Lipstick Under My Burkha – Brave, Bold & a Box-office Hit

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Lipstick Under My Burkha

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ Unveiled in India

 “Day 3: 2.41 crore! In the first three days, we’ve hit 5.80 crore! Kisses to our amazing audience for your love and enthusiasm for the film! If you haven’t seen it yet, catch Lipstick Under my Burkha, now showing on 400 screens!”

So wrote an exuberant Aahana Kumra, who’s part of the quartet of  fine, firebrand actors who’ve made this movie such a must-see experience, led by writer director Alankrita Shrivastava who  conducted this bold endeavor. It is very rarely that a movie which gets you in the heart with truth and real facts also manages to get the box office registers ringing but this small, underdog film has done it by scoring 5.80 crores in the first 3 days and by generating such a national dialogue about women’s lives. On Day 6, it was up to Rs. 10 crores.

Glimpses of ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’

If you’re a woman, ‘Lipstick Under my Burkha’ will certainly speak to you, no matter whether you’re a big city girl or a small town woman. After all, we all may not have worn physical burkhas, but nearly every woman has had to wear a mental burkha – a metaphorical confinement, a cover to who she really is.

I was fortunate enough to see “Lipstick under my Burkha’ when it was showcased at the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) earlier this year, where it won the best actress award for Konkona Sen Sharma (although I think all four deserved it together). At that time one wondered when – if ever – the film would be released in India.

In January 2017, the Central Board of Film Certification had refused to certify the film, stating that “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contagious [sic]sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”

Well, now that story has a happy ending and the film is finally on Indian screens, albeit with some cuts and an adult rating. That it’s been well-received in spite of strong language, uncomfortable scenes and bold depictions of women rarely seen in India cinema shows our audiences are becoming more mature and thoughtful.

The story revolves around the secret lives of four ordinary  women living in small town Bhopal with suppressed dreams and desires. They are middle-class, average women with middle-class, average lives.

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Ratna Pathak is Usha “Rosy” Buaji – so buried in her identity as a widowed prim and proper aunt or buaji  that she is called ‘buaji’ by everyone and has almost forgotten her real name. In her secret life, however, she is Rosy who longs for sex and a stud and indulges in phone sex with a hunky young gym instructor. The societal belief is that sex ends when someone turns 60 or becomes a widow but buaji/Rosy is a raging torrent of carnal desires. The movie challenges a lot of stereotypes which women have grown up with – some of it sounds almost crude, harsh but it’s the truth.

Ratna Patnaik in 'Lipstick under My Burkha'

Ratna Pathak in ‘Lipstick under My Burkha’

Konkona Sen Sharma is Shireen, a hard-pressed mother of four and an aspiring sales entrepreneur. Yet her life is circumscribed by a cad of a husband (Sushant Singh) who lives in Dubai and only returns regularly to impregnate her  (she’s already had three abortions) and is also cheating with a mistress on the side. She dare not tell him about her job or dreams.

Konkona SenSharma in 'Lipstick Under My burkha'

Konkona SenSharma in ‘Lipstick Under My burkha’

Plabita Borthakur is Rihanna, a young college student, who toils stitching burkhas in her conservative family’s home business but harbors dreams of becoming a sexy pop singer. These two lives are totally at odds and she uses the anonymity of her burkha to lie and shoplift and buy all the bold dresses and makeup which is forbidden by her orthodox family.

NYIFF - Lipstick under my burkha


Plabita Borthakur in Lipstick under my Burkha

Finally, Aahana Kumra is Leela – a livewire beautician with an insatiable sex drive who is stringing along a Muslim photographer boy friend and a Hindu fiancée in an arranged match. She has no sexual inhibitions and will go to any extent to get her satisfactions – not an easy job in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. It is very much a man’s world where indulging in or withholding sex is part of a man’s power.

Aahana Kumra in 'Lipstick Under my Burkha'

Aahana Kumra in ‘Lipstick Under my Burkha’

Each one of these women is leading a calm staid life on the surface and a turbulent one on the inside. How do you align both and live the life you want to live? Alankrita Shrivastava has great sympathy for her women and has woven a fast-moving tale –  funny, poignant but always real. It keeps you totally involved – it’s so full of nuances you want to see it again to catch what you might have missed in the first viewing.

The film does show mostly negative men – indeed, none of them can be held up to a gold standard. But each is a man of his time and his circumstances. Look at Rihanna’s sour, strict father – he knows no better, he is a product of his society and his conditioning. The docile mother is his partner and his accomplice in keeping the daughter blemish-free and under control. You realize these women may fight and struggle, but it’s going to be a uphill battle unless society changes, men change and even mothers change to give their daughters space to exercise their rights.

Interview with the Women of the Lipstick Rebellion

All four actresses have given superlative, bold performances. I think especially Ratna Pathak does an amazing job of pulling all the societal veils off and standing before the audience just garbed in truth, vulnerable and exposed. Aahana Kumra’s task is equally tough, showing the reality of women’s need for sex. This is not just about wet saris or gyrating bodies in an item number – it is about a woman’s real needs – and Bollywood audiences have rarely encountered this. This #lipstick rebellion, as the filmmakers are calling it, may indeed start a dialogue on women’s freedom to use their bodies the way they want to, regardless of their age or circumstances.

‘Lipstick Under my Burkha’ is a feisty, in-your-face ride where you know these women will survive and have the last laugh in the end. The film has received a lot of critical acclaim at over 35 film festivals, winning over 10 awards, and has premiered at the Tokyo and Mumbai Film Festivals, where it won the Spirit of Asia Prize and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality.

It is, however, good news for equality and for women everywhere that ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ is being shown to appreciative audiences in India and is making money. When progressive cinema wins at the box-office, such efforts will find it easier to acquire funders, buyers and audiences in the future.

So bravo to Alankrita Shrivastava and her partners in social sabotage!

What do you think? Do share your thoughts with us!

 

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

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