Lipstick Under My Burkha: A Glorious Step for Bollywood? By Shivangi Gupta from Amity Law School, Delhi
The title Lipstick Under My Burkha embodies the theme of the film and the life of the four women it chronicles. These women dream of a better life and it is their desire that brings them in conflict with the society. As the camera shuttles from one woman’s journey to another, the four stories, to all appearances, seem very distinct. But what ties them all together is the fact that the crux of their problems is the same. Their wants and desires do not fit in with that of the ideal, sanskari woman that the Indian society values so much. In fact, the society is so obsessed with this paragon of virtue that any woman who dares to stray from these idealistic standards faces character assassination. All the four stories, though about individual women, are chapters from a woman’s life. She might be in the bloom of her youth or an old aged matron; she is stifled and suffocated by the society that seeks to clip her wings.
But Lipstick under my Burkha is not a revolutionary film. It is not the first “lady-oriented” film or a film that sparks a wave of feminism. It is by no means a modern flag bearer for women’s liberation. As Shirin, a wife and mother with a controlling husband, Buaji, a 55-year-old widow who enjoys racy literature, Rehana, a teenager who wants to sing in the college band, and Leela, a beautician who is soon to be married but has a lover, tell their tales, they do not brazenly fight their demons. Their battle is a burkha-clad one as they secretly go after what they want, hidden under the veil from the society and their kin. The film highlights the never ending struggles of the protagonists to retain autonomy over their own bodies and more significantly, over their own lives.
This makes the controversy surrounding the film all the more astounding. The film is about women trying to find their voices in the patriarchal set up of the society and trying to express their aspirations and desires. Sex is just a part of it. The film makes a person uncomfortable to just the right extent, as the protagonists go about their escapades, an integral part of the problem that the film addresses. If the genders had been reversed, there would have been no hue and cry over them. It is mind-boggling that CBFC would consider such a film as threatening in any aspect.
The act of CBFC does nothing but expose the dogmatic ideologies that still plague the Indian society. The hypocrisy of the CBFC lies in the fact that Lipstick Under My Burkha offended its morals but on the other hand, it does not bat an eye when women are objectified in item songs or eve-teasing is promoted. It is odious that instead of battling them, it has been fanning the flames. The Indian cinema has primarily been male-driven. The stories revolve around the life and aspirations of the male protagonists with the females on the sidelines. They are given the hallowed position of the love interest or are used just as an eye candy. Even though more and more female centric films are being made but the female-characters that challenge the boundaries of acceptable behaviour set by the society, are not as easily accepted. Under the guise of protecting the culture, the rights of a human being cannot be curtailed, as beautifully expressed by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”
Lipstick Under my Burkha challenges the archaic notions of the society that are embraced by Bollywood, by beautifully portraying the feelings of a woman in a society where there are fixed lines of what and how a woman should be. The film does not have an idealistic ending with courageous protagonists finally pursuing their dreams or their family supporting them. It ends with all four women sitting together in a dusty shop, their wings clipped off and desires once again locked away; stripped off of everything except their power to dream those lipstick waale dreams. The lipstick is not a sign of promiscuity for these women but serves as a window of freedom.
With its touch of realism, the film urges every Rehana, Leela, Shirheen and Buaji out there to never stop dreaming. It strives to give these women the confidence to apply that lipstick, not as a token of female rebellion, but as a mark of their presence and expression of self and to embrace it.
“For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; that we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious-or whatever we please; we are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution.”
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