Lipstick Under My Burkha releases today after the long-drawn CBFC controversy that delayed its release in India by months. This is Alankrita Shrivastava’s second feature film (after Turning 30!!!). The film premiered in India at last year’s Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, and received positive reviews.
It has played in over 30 film festivals across the world, including the prestigious Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival and the New York Indian Film Festival.
The story revolves around four women of different ages – under varying degrees of patriarchal control – in the city of Bhopal.
Here are five reasons Lipstick Under My Burkha shouldn’t be missed:
There is no false note. Plabita Borthakur is angsty and vulnerable as the rebellious and suppressed college-going Muslim girl Rehana. Aahana Kumra stands out as the hot-headed, passionate, conflicted and ambitious Punjabi girl Leela. Konkana Sen Sharma is subdued and perfect as the submissive housewife and aspiring career woman Shireen. Ratna Pathak Shah is at her best as everyone’s landlady and newly sexually adventurous ‘bua ji’ Usha. She is especially expressive even when she isn’t on screen, and only narrating the passages of her favorite erotic fiction books. Among the men, Vikrant Massey is fantastic as Leela’s sordid and secret photographer boyfriend, while Sushant Singh delivers as Shireen’s oppressive and misogynistic Saudi-returned husband.
Hindi cinema is often at its best when it tackles hard-hitting, women-oriented themes. This movie isn’t exactly commercial fare. Yet it is authentic and real in the sense of what urban Indian women endure behind closed doors in the name of tradition even in 2017. This is a timely film. It only reiterated its own message when the male-dominated Censor Board decided to halt its release due to ‘objectionable sexual content by ladies’. It isn’t easy or comfortable to watch, but that’s the point of its glare. It locks gaze with us and shows us the kind of secrets and desires we aren’t used to watching on the big screen.
When such films are helmed by women, there is an extra layer of passion and realism to its texture. This one, too, doesn’t cater to whimsical and crowd-pleasing templates, like Angry Indian Goddesses, Pink or Mom (all made by males) did. It is restrained and independent enough to respect its own limitations. Shrivastava proves it, just like Leena Yadav did last year with Parched – the rural counterpart of this film. Prakash Jha, the producer, deserves credit for backing his protégé and the kind of voice she represents after a failed first attempt.
The Background Score
There are a few songs, but it’s the breezy piano-and-violin background score that connects the four narratives. The in-the-mood-for-love-ish music takes forward the continuity of mood and tone. It makes a big difference to a movie that walks the thin line between realism and fantasy, given the desperate need of the women to escape into a less restricted environment. Read more about the music of the film here.
Though it has only just released, the film has garnered largely and overwhelmingly positive reviews from Indian critics. It has been praised as a convincing snapshot of the ‘hidden’ Indian culture even abroad. In the aforementioned film festivals, foreign critics have welcomed it as a change from the kind of heightened cinema they associate Bollywood with.