There have been feminist movies, there have been feminine movies and there have been ‘lady-oriented’ movies. Once you watch Lipstick Under My Burkha, you’ll understand why the Censor Board called it ‘lady-oriented’ and why this movie had to fight a six month battle to see the light of the day.
Despite all the rebellion and injustice, Lipstick Under My Burkha still had to endure 27 cuts before it could be released and this comes as a shock to no one that the head of the Censor Board is a man- Pahlaj Nihalani.
You’d probably call me sexist for saying this but, anything portrayed from a woman’s point of view that does not involve being rescued by a man, or dancing in exotic locations wearing fancy, designer labels- all to facilitate his story or his journey through life, is both unbearable and threatening to men, who hide it under the mask called ‘society’.
Even in the 21st century, it’s all a question of what women are ‘allowed’. If anything, this unfairness by the Censor Board which is being termed as ‘unnecessary hype’ and ‘free publicity’ by many, as a reason to watch the film, is actually the real life version of exactly what has been shown in the film- Speak only until you are needed to, and look pretty. Anything other than it, and you will be shown your rightful place – which is under your husband, on your bed.
This movie is worth all the hype, and congratulations to the Censor Board for giving it ‘free publicity’. I would put this film under the genre of ‘real’, one we should really come up with in movies. High time now. Real does not mean it does not have a happy ending, but that it shows what is what exactly as it is, and does not give us a sugar coated, fairy tale ending.
This 2 hours 12 minutes movie by Alankrita Shrivastava is like a short story about 4 women of different age groups whose life events inter- mingle, uniting them in their struggle to make their voices heard against the clutches of society, and a small but symbolically significant feature (the mannequin’s burkha clad head that falls off the table in the last scene) culminating into the title. Hence, it has the perfect characteristics of a short story. But it is not a mere ‘venting- out- your- anger- about- feminism’ story. It’s about making a statement.
Lipstick Under My Burkha exposes misogyny in its most rampant forms. It is bold enough to show threading and waxing being done on screen, and the highlight- marital rape . Both of which are shown to be extremely normal in a woman’s life, and the pain of it just something one learns to live with or put up with. And there’s the usual being suppressed because you are not financially independent. Correction- because you are not allowed to be financially independent.
First off, the movie’s certificate was in pink, which was a very strong but subtle touch to it living up to it’s ‘lady-oriented’ tag. All the credits were in pink too. Pink sparkly heart inserted here. Before you watch the movie, please keep your ‘All Muslims are terrorists and oppressive’ outside the theatre and do not pass off the misogyny forced on the two Muslim women because of their community’s reputation, because the other two of the 4 women protagonists are Hindu. And no, they do not get more ‘freedom’ because they are Hindu, because when it comes to women, even religion unites in suppressing us.
The movie revolves around Bhopal, so do not for one minute think that it does not happen in cities like Mumbai or Delhi, trying to pass it off as people being ‘uneducated’ and ‘coming from small towns’. The only kind of education men are concerned with is dick-tation. And a constant need to maintain their status above us. So much for equality. Equality feminists, I hope you’re reading this.
Amazing screenplay by the director starts off as the commentary of an erotica novel called ‘Lipstick wale sapne’, which continues throughout the film instead of lame insides into what the protagonists were thinking or feeling. So kudos to that, Shrivastava. All 4 of them nailed it with their performance and this movie was pure gold for voicing the atrocities committed against women on a daily basis and a slap in the face of our two-sided society. No matter how much you say ‘things are changing’, ‘there is progress’, at the end of the day, thousands of women are still married off, raped, subjected to all kinds of cruelty.
If the sex scenes shocked or disgusted you then you know you are one of those people who too think it is unacceptable for sex to be portrayed in such a raw manner. And all the more unacceptable for girls to like it, enjoy it, lust after it, or seek it. It is acceptable only if you have a penis. Oh, and in watching porn and Game of Thrones sex scenes secretly. De-glorify the brutal f*cking of Game of Thrones actors, which turns on so many, and that’s what most of the sex scenes of this movie look like. Disgusted much?
This movie leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and forces you to think about how much, even after you leave the movie theatre, it is still going to continue. The gender inequality and social bias towards women in the Indian society can be broken down into 4 stages or shall we stay 4 lipstick shades, each aced with a brilliant performance by the 4 leading ladies of the film-
Lipstick Shade 1- Rihanna
A teenager, Rihanna, played by Plabita Borthakur has just entered a never ending game whose rules she has just begun to learn. The peer pressure, the need to fit in, the consequent sneaking out, the smoking are all on point. My heart stopped when she shoplifted those boots. Goes to show she wasn’t deprived, but knew she would never be allowed to dress like Miley Cyrus. The girl from her college that got pregnant reminds me of what Deepika Padukone’s mother says to her in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani- “Ladkiyan bohut maze karen toh pregnant ho jati hai”. And despite this film, a lot of both, Hindu and Muslim mothers will not allow their daughters to go clubbing, giving the example of this movie.
Typical. Shashank Arora who plays Dhruv, looks like a mini Shah Rukh Khan; charming in the beginning, but turns out to be a fuckboy in the end. The defining moment of suppression was when Rihanna’s parents make a scene out of her dancing at Leela’s engagement. And it’s sickening to wonder how many girls must have related to that scene.
Lipstick Shade 2- Leela
This is the young adult phase. Leela played by Aahana Kumra will be relatable to almost every girl. The drive to make something out of herself, while juggling between responsibilities called getting married and following her dreams. There’s the all-consuming passionate love that initially always emerges from physical attraction played well by Vikrant Massey as Arshad, that culminates into toxic love, being undervalued and coming with the realisation that Band Baaja Baarat is just a movie.
Vaibbhav Tatwawdi, who plays Manoj, Leela’s fiancé is the director’s attempt at –‘not all men are dogs’ and ‘not all men only want sex from you’. Small comfort in the many atrocities committed against women. What are known as nice guys, or gentlemen are defined by their ‘ability’ to wait to have sex until marriage. In Leela’s case, do not be quick to judge that she would have a better life with Manoj only, cause either way, some dream she has to give up, no matter who she chooses. Whether you are Leela’s mother, posing naked to feed her daughter, or Leela herself, being a girl comes with adjustment and compromise, by default.
Lipstick Shade 3- Shireen Aslam
Konkana Sen Sharma was the highlight of the film. And she looks so beautiful. Shireen Aslam, a housewife with 3 kids has a modern heart beneath her burkha and is so understanding that never questions her loser of a husband for the lack of money, takes up a job to support the family, and finds out to her surprise that she’s good at it. Under valued, used by her husband as a sex toy, confined within the limits of the duties of a wife, Shireen does not let it get to her. Despite her husband having an affair, all she wants is his love. But the number of pregnancies and abortions the poor thing has had to go through just because consent is an imaginary concept for her husband, makes you wanna shake her into realisation that what a devil he is, and to leave him.
Another cringing thing is how much everyone is aware of the above and still don’t or can’t say anything about it. I think Sushant Singh (who plays Shireen’s husband, Rahim Aslam) should now claim monopoly over such roles, cause he’s been playing the villain since forever now. If any of the sex scenes of marital rape turned you on, then you need therapy. Physical abuse, not using a condom, committing adultery, and many others are atrocities that men can get away with because they are men. Housewives are subjected to all the above, well, simply because they are housewives, and that is their ‘place’.
Lipstick Shade 4- Usha Parmar a.k.a Buaji
Usha Parmar a.k.a Rosy played by Ratna Pathak Shah steals the show. This lady is evergreen. Hats off to you, Ma’am. After having lived a dutiful life, ‘Buaji’ finds herself left with her remaining pride- Hawai Mahal. But what has not left her are sexual fantasies of being made love to again, which, in the society that she lives in, are unacceptable and inappropriate for her age. But when her family confronts her for acting on the same, her ‘age’ is not taken into consideration as they humiliate her on Diwali Day. Convenient. It’s both adorable and hilarious to see her in the swimming costume.
What you will see as phone sex and perverted-ness at her part if you have such a mindset too, is just her long lost feminity and lack of self acknowledgement finally coming into view. Kudos to Ushaji for embracing it and not shunning it like everyone else around her. The scene in which she touches herself was met with a lot of comic laughter from the theatre I was watching the movie in, and I felt quite piqued at it. Old women masturbating is funny, but young ones in porn is arousing, is it? It is and will be one of the most pivotal scenes in Indian cinema for portraying a woman’s desire for sex. Something that the Censor Board cannot digest, but when it comes to zooming in on Sunny Leone’s cleavage in item songs, no problem at all. Sexist much? Oh no, that’s called objectification. My bad.
It can be said that Stage 1 will ultimately lead to Stage 4 and history will repeat itself. Rihanna is doomed to marriage as a punishment for shop lifting, and will too, go through Stages 2 and 3 to end up in Stage 4. What is satisfying about this movie is that there is no riding into the sunset, but a very Sex and the City, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants feel which leaves us with the lesson that, the society isn’t going to change, and neither is their situation, but as long as they have each other, and have found each other’s sympathy and support, and above all- finally have someone they can relate their part of the struggle to, then they can get through anything.
If this movie leaves you shocked, and disgusted, with a bitter taste in your mouth, then it has served its purpose. The movie poster itself conveys the rebellious sentiments felt by every woman after seeing this movie- no fucks to be given. It will anger ‘feminazis’, get the ‘haww’ reaction from our elders, and incite our male friends and brothers into saying, ”All men aren’t like that”.
Criticise Lipstick Under My Burkha for its boldness, or applaud it for finally having voiced a woman’s thoughts, what you can’t do is ignore it. A must watch for everybody. For, their lipstick is here to break boundaries and lift burkhas.