A still from the movie

Lipstick Under My Burkha: A woman’s take on her desires

In October 2016, a low-budget film launched its trailer on Youtube. It boasted of an interesting star cast, two popular actresses of India’s parallel cinema and two relatively new faces. The plot of the film could be guessed from the trailer, was women’s right to equality and women’s sexuality, which is hardly talked about in mainstream Hindi cinema. The trailers disappeared with as much ease as it swept in. It made the censor board too uncomfortable because it brought forth topics like the female orgasm, sexual needs of a woman and her right over her own body, topics that are considered unimportant and frivolous by our male counterparts.

When I finished watching the film, the only question that hounded my mind was that why would the censor board deny certification to this film? Was it because the film was unapologetically real or the censor board couldn’t come to terms with the fact that women too have desires and this ‘lady oriented’ film depicts the desires of a woman from a woman’s perspective. But then again, for a society like ours and its custodian like the censor board chief, sex is only good behind the closed doors and it should not be talked about in public because we take pride in believing that we all are the products of two flowers touching each other.

Sometimes a ban is the best thing that can happen to a movie, it piques the interest of cine-goers manifold. In spite of getting very less no of screens, the theatres all over India were jam-packed. People thronged the theatres to watch the tale of women living in the shadow of tyranny.

The film revolves around interconnected lives of four small town women/girls and their desires and dreams. Desires as simple as to sing in a band, to establish a career for self, to move to a big city and to be sexually reawakened.

Rehana (Plobita Borthakur) is a young, college-going girl, who idolizes Miley Cyrus and aspires to become a singer. She seamlessly shuttles between two characters, one that she acquires by shoplifting and one that was imposed on her since birth. In a cluttered city of old Bhopal, much like our walled city, there is absolutely no room for her dreams and desires. For her, her “Burkha” is the only sign of honour, without which she is considered an utter disgrace to her conservative Muslim family.

Leela(Ahana Kamra) is a beautician, who is in love with a local photographer but her marriage is fixed with someone else, who her mother believes has a good fortune and will be able to give her a comfortable life and get her out of misery. She wants to move to a big city and start something of her own. Leela’s character is the most fearless out of the four and the most ambitious too.

Shirin (Konkona Sen Sharma) is a mother of three and also a sales professional (secretly). She is married to a Saudi-return dominant husband, who treats her like a sex-toy. The husband also has an extra-marital affair, which is discovered later in the film

One of the most iconic and powerful characters in the film was that of Usha ji (Ratna Pathak Shah), a widow in her late 50’s, who is addressed as Buaji by the people of all age groups. She is the most respected person in her mohalla and is the owner of Hawai Manzil, a small residential complex that houses all the other three women. Buaji likes to read soft porn hidden under the religious texts and attends swimming classes in the name of satsangs. She develops a crush on her swimming instructor and sex-chats with him every night until she is discovered by the pensive men and women of the society. Although she looks like the most authoritative women in the film even she has no control over society’s definition of taboo.

All four characters are intricately woven. They come from starkly different backgrounds, different religious groups but their struggle for identity is the same. The film also indicates that the problem doesn’t lie in just one section of the society, it is everywhere. All the four characters are bound to lead a double life, while male characters in spite of the flaws lead a quite an unfazed life.

Alankrita Srivastava’s directorial throws many thought-provoking questions at the society, which apparently has no answers.

At the end of it, the movie doesn’t provide any solutions to the problems faced by the protagonists or goes over the top with the debate on women empowerment. It doesn’t take any normal strand or tries to change the way women are treated in the society. Pretty much like the problems, the women face in this country, the film too is solution-less. It is only where the movie ends, our real problem begins.