Lipstick under my burkha, a film by Alankrita Shrivastava, was in the headlines due to its release being banned in India. It is a film which focuses on women, their sexuality, their desires, their frustrations and their need to break the shackles of society in which they feel suffocated. Alankrita has made a very unapologetic film. And yes, as the media reports were there, the film is bold in terms of its theme, subject, screenplay as well as its treatment. If we compare it with the films of the west, certainly one could notice the scope of improvement. But if we take this as an Indian film, indeed, it is a first of its kind, where the film tries to depict the females and their vulnerabilities without actually defending the same. But what the film does not try to do is to show the change in any context or the situation for the female characters. The situation remains the same. As a result, the film appears neither taking any stand as such nor bringing any transformation to the characters. It just seems like the lady characters are fulfilling their desires or living in their dreams/fantasies. The end feels a little abrupt. But yes, the film is successful in making its point clear that hypocrisy exists in our society even in 21st Century, norms of our society being gender specific, and how every woman has the right to live her life and make her choices too, but she is deprived of her basic rights. The film is not taking any moral stance but taking us through the journey of women as they are. It just highlights what is prevalent in the society without trying to find any answers to many pertinent questions raised in the film. It also appears as one sided story from females’ perspectives.
The backdrop is set in Bhopal and Alankrita chooses to have four female protagonists who all stay in the same mohalla nearby – Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah), Shirin (Konkana Sen Sharma), Leela (Ahana Kumra) and Rihana (Plabita Borthakur). Alankrita has also selected another character Rosy from a novel to share the expressions what is not shown on the screen but certainly important for the audience to understand these four characters and their feelings in a much better and explicit manner.
Burkha is used here more as a metaphor since within this burkha, there is a woman who wants to just fly free, sing at the top of her voice, use make up, conscious of one’s looks, wants to look good, wants to enjoy sex, wants to talk sex over phone, wants to do everything which is taboo as per societal norms.
Usha is 55-year-old widow who is known as Buaji. She even has forgotten her real identity of Usha, tells her name as Buaji when asked. She loves to read pulp novels and she meets her sexual urge through these characters’ portrayals. The interesting thing is that Usha hides these novels in between some other book and then reads. This is how she hides her own embarrassment of having the desire for sex and wanting to be sexually active. She herself feels that is it appropriate for her to think of sex or reading pulp novels.
Another important character is that of Shirin portrayed by Konkana Sen Sharma. Shirin has 3 children. Her husband Aslam (Sushant) is now back to India, earlier he was working in Saudi. This is a typical case of marital rape. Sushant is hardly having any love for Shirin and children but every night he wants to have intercourse with Shirin. Shirin surrenders to Aslam in spite of not enjoying. Besides most of the times, she ends up reaching clinics to get abortions done. She is working as a Sales Executive but hides this from Aslam knowing that he would not allow her to work. Many females would be able to relate to Shirin’s marital rapes, sighs, tears, and longingness to have her man’s love instead of lust.
Leela (Ahana) is a character who is gregarious, declares her love for her photographer boyfriend (Vikrant Massey), very expressive. She loves to click photos with him and even loves to record videos while Leela makes love with him. She runs her own beauty parlour. She wants to just move out of the colony where she stays and run away to Delhi with her boyfriend. She rebels against the proposal brought in by her mother.
Rihana (Plabita Borthakur) is a college student, who belongs to a family which is into tailoring. She loves to sing and dance and just wants to get rid of the burkha. She is so submissive in front of her parents, obeys them apparently but the moment she steps out of her house, she removes the burkha and reaches college in modern outfits. She represents many girls of our society, who just want to break free of every restriction at home. And when they enter into an environment which they want, they fall into parties, boys, drugs, drinks etc. To project her lifestyle better, she even goes to the extent of stealing branded things from shops in malls.
The story of all these four women clubbed with Rosy’s story from the novel moves in non-linear format. Ratna, Konkana, Ahana, Plabita are all good in the film. Their uninhibited ways have made the film not cross the line of vulgarity. Although this is a women-centric film, male characters support to take their stories ahead. Usha’s story moves ahead through Jagat Singh Solanki who portrays a Swimming Coach. Jagat has done many films in the past and he brings a lot of credibility to his characters. Here, in this film, he projects very well that how he gets attracted to a female and her phone talks. And as his role of swimming coach demands, he has maintained a very well-toned physique. Sushant as Aslam – Shirin’s husband is certainly wonderful. He maintains the expressions of an abusive husband. Vikrant Massey is another character who does comedy as well as serious roles quite effortlessly. And here in this film as well, Vikrant as a lover boy and boyfriend of Leela is very good. Vaibbhav Tatwawdi as Leela’s fiancée has also given a good performance. Shashank as a college mate of Rihana plays a typical boy who is an opportunist and does not shy away from breaking his commitment to a girl.
There are many dialogues in the film which are very explicit.
What happens to Usha, how she meets her sexual urge? How does she meet Jagat’s character? What happens to their relationship? Does Shirin ever oppose Aslam and confess that she is not in a mood to have sex without love in the relationship? What happens to Leela, she marries her fiancée or runs away with her boyfriend ? What happens to Rihana? How does she handle the peer pressure of ‘being cool’, going to parties etc. What happens to her relationship with Shashank’s character? How Rihana’s parents handle her truth?
Being an adult film, this film can not be watched with kids. But I do suggest couples or singles to watch this film.
Lipstick Under My Burkha without taking any moral stance is successful in making its point clear that hypocrisy exists in our society even in 21st Century, norms of our society being gender specific, and how every woman has the right to live her life and make her choices too, but she is deprived of her basic rights. It just highlights what is prevalent in the society without trying to find any answers to many pertinent questions raised in the film. The end could have been certainly better.
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Cast and Crew Details: Source – Wikipedia Page
Cast: Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkana Sen Sharma, Plabita Borthakur, Aahana Kumra, Sushant Singh, Jagat Singh Solanki, Shashank Arora, Vikrant Massey, Sonal Jha, Akash Sisodia, Vaibbhav Tatwawadi, Santosh Kumar
Directed by: Alankrita Shrivastava
Produced by: Prakash Jha
Story, Screenplay by: Alanrita Shrivastava
Music: Zebunnisa Bangash, Mangesg Dhakde
Cinematography: Akshay Singh
Edited by: Charu Sree Roy
Production Company: Prakash Jha Productions
Distributed by: ALT Balaji, Balaji Motion Pictures
Release Date: 21st July, 2017
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes