Skip to main content

Lipstick Under My Burkha is a hauntingly real film

Lipstick Under My Burkha is about the secret lives of four women in search of freedom Photograph: (DNA)

Delhi, India Jul 25, 2017, 06.11 AM (IST) Subuhi Safvi

Lipstick Under My Burkha is a film that is so deeply real that it makes it difficult to ignore the struggles faced by Indian women. While this film explores the lives of four women from Bhopal, it speaks to women from around the country. With patriarchy so ingrained in our society and lives, we sometimes forget how deeply it affects us until we are forced to look at it from the perspective of a female. The censor board objected to the film saying it was too "lady oriented" and it was absolutely right; the film brings to light the frustrations and helplessness of women in such a way that they become difficult to ignore, even for the staunchest supporter of patriarchy. 

This is a film that brings to the forefront marital rape, a subject that is still taboo in our country.
×

This is a film that brings to the forefront marital rape, a subject that is still taboo in our country. It addresses female sexuality – two words that are usually followed by the word slut even among the so called progressive and modern factions of society. It follows intelligent and able women trying to make a life for themselves against all odds only to be struck down. It is a story that needed to be told and Alankrita Shrivastava aided by her cast were the perfect people to tell it. 

Bollywood is an industry that still has songs that glorify stalking, scenes where the male stars stare at women, rate them on parts of their body and openly fantasize about them. Films like Grand Masti that even had a poster showing an actor looking up women’s skirts are allowed to pass because the fantasies are male. The censor board has released those films even though they contain much more explicit "sexual scenes".

In a society that restricts women’s freedoms to such an extent, they seemed to have no one to confide in, the four characters appeared to present a different face to the world and live their aspirations in isolation.
×

In a country where virginity is a premium and submissiveness is the norm, for a woman to express sexual desires, want to work, explore her individuality or want to live her life are seen as threats to the status quo. This is expertly portrayed in a scene where Sushant Singh’s character tells his wife, played by Konkona Sen Sharma, “You are a wife, don’t try to be a husband.” In a society that restricts women’s freedoms to such an extent, they seemed to have no one to confide in, the four characters appeared to present a different face to the world and live their aspirations in isolation. Ratna Pathak Shah’s character is ashamed to admit that she was going to buy a swimming costume, even though it is the sympathetic Shireen. As a society, we have succeeded in shaming ourselves to such an extent that we will go through our lives assuming there is something wrong with us but be terrified of talking to another soul.

It is important for men to watch so they can see what patriarchy looks like in the lives of women without agency.
×

It shows the loss of identity that women feel as they live their lives according to the script handed to them. The role of mother, sister, wife, aunt. When Ratna Pathak Shah's character is asked her name she promptly says “Buaji” forgetting in that moment that her name is Usha. She fantasises about her swimming coach and reads him parts of an erotic novel pretending to be Rosie. Because a 55-year-old woman sexualising a young man is unheard of but the opposite is understandable. In an early scene, someone introduces her brother who is in his 50s and a widower saying that they were looking for a woman, even someone in her 30s or 40s will do. The hypocrisy we live in our lives and understand as normal is challenged in this film. It is important for men to watch so they can see what patriarchy looks like in the lives of women without agency.  

Lipstick Under My Burkha is a film, and it is also a call to action. This is a film that continues to haunt me even after the three days since I’ve seen it and that is the point. We should not forget that we live in a patriarchal society. We must remember just how much we have to give up because it was not "acceptable" or "what will people say". We must do what we can to bring the change, because we are all just living our lives in isolation, afraid of what people will say. Just living our lives wearing lipstick under our burkhas.

Subuhi Safvi

Subuhi is a senior researcher at WION and a proud dog mum. When she isn't at work or stuck in traffic she enjoys cooking, reading and gaming.

Show Comments
  • delete