Last year a small film with a humble budget launched its trailer on YouTube in October. It boasted of an interesting all female lead star cast, featuring two stalwarts of what is called India’s Parallel Cinema, and two relatively unknown faces. It was the second feature film of a relatively unheard female director. Its trailer was promisingly refreshing, and maybe shocking too in a couple of ways, yet quite within the purview of a non-Bollywood type of movie.
The premise, as could be guessed from the trailer, was women’s right to equality and their sexuality, and as everyone knows, we hardly talk about those in mainstream Hindi movies; at least not without making the films extremely melodramatic and maudlin (think Lajja, Damini and other such lauded “women centric” movies). Here there was no tearful damsel in distress, neither the beleaguered heroine asking the men for insaaf. The trailer showed no voyeuristic rape scenes, nor were there any sightings of the door-breaking expletive-spewing mardani fighter. It was simply proposing to show how real women deal with tyranny, sexism and misogyny on an everyday basis, and come on, where is the mass pull-in factor in that. And so, the trailer came and went with nary any buzz about it. Until, Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani happened to Lipstick under My Burkha.
Here there was no tearful damsel in distress, neither the beleaguered heroine asking the men for insaaf. The trailer showed no voyeuristic rape scenes, nor were there any sightings of the door-breaking expletive-spewing mardani fighter. It was simply proposing to show how real women deal with tyranny, sexism and misogyny on an everyday basis…
Now, past the smart publicity and all the hype following the CBFC episode, what really is under the burkha of this missy? Turns out, much and more, but most importantly, entertainment. Does it try to talk about a seldom discussed about facet of the Indian society? Yes. Does it bring up uncomfortable topics like female orgasm, sexual needs of a woman and her right over her own body, and by extension – her life? It very much does. But it does all of this with style, humor and hardly any preaching. And so, precisely because of the material and its handling; and not in spite of it, Lipstick under My Burkha is an entertainer. Period.
The movie revolves around the interconnected lives of four women from Bhopal. On the face of it, the old mohalla where they all stay is the only common thread tying them together. Yet, once one takes the factors of varying ages and marital statuses away, they are more similar to each other than they themselves realize. Usha Parmar, everyone’s favorite buaji, has been relegated to the realms of the satwik life that a widowed woman of her age is expected to live in; the probable lack of her wish to actually be a citizen of that place notwithstanding. She is the brains behind the sustenance of a decades old mithai venture and the only thing keeping her family and their extensions afloat.Her neighbor, Shireen shares a similar keen business acumen and despite being skilled at her job, has to keep it a secret from her husband, who tries to compensate for a presumably small member by insisting on never using contraception. Leela on the other hand is openly running the quintessential round-the-corner beauty parlour of the neighbourhood. She is a firebrand, the kind of daughter that small town parents wish to marry off to the first decent sucker that comes along, before scandal breaks out. Yet, in spite of her enterprising ways, Leela is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to choosing the man of her life on her terms. And finally, there’s Rehana, living the dual life of the obedient daughter by the day and an aspiring Miley Cyrus by the night, fighting for her rights to jeans and jeena (life) from under the layers of her burkha.
As we navigate through the life of each of our Rosies (a reference at the core of the film, and something this writer will leave for the readers of this review to discover for themselves), we bear witness to their will to live a little more and a little outside the confines of their allotted quotas as set by the society. We learn of their desires to love, and desire, as it pleases them; rejecting the rules of who they are allowed to love and how. In that respect, director Alankrita Srivastava has achieved exactly what she wished to do with this movie. The audience will find themselves sympathizing with the four women on screen, laughing with them, entertained by their antics, maybe even despising them for a fleeting second, only to finally empathize with their hopes and dreams. For this writer, mildly abrupt as the ending seemed at first thought, it was refreshing to see a movie that does not attempt to provide a farce of a cookie cutter solution to the varying problems faced by Indian women in a patriarchal society. Lipstick under My Burkha does not jump out at you with provocations to instigate a revolution the moment the credits roll, instead it gently but steadfastly asks you to reflect within and find your strength as a woman. To know that you will find a solution, as surely as the Rosies of the movie will do.
Lipstick under My Burkha does not jump out at you with provocations to instigate a revolution the moment the credits roll, instead it gently but steadfastly asks you to reflect within and find your strength as a woman.
Undoubtedly, to have any hope of its unconventional point of view understood, the story demanded true performances from its cast. In that respect, each of the four leads have delivered. New comers Plabita Borthakur (Rehana) and Aahana Kumra (Leela) look comfortable in their skin on camera, special mention going to the latter for portraying a firebomb Leela without going over the top. Konkona Sen Sharma (Shireen), is as usual her exemplary self, and one cannot help but be awed by the range of this actor. She brilliantly brings out the ingenuity and quiet ambition of her character, and also her inability to give it back to an insecure entitled husband. But it is Ratna Pathak Shah who walks off with the cake. Anyone familiar with this veteran actor’s body of work might not be surprised by her astute understanding and portrayal of Usha ji, but they will definitely be overwhelmed in a good way. This writer can confidently say that a lesser actor would have botched up Usha Parmar, given that she is the most difficult of the four lead characters to play.
In conclusion, Lipstick under My Burkha gets a thumbs up from us. Go watch a “lady oriented” movie that is funny, relevant and entertaining. Maybe some us will realize that fantasies are not above life, but very much a part of it.
Rating: 7 out of 10
About the writer
Ankita Chaudhuri is, in her own words, your average not-so-bhadra NRB (Non Residential Bengali) mahila residing in Pune. She tries to maintain a day job for papi pet, but her real hobbies are sleeping in all weekend, trying new cuisines and reading late into the night so that she is always rushed for office the next day. And oh yeah, she tries to squeeze in a bit of writing, once in a while.
Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of this film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.