Beyond Erin Brockovich and Mother India: Must-Watch Women's Movies

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Have you heard of the Bechdel test for movies? It's a simple one, really. It asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women, who talk to each other about something other than a man. Sometimes, the criteria that the two women must be named, is also added. The interesting bit: Most movies fail the test; this gives you an insight on how few moviemakers look at women as individuals grappling with their own lives, without a man being the centre of their world. Here are five movies that not only pass the Bechdel test, but also make for a great movie-viewing experience.

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All about my mother (1999)

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Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar dedicated this Spanish drama Todo sobre mi madre "To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother."

Read that again, slowly this time, and you realize the director is talking about every man and woman. After all, which woman doesn't act? And which man doesn't have a feminine side to him? The winner of Academy, BAFTA and Golden Globe awards, the movie talks about resilience, heartbreak, choices, doubts, and bigger, existential questions.

Like most Almodóvar movies, this one, too, has characters whose lives are entwined, with common threads of love, loss and longing running through them. Be it the nurse who loses her 17-year-old son, the HIV-positive nun who is pregnant by a transvestite, to the transvestite's own sad quest for love, the plot may sound too fantastic, but you return to reality when you identify with strains of emotions these characters display.

Wild (2014)

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What would you do if the world became too much to bear? What if your cynicism is questioned and you are lost, but don't know how to find yourself? There's a way. "What if you try to forgive yourself?" says Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), the protagonist of the movie directed by Nick Hornby, which is based on Strayed's 2012 memoir Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail . The movie revolves around the lead's 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail – without any prior hiking experience – as a way to atone for a destructive downward cycle of heroine abuse and anonymous sex to numb the pain she feels after her mother's death. The 94-day hike helps her heal, forgive herself, learn to depend on herself, and be grateful for each day that dawns.

Chak de India (2007)

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What can you say about a movie that appeals to the underdog in you? That shows how winners fight back every time they fall. And that, when it comes to the real deal in life, give it all you've got. Starring Shahrukh Khan as Kabir Khan, the coach of India's women's hockey team, Chak de India is a study in team spirit, putting a higher cause before oneself, and emerging a winner through sheer grit and determination. Not only are the women characters playing hockey players delightful portrayals of a spectrum of personalities, their life's journeys depict the struggles most women face in their life, be it following their heart, to being questioned for it. Directed by Shimit Amin, this Bollywood movie roughly resembles on the life of Mir Ranjan Negi, who had faced accusations of giving away a match to Pakistan during the 1983 Asian Games. An anytime watch to inspire you.

Howl's moving castle (2004)

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Studio Ghibli movies are a delight for children and adults alike. Howl's moving castle is one of the best by the Japanese animation film studio and is directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Based on the novel of the same name by British writer Diana Wynne Jones, this animation masterpiece revolves around an 18-year-old girl Sophie, who is turned into an old, gnarled woman by a wicked witch. That doesn't change her from inside, however, and the courageous Sophie – like most Miyazaki's female characters – overcomes adversities and even seizes the opportunity to live the life she always wanted. In the process, she stops a deadly war, helps a young man find himself, and wins friends. A fantasy-magic movie, this one's a perfect getaway when you want a break from real life.

Steel Magnolias (1989)

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There's nothing like girlfriends! Be it an occasion to crib, rejoice, panic, or nurse pain, girlfriends can help you like no one can. Directed by Herbert Ross, Steel magnolias is based on a play of the same name by Robert Harling. It traces the life and times of six women in Louisiana, and how they are there for each other – be it to discuss a handsome neighbor, tide over rough times, or cope with the death of near one. Starring stalwarts such as Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Julia Andrews, Steel Magnolias is loaded with lessons in friendship and companionship. And for the few of us who think women are fragile, the movie title tells you to rethink your views. The quick repartee and acid wit only adds to the fun.