Lipstick Under My Burkha
Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava
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The women’s film still gets a bad rap. An extensive examination of its various histories and traditions reveals its vital subversive work in representing women’s inner desires and ambitions. In her sophomore project, director Alankrita Shrivastava carries on this important tradition in this indie comedy-drama which examines the intersecting lives of four different women living in Bhopal, a small town representative of contemporary, rural India. Despite extolling itself as a free and democratic country in step with Western industrialized nations, India’s patriarchal culture persists and Shrivastava explores this regressive reality through the individual challenges faced by college student and aspiring pop singer Rehana, engaged beautician Leela, neglected housewife and saleswoman Shirin, and pious, middle-aged widow ‘Auntie’ Usha. Each woman plays a “role” in their community, family, and in their own minds but it represents but one facet of their complex lives. Their respective transgressions highlight their attempts to break free of these fixed “roles.”
Sporting a burkha and shoplifting a tube of lipstick at the local mall, Rehana sheds this symbol of her Muslim faith before running off to school in jeans and Converses. Forced into a traditional, arranged marriage with upwardly mobile Manoj, Leela carries on a secret affair with photographer Arshad complete with sex tape antics. An abusive, absentee husband and a brood of children to care for, feisty and put upon Shirin takes a job as a salesgirl for Magical Products and quickly ascends the ranks thanks to her natural cleverness and go-getting attitude. Finally, Usha’s loneliness finds a welcome release when she begins ladies’ swimming lessons with hottie coach Jaspal. Imbuing these narrative arcs with both humor and pathos reminiscent of Almodóvar, a mosaic of women’s subjectivities are represented from a distinctively female point of view.
Mainstream global media peddles as its stock and trade benign images of women’s personal lives. In the contemporary Indian cinema and industry, all forms of women’s sexuality continues to be a target for censorship and at press time, the Central Board of Film Certification has refused to clear this indie film for its frank and progressive depiction of female sexual desire. A winner of the Spirit of Asia Prize and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality, this Indian women’s film delights with its defiance of traditional expectations.
— Lindy Leong
Alankrita Shrivastava is a feature film director and screenwriter from Mumbai with a penchant for telling women’s stories. She likes to explore the interior world of women through her films.
Producer: Prakash Jha
Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Writer: Alankrita Shrivastava
Cinematographer: Akshay Singh
Sound Designer: Rahul Badwelkar
Editor: Charu Shree Roy
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra