[Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University is running the Dirty Picture project that reviews blockbuster Bollywood films from a feminist perspective. This particular review is by law students but anyone who would enjoy this and is capable of carrying the work out is welcome to join in. Please do write at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Dirty Picture Project’ in the subject line if you would like to be a part of the project.]
(By Bhargavi Vadeyar and Sanya Kumar)
Aaand the prize for the worst score on the Bechdel test goes to…you guessed it folks, it’s Dhoom 3! With only four named female characters, who never share screen time, let alone speak to each other, and with the motorbikes getting more on-screen presence than all the female characters combined, this film is a total no-no for gender equality.
Victoria: The Barbie
The blonde Victoria works for the Chicago police. You would think that having a female policewoman would be a good thing, but (surprise surprise!) she is never shown exercising her authority or doing anything meaningful to further the plot, while the two men, Jai and Ali, are constantly discussing the plan of action and giving her instructions. This is even stranger when you consider that she is the one with the only legal authority in Chicago; her motivations for continuing to help Jai and Ali when they fall out of favour with her own police department are never explained.
Obviously, unlike her male counterparts, she has to always wear revealing clothing and red lipstick, which seem to attract more attention than her almost non-existent dialogues. She appears all of 9 times in the movie, in which she speaks one word once, one line twice, five lines once and not even a single word on five occasions. Even though she is one of the main female protagonists (not that that’s very difficult in a cast with only four named female characters), in the movie she has a total screen presence of only 296 seconds.
She has no personality; we are introduced to her only when she meets Ali and Jai. In that scene, it is immediately signalled that she exists solely for the men (and the viewer) to ogle at. She drives up on a motorbike and shakes her hair in slow motion while Ali and Jai check her out from head to toe. When she introduces herself, they both flirt with her immediately. A major portion of Victoria’s screen presence involves featuring in Ali’s perpetual fantasies about marrying her and fathering his children, which start exactly four seconds after he sees her for the first time. In all of these fantasies, Victoria is (naturally) wearing skimpy clothing, ranging from a bikini to the Marilyn Monroe blowing-in-the-wind-dress, to further sexualise her image.
Furthermore, it is clear that she does not return Ali’s interest in her, but the film makes this into a running joke. For example, when Ali shares a chair with her, she is visibly uncomfortable, but again, this is meant to be comic relief. This sends the troubling message that it is somehow alright to pursue and even to borderline sexually harass a woman, even when she does not return your affections.
Aaliya: The Asian Goddess who Sings and Dances like Liquid Electricity
Aaliya is the main female protagonist in the movie, whose role is full of oomph but pretty hollow otherwise. Her role is mostly limited to two sexualised song numbers, her circus antics and a romantic subplot in Samar’s dreams. The objectification of women in the movie is more than evident when Aaliya is used as a means by the police to catch the two thieves; she appears on the bridge in the final scene, appearing to be a device to convince Samar to turn himself in.
The most memorable part about her role in the movie is definitely her audition (read: strip tease), rather than anything she says. She begins in overalls but ends up not wearing much more than a bra and a pair of shorts. At one point, she has a strip of cloth wrapped around her torso; she gives one end of the strip to Sahir and spins around so that he, in effect, undresses her, which we find creepily reminiscent of Draupadi’s disrobing in the Mahabharat.
But let’s give this painful movie some credit for having implied that she takes over the Great Indian Circus at the end of movie, thereby suggesting that she could be more than just a love interest for the two brothers. She definitely has some personality, and is ambitious and determined, which she proves in her audition (by stripping, of course – it’s still Dhoom 3!).
The Best of the Rest
The other two speaking characters are Rina Ray, a reporter, and Jennifer, a bank teller. Don’t worry if you can’t remember who they are – Rina Ray, who interviews Jai, Victoria and Mr. Anderson, has a total screen presence of 136 seconds. Jennifer, the bank teller, accompanies Sahir to the locker and has a screen time of 112 seconds in which she asks about his general well-being and makes a comment about her boyfriend. The fact that we’ve included these two as one of the four named female characters shows just how misogynistic the movie is, and how underrepresented women are in it.
Dhoom 3 is the movie that gives feminists sleepless nights; for the most part, the women in the movie exist to be either objects of desire or love interests. Mr. Anderson, in his attempt to ridicule the circus, has given us an apt description of this sickening movie: “Circus [Dhoom 3] is a woman in a short skirt putting her head into a hippo’s mouth. Circus [Dhoom 3] is stupid; that’s what people pay money for.”