Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava does something uncommon in Lipstick Under My Burkha — she finds compelling stories where you thought none would exist; in the prosaic lives of four ordinary women in Bhopal, rather in the secret lives they lead as a reaction against the every day repressions. It’s in the furtive, parallel world that they can truly be their real selves, with total freedom and abandonment, and can seize happiness with both hands. It’s where they can brew a million mutinies against any tyranny or subjugation.
There is the young Rihana (Plabita Borthakur) who idolises Miley Cyrus, loves Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, embraces music behind closed doors even as she sews away burkhas that she herself has to hide behind. She is the one who has to shoplift through her thwarted wishes in life. Leela (Ahana Kumra), a beautician on the verge of marriage, is unapologetic in giving play to her sexual desires.
- Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
- Starring: Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur, Vikrant Massey, Sushant Singh, Shashank Arora
- Storyline: Four ordinary women in Bhopal lead remarkable secret lives as a reaction against every day repressions
- Run time: 118.23 minutes
Then there is Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) who doesn’t have ownership over her body. She is reduced to a mere object of lust by her Saudi returned husband to have mechanical sex with. In between unwanted pregnancies and abortions she finds a purpose in life through her surreptitious vocation—of being a saleswoman. Yet she can’t sell the idea of condom and protected sex to her man. Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is universal buaji, the aunt who has all but forgotten her real name behind this label. A 56-year-old bhaiyyaji can think of marrying a 35-40 year old woman but buaji has been put on the shelf at 55, assumed to be too old to have any sexual spark left in her. But she lives it up stealthily through Hindi pulp novels that she reads hidden behind religious texts, the swimming lessons she goes for in the garb of satsang and the clandestine phone sex she indulges in with much moaning in the bathroom. Quite fittingly they all live in a building called Hawai Manzil. Afterall, they are all building their own fancy castles in the air.
The narrative flits from the slice of one woman’s life to another. The background narration of erotic pulp fiction is the thread that knits all these stories together and lends a definite pattern to the seeming randomness of the putting together of the scenes. The pulp fiction also serves as a metaphor of an escape route, of the many dreams and fantasies of women. On top of it, it also lends a delightful, whimsical, humourous touch to what could have otherwise been a grave and sombre matter. Lipstick… remains breezy in its audacity. It is unapologetic in giving platform to something largely brushed under the carpet—women’s sexuality—without making a big deal about it.
Shrivastava’s women are identifiable, their predicaments and problems are easy to relate to. What adds more conviction to the portrayals are the persuasive performances by all the ladies at the helm. Ratna Pathak Shah is particularly skilful in negotiating a track which could have easily lapsed into grotesquely comic or downright titillating. On the other hand, she gets all the audience compassion and understanding.
Shrivastava portrays rebellions as persistent battles than one defining, decisive war. It is evident in the culmination which is realistic enough not to be like hitting the proverbial sixer to victory. It shows that the resistance of these women has to be enduring and they themselves need to remain determined and resolute. The one problem I can envisage is the reaction of men—not a single one comes out with flying colours. All you get are insecure, domineering, jealous wimps.