than a man.
This Vijay-starrer features Pooja Hegde playing Preethi, the female protagonist. For establishing her character’s arc, filmmaker Nelson Dilipkumar simply incorporates the setting of a wedding, where she meets Veeraghavan (Vijay) and they fall in love at first sight.
As the film unfolds, it witnesses a series of events at a Chennai mall, which has been hijacked by terrorists and Veeraraghavan’s efforts to save hostages. But what has Preethi got to offer to the film? She is in the frame alongside Veeraraghavan as mere ‘eye candy’, adding barely any significance to the main plot. Further, there are a few instances where Preethi expresses jealousy when another woman (Aparna Das) speaks to her boyfriend.
In Silverscreen India’s review, Subha J Rao wrote, “But for the love of God, I can’t understand how Nelson sold this film to Pooja Hegde. “Listen, you’ve to be there in two songs, look like a deer caught in headlights, feel jealous even in a hostage situation. That’s all.” This film fails both the sexy lamp test and Bechdel’s test, as well.
In SS Rajamouli’s Bahubali universe, there were prominent woman characters played by Ramya Krishnan and Anushka Shetty. But RRR lacks a strong female character. Hindi actor Alia Bhatt, who was extensively part of the film’s promotional events, just appears in an extended cameo. Her role as Sita had less screen space and the actor was used as a tool to merely aid the male lead’s backstory.
As the film fails the Bechdel’s test, in Silverscreen India’s review, Aswathy Gopalakrishnan wrote, “Alia Bhatt (the film wastes her talent), who plays Sita, Raju’s fiancee, is often found under a tree, by the side of a lake or in a garden, like a damsel waiting for her man to come and take her away.”
On the contrary, Gangubai Kathiawadi, in which Alia played the titular character, who was one of the most influential women in the red-light district of Kamathipura in Mumbai, grossed over 100 crores in two weeks. The film opened to positive reviews and the actor was appreciated for her performance. Silverscreen India’s review noted that the actor outshined everyone, including the filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Despite failing the sexy lamp test and the Bechdel’s test, Pushpa becomes problematic with respect to the sexist, misogynistic portrayal of the female lead character Srivalli, played by Rashmika Mandanna. There are instances of the hero stalking the heroine and paying her to pursue a romance with him.
In Silverscreen India’s review, Aswathy wrote, “Whenever Srivalli, the belle Pushpa falls head over heels in love with, appears on the screen, the narrative comes to a pause. The film takes a break from images of violence and watches her go about the mundane, daily chores like she is performing for an invisible audience. Srivalli is frail and frivolous – Rashmika turns her into a woman-child who has no grip over reality, a perfect foil to Pushpa’s macho quality. She is, ironically, a far weaker character than Samantha Ruth Prabhu’s item dancer.”
Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham
This National award-winning Malayalam film saw star-studded women actors, from Suhasini Maniratnam to Keerthi Suresh but most of them had weak character arcs. In Silverscreen India’s review, Swathy R Iyer noted, “The women in Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham serve only as triggers for the men to wreak vengeance. This is true of Aisha (Kalyani Priyadarshan), young Kunjali’s bride who appears only for a brief couple of minutes in the film and Aarcha (Keerthi Suresh), who, despite getting more screen time, is ultimately reduced to a plot point. Manju Warrier (who plays Subaida, a widow) may perhaps be the most underused actor in the film, always hanging around in the background, fenced in by a disappointing, formulaic character arc.” This shows how the film fails both Bechdel’s test and the lamp test.