Bollywood has a long and decent history of cinema. And I personally have always enjoyed studying it: from Raj Kapoor to Shashi Kapoor, Mithun Chakraborty to Hema Malini. I can keep on listing every single name I can recall right now, but not a single movie where those wonderful actors have starred was close to what I saw in “Lipstick Under My Burkha” by Alankrita Shrivastava. Having said that, most popular Bollywood productions of that time were romantic dramas – a love story told through music. Some of them might show some rebelliousness, such as a love story between rich and poor. And even that was told in a very subtle, gentle and harmless way. In the twenty-first century, the vision has changed, as has changed the world. And even Bollywood! Today, its ready to make a bold step to touch such subjects that are still a taboo in the region and many do not dare to speak up openly about them.
“Lipstick Under My Burkha” is a 2016 Indian erotic black comedy, narrated by a 55-year-old-widow – Usha Parmar (Ratna Pathak). As she secretly reads a novel, she imagines being the protagonist of the book – Rosy. Rehana Abidi (Plabita Borthakur) is a college student who lives in the same community as Usha but in a very strict Muslim family. She wears burkha and sews for her family store. At home, she is who her family wants her to be. Yet, when she goes outside, she turns into a rebellious young woman who continues her protest to be free. Leela (Aahan Kumra) and Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) are different from the above-mentioned women. They do their best to contribute to what they believe in – women have the right to belong to themselves and stop being objectified.
Shireen is a housewife who keeps getting pregnant every time her husband spends a few weeks at home. The rest of the time, he works in a different city. She discusses her options with her doctor, as she wants to avoid future pregnancies. Her husband does not want her to work and demands that she obeys his rules in his house.
Leela is the risk-taker, whose bold actions could’ve caused her life in some ill-minded society. She is forced to get engaged to a man she does not love. And, she does not hesitate to have sex with her lover in the same building where her fiancé lives.
Usha is another colourful character. She secretly falls for her swimming instructor. As she continues fantasizing about him while reading the novel, we learn from her about being a woman in a closed-minded society. A woman, who is also well aware of the risks she takes. However, her ability to accept herself is more important than what the others see in her – an old woman who should never allow a single man to touch her ever again.
Why can’t a woman do something that men are allowed to do? Why in certain countries a woman is only seen as a subject to sexual desires, a housewife or an individual who has no right to express herself in any way? “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, is an incredible film. It is surprising that it comes from India. It is a great response to what happens in women’s world in a provocative manner. It clearly emphasizes that there are always consequences when women are forced to do what they do not want. They can still be who they are – with or without wearing a red lipstick. Having someone kept under a burkha will not prevent her from being someone else when there is no guardian around.
In conclusion, this film is about rebellion, constant fight against men treating women unjustly. It’s about such simple demands as wearing jeans, not being misjudged, silenced, or kept hidden behind the curtain. This is why Shrivastava’s piece is so important. It is relevant and opens up a global issue that occurs in every part of the world, though it happened to be captured in one location only – India. Let’s not forget that it is never about India alone, but also Asia, China, Russia, or the United States. It’s about an education that should take place inside every house around the globe. It’s about what is right and what is wrong. Equality and fairness that is, what I believe, should be a common sense.