Director: Alankrita Srivastava
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur
Through the window of Rosie, a fictional character, Alankrita Srivastava brings to celluloid the unspoken, unattended and unwavering ‘Lipistick waale sapne’ of womankind. The film may not necessarily start a revolution, but it can, and probably will puncture the bubble of patriarchy in ways more than one.
Shrivastava beautifully knits a rebellious world of women amid the stereotypical ‘mankind’ in the city of Bhopal and introduces us to four women, each leading a battle starkly different from the other, but woven tautly, with a unifying undertone of sexual reveries. All that Rosie sees through her window becomes archetypal of all that the burkha-clad women realise through the course of their journey in the film.
Burkha, however, isn’t just a clothed veil here, but also a wholesome representative of the boundaries set by family, society and patriarchy, for a woman to be ideal. All four protagonists – Usha ji, Shireen, Rihanna and Leela, in a way, are living a life of duality – both in personalities and in dreams. One that conforms to the norms of the society and the other that pleasures them, lets them explore and live freely in a world margined for women.
Usha ji (Ratna Shah Pathak), popularly referred to as bua ji, is that aunt of a small Bhopal mohalla, who everybody respects and listens to. Until of course, the pensive men and women discover that she, an old lady of 55, bears sexual desires and fantasies. Expected to have devoted herself to celibacy and ‘satsang’ and ‘swamis’, it comes as a shocker for many that she ‘still’ reads erotic novels for pleasure disguised under the covers of religious books and has fallen for a much-younger swimming instructor.
Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) is that wife, married to a compulsive dominant husband, who is only expected to serve the purpose of a baby-making machine and treated like an object, a man would hump to, as and when and how he desires. But unlike how Shireen’s husband sees her, she nurses a hidden career - a sales woman and aspires to be a sales trainer.
Rihanna (Plabita Borthakur) is that burkha-clad girl, who steps out veiled but dreams of, and soon changes to, ripped denims and stolen boots. For her parents, she’s that responsible girl who works at their boutique after college hours sewing and altering burkhas for others, but for herself, she finds solace besides a Miley Cyrus poster or in Lep Zeppelin’s songs.
Leela (Aahanaa Kumra) is that woman working in a beauty parlour, who while ripping off a waxing strip, casually bestows the client on the bed, with life-altering perspective. She considers Bhopal and its ideologies too limiting for her and harbors a plan of running away with her boyfriend.
Millennial, engaged, married and old - the four steal, cheat, hide and lie to foster an identity for themselves. Even in different phases – the women seem to be united in their common battle. While Ratna and Konkona deliver a nuanced performance, it’s the characters of Plabita and Aahanaa, who’re instantly relatable. The ensemble cast, including Vikrant Massey and Shashank Arora, pull off their bits well.Youtube:Prakash Jha Productions
The juxtaposition of dialogues and actions is so well-tuned that even if nothing significant is happening on-screen, there’s a subtle hint of what’s coming up next. Like the scratching noise of a toy car on dinner table reminding one of Shireen's forced sex life, or Usha ji mellowing down her sultry phone calls with the sound of a running tap.
The strength of this film, however, lies in Shrivastava’s handling of the subject. She doesn’t provide us with answers, or with superficial solutions, but just offers us a narrative, bold enough to arouse a woman’s hidden desires and valiant enough to question the patriarch mindset. In fact, the last scene takes place during the festival of Diwali wherein the lives of them four are falling apart. But does that take away their spark?
Absolutely not. Even if you haven’t lived a life of restrictions, the film will feel relatable on several levels.
When you’re few minutes into the film, you’d understand why it irked the Pahlaj Nihalani-led CBFC in the first place. The film is a ‘fictional’ woman’s perspective on sexual-exploration and hidden desires of women, who often resort to non-stereotypical ways, is helmed by a woman director and features four non-conformant women as leads – of course, it had to be termed ‘lady oriented’.
Lipstick Under My Burkha is a rare Bollywood film, that without being preachy in its tone, serves the potential of wounding the patriarch in you. And rightly so.