Mr. Pahlaj Nihlani and members of the CBFC tried very hard to not let “Lipstick under my Burkha” get released in India – and the reason is very clear!
The film speaks of too many things which make half of the population in the world – the male half, extremely uncomfortable. And not because of some bold scenes, but because the women speak some truths which take men out of their patriarchal and often misogynistic comfort zones! It is so much better to keep a wife, an elderly female relative, a fiancée or a daughter repressed and treat her callously by taking away small freedoms, but pay lip service by putting them on a pedestal; rather than accord them actual freedom and equality! It is so easy to reproach women for everything from wearing a lipstick to having a job to having sexual fantasies, rather than actually letting them be and letting them do their own thing! The concept of “letting a woman be” in the sense of she having the freedom to choose what to do, with whom and where is nonexistent in our society and this film is a very, very realistic, telling portrait of that. It is a story of suppression at the hands of society (and not just at the hands of males, but females too) of four women who are trying to find nothing but their own “ek mutthi aasmaan” and how they are put down, embarrassed, shamed and ostracised for these efforts. AND NOT JUST BY MEN, but also by women who find it more convenient and comfortable to stick to the prevailing patriarchal rules, rather than find their own identity!
The 18-year-old college student, the about-to-be-married young lady who is getting married against her wish, the young mother of three who is subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse every day by the husband and the 55-year-old widow who takes secret pleasure in reading romance novels and thereby tries to live her unfulfilled romantic dreams and sexual fantasies are the protagonists of the film. Their dreams of having wings and freedom take different forms – wearing jeans and lipstick without the restrictive burkha, living with and setting up a business with her photographer boyfriend instead to getting married to the nice, straight guy; not having to go through loveless sex and multiple abortions and working a job at which she is very good openly instead of secretly; and living a life with abandon and being able to do what she wants, like for example learning to swim, rather than act the titular matriarch of a family and do things according to her age and social status are their dreams and fantasies – more fantasies actually, because they know that these will mostly remain unfulfilled. And it so works out that when they do dare to try and fulfil them, they are judged, insulted, and their dignity thrashed and held up for everyone to comment upon and ridicule. It is only in each other that they find the strength and support to stand up to this spectacle and get the much needed reassurance that they haven’t really been doing anything wrong. Their only crime is that they have expectations for themselves and desires and the gumption to go after these desires and of course, who likes such assertive women? They naturally make the society uncomfortable!
The movie ends here, with just one telling shot of these four women with each other, trying to piece together their dreams and resolving to go after them, no matter what!
No wonder then that our dear Mr. Nihalani and his coterie found it too “women-centric and bold”! Of course it is women-centric! And what’s wrong in it being bold? Why is a sex scene still treated as a taboo even in this age? Why can’t it be treated as a normal part of a storyline? If the certification is A anyway, which impressionable minds are getting affected? Or is it what hides behind those scenes, i.e. the explicit expression of desires BY WOMEN that makes the censor board uncomfortable? Because this very censor board has no objections to rape scenes where it is the male who holds and shows power through the heinous act over a woman! So I guess the objection is then to the expression of desires by women – why should they and how can they!
Plabita Borthakur as the 18-year-old, Aahana Kumra as the bold, fearless fiancée, Konkona Sen Sharma as the young mother and the venerable Ratna Pathak Shah as the 55-year-old widow Buaji have done full justice to their respective roles. The movie, though handling a serious topic, has undertones of humour difficult to ignore. The film resonates with the audience because there are no extraordinary people doing extraordinary things – there are just ordinary women fighting for their basic rights like choices, free will, and dignity. The slogan which the 18-year-old hears during a protest against banning of jeans in colleges for girl students is so telling – “Jeans ka Haque, Jeene ka Haque!” When everything right down to the clothes a woman wears is dictated by someone else, and mostly males, how does a woman even breath and live?
A wonderful attempt by the director Alankrita Srivastava to bring out into the open all things that are uncomfortable to speak about and are generally swept under the carpet in the hope that they will just disappear there! Kudos!
A rating of 4/5 would be well-deserved!