29 Jul 2017

Lipstick Under My Burkha: A Necessary Revolution

This symbolic, potentially iconic poster was released soon after the film was approved by the censors after a long battle.

Post Screening Scribble: I finally caught up with Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha yesterday evening. At the time of viewing, the film was enjoying a second week-run at cinema halls. The evening multiplex show had a sizeable audience, a majority of them young women. As it has been at Pune multiplexes lately, the screening commenced dozen minutes past scheduled time, after the government ads, random advertisements, and the national anthem.

Against the Tide Cinema
I deter from the usual review here, for the release of Lipstick Under My Burkha is a landmark against-the-tide event in Indian cinema. Here is a movie that was crying out to be made. Four women living in the same locality in Bhopal are guilty of the same crime, of living life on their terms. Yes, after 70 years of independence, in our populous conservative sex-taboo society - the women are guilty as hell.

The set boundaries for Indian women are unanimous, traditional and obvious. That the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused a certification to the film because "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life," is itself a reaffirming teaser trailer to the film's intent.

Winged Dreams  
Ratna Pathak plays the older, sexually repressed Usha, a reader of steamy Hindi adult novels, lonesome for a male companion. Konkona Sen Sharma as Shireen is a successful door-to-door saleswoman, married and a mother to three kids. Rehana's Saudi-working husband Rahim (Sushant Singh) savagely dominates his wife with brutal sexual subjugation.

Leela (Aahana Kumra) struggles to convince her wedding photographer lover Arshad (Vikrant Massey) to elope. Her sexual drive and a looming forced arranged marriage drives her to chaos. For college going, Miley Cyrus fan Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), the burkha is a refuge from her conservative, strict household. She uses it as cover to steal lipsticks, expensive attire, and footwear from malls. The burkha also allows her a double life, the college bathroom is where she emerges in her t-shirt and jeans, like a proverbial, everyday superwoman. A woman who has to struggle, scamper and hide to just be herself.

Shades, Colours, Celebrations  
Lipstick Under My Burkha plays out as a hilarious, laugh-out-loud (not just silent keypad LOL, real laughs) black comedy. It swerves from falling into a feminist, protest-ridden commentary. The takeaways are memorable and infectious.

The cheap sex novel narrative gets a tad repetitive after an hour, but Shrivastava gives a purposeful screenplay end to it.

Like, when did a girl last threaten her boyfriend that she would share their lovemaking MMS if he doesn't marry her? Never in an Indian film, N-E-V-E-R by a long distance. How about an older woman anonymously indulging in phone sex with her swimming instructor? The scenes of marital rape are harrowing, uncomfortable revelations. Perhaps, a girl condemned to stitch burkhas as punishment is the most damning of the story threads.

The Cigarette Bonding Finale  
All male characters end up as shallow, judgemental and prejudiced. There is no salvaging there. But it's not a notorious, partial take either.

When the film resorts to pathos in its culmination, it loses some steam. Reinforcing the comic, satirical take would have topped this remarkable film. That said, the climax doesn't mess it up. Four women bonding over cigarettes is at once rebellious, even if mildly misdirected. Each yearned for a sky, but are now against a formidable wall, probably shut out for life. End credits. Excellent. Nothing more is to be told. Amazing how a sharp touch of edit makes/breaks a movie.

Enough Said
Lipstick Under My Burkha is not merely the pick of the week. It stands out, pulls the revolutionary trigger and makes itself heard. It is oh so totally justified and true. Here readers is a brave, undeterred film of our times. Not to be missed.

The main cast give astounding performances

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