Year of the Woman

Disappointed that #MeToo didn't find resonance in India, says director Alankrita Shrivastava

‘A lot more needs to change.’   | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Celebrating Christmas in Goa with friends and planning to ring in the new year in Rishikesh with her family, Alankrita Shrivastava looks back at 2017 as a “crazy” year, the kind she has never seen in her life before. “It was like a whirlwind,” she says.

On one hand, her sophomore film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, travelled to over 60 international festivals amassing acclaim and 18-odd awards. On the other, it had a run in with the Central Board of Film Certification.

Read our review of Lipstick Under My Burkha here.

The small film by the 37-year-old filmmaker — about four ordinary, small town, working class women and their attempts to live within overwhelming societal claustrophobia was initially denied certification for being ‘lady-oriented’, ‘fantasy above life’ and for its ‘contagious sexual scenes.’

Old rivalry

So for Lipstick… Alankrita had to go beyond being a filmmaker and don the additional mantle of a crusader. There was no option but to fight, even though it involved investing time, energy and emotions. It took her almost six months — from the end of December 2016, when she applied for certification, to June 3, when she eventually got the crucial piece of paper after the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) overruled the CBFC ruling.

In hindsight, she would prefer to see the bright side of the dark times, with the film doing exceedingly well at the box office. What has been more important for her, however, is that the film initiated debates — about women and cinema, about female sexuality and gaze, about the objectification of women: “So many conversations that were required started happening. Something more meaningful and valuable emerged.”

For Alankrita, the romance with films started in the audio-visual hobby class in school. She assisted veteran director Prakash Jha in several films before making her debut in 2011 with Turning 30!!! And had a run-in with the CBFC back then as well. There were objections raised on showing a single woman having sex and the film was eventually given an ‘A’ certificate.

Fittingly then, the idea of freedom is something the filmmaker finds herself constantly contending with. It was the thought behind Lipstick… too. However, rather than exploring freedom through a familiar world, as she did in her debut, Alankrita decided to do it through a world she is far removed from.

Distinct politics

Alankrita studied in all-girls school and college — Welhams, Dehradun and Lady Shri Ram, New Delhi — and later at the A.J.K. Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. “It made my feminist politics very clear early on,” she says. For someone who grew up in a liberal, progressive, bureaucrat family with many positive female influences all around her, she doesn’t feel encumbered telling stories about women. “It’s not as though it’s a cross I have to bear. I just find women’s stories more interesting. I am preoccupied with them as a filmmaker right now. There are enough stories about men anyway,” she says.

However, she is happy that 2017 hasn’t just been about her own film or those by other Indian women filmmakers, but about small, independent cinema coming into the spotlight in general. “It is gratifying to know that this kind of small cinema could do so well, that it could appeal to the audiences at large,” she says.

2017 has also been an intense experience that she now wants to move on from. There has been the defining #MeToo campaign. But she is disappointed that it didn’t find a similar resonance in India, specifically the film industry, other than the formation of Women in Cinema Collective in Kerala and Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective (IWCC) — both to address gender discrimination in the film industry.

“It shows the extent of suppression. A lot more needs to change,” Alankrita says as she ends the year with these uneasy musings.


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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 7:39:51 PM |

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