Let’s face it – a highly controversial film, a feminist theme, an “A” certification that came after a long struggle, the very mention of “burkha” – curiosity naturally runs high! So let us delve straight into the heart of Lipstick Under My Burkha without any dillydallying. The theme is a very bold one and Alankrita Shrivastava does complete justice to it.
Cast – Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur, Sushant Singh, Vaibhav Tatwawaadi
Directed by – Alankrita Shrivastava
Produced by – Prakash Jha
Screenplay and Story by – Alankrita Shrivastava
Music by – Zebunnisa Bangash
Background Score – Mangesh Dhakde
Cinematography – Akshay Singh
Edited by – Charu Shree Roy
Production House – Prakash Jha Productions
Duration – 2 hours 12 minutes
Censor certification – A
Lipstick Under My Burkha is the story of four women – Usha Parmar aka Buajee (Ratna Pathak Shah), Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), Leela (Aahana Kumra), and Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) – rather ordinary women from the lower middle class who live repressed lives. It is this sense of repression and the moral codes that define who they must be or what they must wear that translates into potent sexuality and rebellion in their parallel lives. Let us get this straight. It is perhaps the use of the Burkha as a symbol of subjugation that prompted the censor board to tiptoe around the film and initially deny it its due clearance. Only two of the four central characters are, however, Muslims. The other two are Hindus and the Burkha is merely a euphemism to signify their veiled existence. As the lipstick is a symbol of rebellion and freedom.
The story tells the tale of Rosy – the heroine of a (pulp fiction) erotic novel. But Rosy is everywoman.
She is Rehana, the young college going girl who loves jeans and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. But is forced to sew and wear burkhas that make her invisible to the world. She combats this by stealing makeup and clothes to match her dreams.
Rosy is also Leela – a beautician forcefully betrothed by an impoverished and struggling mother who gives vent to her sexual fantasies with a photographer.
Rosy is also Shireen, an ace sales woman, who is nothing more than a sex object for her husband. The promise of a lucrative job is weighed against the life of abuse and unwanted pregnancies.
Rosy is also Buajiee- the aging widow who has all but forgotten her own name. Who is expected to attend Satsangs and play the old matriarch but whose desires lead her to indulge in phone sex with a young swimming coach.
The red lipstick that connects them all is the sign of the underlying freedom that everywoman seeks.
What’s Good, What’s Bad?
The performances of all the four leading ladies are exemplary. And Ratna Pathak Shah outshines them all. The very lightness with which these women have portrayed such grueling roles is a delight to watch. Due credit must be given to filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava for bringing out the humour in frustration fraught situations which could have otherwise gone dark.
The music is light, almost airy. Watch out for the three tracks – Jigi Jigi (sung by Malini Awasthi), Le Li Jaan (sung by Zebunnisa Bangash), and Ishquiya (sung by Neeti Mohan). All three are light and unexpectedly refreshing. Lyricist Anvita Dutt deserves our compliments and Pakistani composer Zebunnisa Bangash is at her best.
There are a number of loose ends, though. Shoplifting isn’t as easy as it looks on screen, anger and not sex is on top of every repressed woman’s mind, and smoking is not a sign of emancipation. The story seems quite pointless right at the climax and the editing could certainly have been tighter.
Lipstick Under My Burkha is an internationally acclaimed and highly awaited film. It is a film that deals with a strong theme. It is well crafted and beautifully executed. The characters are very relatable; so if you’re a woman headed out to watch the film this weekend, you may expect some vindication – catharsis maybe – from the thought that you are not alone. That millions of women go through the same pains that you do every day. The average filmgoer, Bollywood fan may, however, fail to recognize or connect with the soul of the film as the layers of the Burkha come off.
It is, however, by no means an extraordinary film. If we look back and recall films with highly feminist themes such as Mirch Masala (1987) or Rudaali (1993), Lipstick comes across as rather bland. Above all, it is a film that may impart hope there is no call to action.
Lipstick Under My Burkha is a “coming of age” film. It is time, parents, children, spouse, and friends come to realize that a repressed and oppressed woman is a volcano waiting to erupt. Lipstick deserves all the accolades it has garnered in international film festivals for this one reason alone.
In India, however, there is the fear that the theme may be diluted by the portrayal of sex, sleaze, and use of expletives.
Lipstick Under My Burkha is a fine film but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Rating – 3.5 stars