Lipstick Under My Burkha

The movie Lipstick Under My Burkha is a brutal attack on patriarchy. No wonder the CBFC had a problem with it. But thanks to the controversy it generated a huge buzz and many people are in theatres to see it, who would have missed it (besides perverts that is). It is doing good business even in small towns (How do I know? I live in one). The movie is exceptional because of the way it shows women as they are. Messy, emotional, pliable, virtuous, out of control, not always keeping it together, and certainly not perfect but beautiful, flawed creatures.

Four women in different stages of life. It is set in Bhopal though it could be any small town in India. Ratna Pathak Shah is outstanding as ‘Buaji’, an identity slapped on her for so long that she has forgotten what her name is. She rediscovers romance and wants to live and love a little but at her age it’s a taboo. All the other leads are spot on too. A college student played by Plabita Borthakur, Rehana, longs to leave her burkha behind and dance with abandon. A beautician played by Aahana Kumra, Leela, wants to live life on her own terms unafraid of societal diktats. A tormented housewife, Shirin, played by Konkona Sen Sharma, is saddled with an abusive husband.

We see the different ways women are subjugated. It was depressing the way they go about trying to fulfill their desires in secret. The only way to live out their dreams and fantasies  is when they are hidden from the world, from their families, neighbours, everyone. It is an inhospitable environment for their dreams. They go to immense lengths to conceal their true selves just to live in this world with their sanity intact.

It is always women who lead lives of quiet desperation. Mostly. There wouldn’t be a woman in the country who wouldn’t identify with at least one of the characters.

There are many comic moments in the movie and most of them unexpected. For example, fiancee sounded like fancy.

It’s that rare film where every actor is perfectly cast. Vikrant Massey (Leela’s love interest) and Sushant Singh (Shirin’s husband) are fantastic in their roles, especially the latter which could have been a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. I’m yet to see A Death in the Gunj but Vikrant Massey is superb here as the on-again-off-again boyfriend.

When the man is a widower at 56 but wants a wife who is in the 35-40 age group no one bats an eyelid but when the woman is older and falls for a younger male, it is disgusting. Women are supposed to be sensuous but when it comes to initiating sex that’s a no. Taking control of their lives and desires is apparently a sin. Because you a woman cannot call the shots. Women are meant to stay always within the limits society has defined for her. The idea of masculinity and femininity is very warped in this country, and that is explored in the movie.

(Spoiler alert – Shirin has a job and she can support herself. But she doesn’t leave her sham of a marriage. The woman must be the carnal vessel and bear children; then raise those children without having a say in anything. It can’t be for the sake of kids because they will be better off away from such an abusive father. It’s social conditioning that keeps women in bad marriages and lack of parental support. Or is it something more complex?

I hated the ending. Smoking as rebellion is ridiculous in this day and age. It is deliberately open ended. We have no clue what happens to each of them. Their lives carry on from reel to real.)

Lipstick Under My Burkha takes a hard look at women from all walks of life. Depressing, visceral, raw, brave are some of the adjectives I would use to describe the movie.

Small town India is already bursting at the seams. This claustrophobic existence is what most women have to deal with every day. Some break free in obvious ways, some do it quietly, and some remain oppressed, toeing the line so to speak, till the day they die.

It’s been a while since I watched a movie alone or without company, barring the middle aged men on both sides. Thank God they weren’t uncouth but the same couldn’t be said for people in the front and back rows, idiots hooting with insensitive laughter.

The gentleman next to me, said to his friend (in a low voice thankfully) there should have been flow in the movie, and that the movie seemed like a documentary. Though he did say that the movie has been well received so there must be something. ​Was it because it was the truth unfolding on the screen or the way it was shot? Why did you come to watch then? Where is your wife? What is making you uncomfortable? I wanted to ask but didn’t obviously.

May the odds all be against you and may out come out flying! Motto of the movie and motto for life, don’t you think?


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