One does not really expect much from a film that was announced and shot three years back. If a film of this nature does not boast of big names, it is bound to get unnoticed when it finally arrives in the theatres. However, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, seems to be an exception. Despite being in the cans for a very long time and not having any saleable names in the cast, the film has generated a good amount of curiosity among the viewers. Apart from garnering accolades at several film festivals across the globe, the film made news for its battle with the Censor Board in India. The trailer of the film made one more curious about the film. Now, when the film is releasing in India, there is a section of the audience that is looking forward to watch it.
Usha aka Buajee (Ratna Pathak Shah) runs a confectionery business with her family and is also regarded as the matriarch of Hawai Manzil, a big, old building in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Usha, a widow, derives pleasure from reading erotic novels and fantasises about having a life similar to Rosy, the protagonist of the novel ‘Lipstick Waale Sapne’. Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) is married to an indifferent man (Sushant Singh) who thinks of her only when he has to satisfy his carnal desires. Leela (Aahana Kumra) is trying to pitch a scheme to travel agencies along with her photographer boyfriend which, she hopes, would help her escape from getting into a forced marital alliance and would enable her to run away from the city and set up a new world with her boyfriend. Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) belongs to a traditional Muslim family who are fine with her pursuing her education but expect her to wear a burkha all the time. Rehana, a Miley Cyrus fan with tremendous love for music, has globalised tastes and steals trendy clothes, accessories and make-up from malls so that she could project herself as a modern woman once she is outside the environs of her ultra-orthodox household.
Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava does a very smart thing by setting the story in Bhopal, the capital of the Indian state Madhya Pradesh which like several other tier-2 cities in India represent the ultra-conservatism in the Indian society and the aspirations of the modern middle-class with globalised tastes at the same time. While this city has a teenager like Rehana succumb to the dictates of her traditional Muslim family at home, it also gives her the outlet to seek freedom, liberation and happiness in a college filled with like-minded youngsters coming from more privileged backgrounds and in nightclubs where she can get drunk and dance the night away. Bhopal, the city, represents the struggle of several young women like Rehana who have a fair understanding of the modern world and want to act accordingly but have to fight the conservative, regressive forces surrounded by them in the process.
Out of the four stories, the ones that would resonate with the viewers the most, are the ones featuring Aahana and Plabita. Even though the film does not have a conventional ending and does not really provide a resolution to the problems these women are going through in their lives, these two stories, in a way, seemed complete and gave one a lot to think about. You will come across several people going through the same problems that Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) goes through. Whether they wear a burkha or are forced to cover their face in a ghunghat, those women bear the burden of living in a society that is deeply rooted in traditions. However, unlike Rehana and Leela’s stories which catch you off-guard with the kind of surprises they throw at you, Shireen’s story is fairly predictable. Usha/Buajee’s story, one feels, could have handled with a little more maturity. There are flaws in the screenplay but that does not take away the fact that all the four stories which come together in this one film pack a solid punch and make you question the society which has laid down several dos and don’ts for women living in a country which, at least on paper, boast of being a free country and the world’s largest democracy.
Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma are seasoned performers and as expected, bring their respective characters to life in the most effective way. Aahana Kumra shines in the role of the firebrand Leela and makes you fall in love with her spunk and energy. Plabita infuses the restlessness and anxiety of a teenager who wants to break out of the shackles of a ultra-othridox society, the norms of which pose a threat to her free-spirited nature. After two great performances (‘Half Girlfriend’, ‘A Death In The Gunj’) in the last couple of months, Vikrant Massey shines again in an impactful role. From the supporting cast, Sushant Singh and Shadhank Arora leave a mark.
Fun, emotional, inspiring, dousing, entertaining and thought – provoking are some of the adjectives one would use to describe ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’. Despite projecting ourselves as a developing nation that aims to be a superpower in the future, the fact remains that we are largely a socially, culturally and religiously conservative country that needs to evolve vastly before it can hope to achieve any of these things. The importance of gender equality is widely discussed all over the globe. This discussion needs to pick up pace in countries like India where women ago through different kinds of suppression on a daily basis. The fact that this film was initially denied a certificate by the Censor Board for being ‘lady-oriented’ says it all.