In the movie one of the protagonists, a young college student, mouths this seemingly ordinary yet powerful dialogue which in a way sums up the essence of the entire film “Aap hamaari azaadi se itna darte kyun ho?” (“Why are you so afraid of our freedom?”). The question directed towards all those out-dated societal norms and diktats against women since ages really makes us wonder why women are not allowed to come up in life and have ownership of their own bodies and minds! The freedom of choice remains a far-fetched dream even today in our society…
The content is bold because the story of the four protagonists from the by-lanes of a small town, dares to take us right behind closed doors of their homes and in doing so holds a mirror to the patriarchal and male chauvinistic mind-set of our society where men revel in controlling and repressing women physically, mentally and emotionally till they are even deprived of the very desire to dream.
In fact the makers met with their very first obstacle when the ‘sanskari’ Censor Board created a ruckus by refusing to certify the film and tried their best to get it banned because they felt the content was ‘too female-oriented’ and ‘not fit for viewing’. This very step is in keeping with what the producer-director duo are trying to convey through their film.
The film essentially traces the journey of four lower middle-class women in a small town belonging to different age-groups and their everyday struggle to find some hope in the dreary humdrum of their lives. They dare to dream of a different kind of life for themselves than the one they are forced to live currently. They dare to dream of a life of freedom from the shackles of the society…
It is the deftness and conviction with which the stories are told that makes for an engaging and thought-provoking viewing . Their struggle is very much an intrinsic part of their daily routine from which there seems to be no escape, yet they continue knowing that one day the bubble may burst and they may then have to face society’s wrath and pay a heavy price. It is the momentary pleasure and opportunity to prove their assertion which gives them strength.
One of the protagonists, Ratna Pathak Shah, is a 55-year old widow whose inner desires are aroused on seeing her young physically fit swimming instructor. This track is perhaps the boldest track of the film. Normally widows in our society are expected to behave in a particular way and keep their sexuality and desires under wrap while no such rules are there for men who merrily marry as many times as they desire. She gives vent to her feelings in her own way…
The track with Konkana Sen’s story is the story of many a woman we come across in our everyday life. Such women find their dreams clipped by domesticity and a heartless husbands who just use them as objects of lust and sex and nothing more. Whatever she tries to achieve professionally is done surreptitiously and there is always the fear of being caught. She may not own her body but her mind and thoughts are hers alone…
The third character is Ahana Kumra, an enterprising and bubbly young woman who works in a beauty parlour and has a photographer boyfriend with whom she gets intimate with gay abandon. They even make secret plans to run away to start their own business. But her mother forcibly gets her engaged to a young man who makes it clear to her in subtle terms that there would be no need for her to step out after their marriage. Sandwiched between the two men her life seems to go for a toss and her dreams have no hope of getting materialized…
The fourth story is about a young college girl played by Plabitha Borthakur, who aspires to be fashionable and nurtures a dream of becoming a popular singer like her idol Miley Cyrus and fights hard to be ‘accepted’ as part of the ‘cream’ crowd of the college. Yet she has to lie and steal her way in life as her parents are very conservative and she has to wear her ‘burkha’ all the time and this frustrates her no end…
THREE CHEERS TO ALL THE LADIES
The narrative never turns into a boring documentary as the dialogues by Gazal Dhaliwal are spot on and some of the situations are laced with humour which keeps the viewer engrossed. Lyrics by young Anvita Dutt are meaningful and music by Zebunnisa Bangash is apt for the setting.
Ratna Pathak Shah never ceases to amaze. Here she takes up a role so bold that one wonders if anyone else in her place could have pulled it off with so much dignity! Konkana Sen is always a pleasure to watch. She always gets into the skin of the character and her natural acting leaves us speechless. The two newcomers Ahana and Plabitha stand out for their authentic portrayal and manage to make their mark alongside the two veterans. The male actors Vikrant Massey, Sushant Singh, Shahashank Arora and Jagat Singh Solanki are very good in their respective roles.
The film also brings to my mind two other films with stories on similar lines. The first is director Pan Nalin’s ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ (2015) which dealt with the problems and repressions faced by the women belonging to the slightly upper-strata of society and the second is director Leena Yadav’s ‘Parched’ (2016) which dealt about the everyday lives of the women of a village in Rajasthan. All three are superb films and interestingly all the three films when screened at International Film Festivals were appreciated but back home there is always the tussle over the censorship issue.
Some people may have a problem with the ending as this is no commercial ‘masala’ film where a Prince Charming is waiting to rescue our damsels. This is a slice of reality where the women have to confront the bitter truth of their lives everyday knowing that maybe everything will explode towards the end one day. Maybe for some sections of the society coming out of this warped mind-set will take time but for now women like these will keep the fight on.
Kudos to producer Prakash Jha, distributor Ekta Kapoor and writer-director Alankrita Srivastava for having the guts to come up with such a bold script and getting on board a team of brilliant actors who had the nerve and sincerity to play the poignant characters in the film. There are no cheap or titillating scenes in ‘Lisptick Under My Burkha’ and there is certainly nothing scandalous because of which our censors got all worked up. The film is definitely worth seeing for it gives a glimpse of reality and makes us realize the price women have to pay for their freedom!
And to think the film may have remained in the can !!!
What the censors probably did not realize is that their meaningless move to curb the film inadvertently worked as a PR for the film. In spite of getting fewer screens to release their film (they had to compete with the big-budget films like ‘Jagga Jaasoos’ and ‘Munna Michael’ and the Hollywood biggie ‘Dunkirk’), it is heartening to note that ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ has been declared a hit owing to word of mouth publicity. After all isn’t there something devilishly appealing about wanting to see a film which almost got banned by the Censor Board!!!