Something uncommon is done by Alankrita Shrivastava the Filmmaker in Lipstick Under My Burkha—she finds compelling stories where you thought none would exist; in the prosaic lives of four ordinary women in Bhopal, rather in the secret lives they lead as a reaction against the every day repressions. It’s in the furtive, parallel world that they can truly be their real selves, with total freedom and abandonment, and can seize happiness with both hands. It’s where they can brew a million mutinies against any tyranny or subjugation.
Plabita Borthakur who plays the role of Young Rihana, is some one who idolises Miley Cyrus, loves Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, embraces music behind closed doors even as she sews away burkhas that she herself has to hide behind. She is the one who has to shoplift through her thwarted wishes in life. Then there is Ahana Kumra who plays the role of Leela, a beautician on the verge of marriage, is unapologetic in giving play to her sexual desires.
Then there is Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) who doesn’t have ownership over her body. She is reduced to a mere object of lust by her Saudi returned husband to have mechanical sex with. In between unwanted pregnancies and abortions she finds a purpose in life through her surreptitious vocation—of being a saleswoman. Yet the idea of condom and protected sex to her man she can’t sell. Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is universal buaji, the aunt who has all but forgotten her real name behind this label. A 56-year-old bhaiyyaji can think of marrying a 35-40 year old woman but buaji has been put on the shelf at 55, assumed to be too old to have any sexual spark left in her. But she lives it up stealthily through Hindi pulp novels that she reads hidden behind religious texts, the swimming lessons she goes for in the garb of satsang and she indulges in the clandestine phone sex with much moaning in the bathroom. Quite fittingly they all live in a building called Hawai Manzil. Afterall, they are all building their own fancy castles in the air.
The narrative flits from the slice of one woman’s life to another. On top of it, it also lends a delightful, whimsical, humourous touch to what could have otherwise been a grave and sombre matter. Lipstick…remains breezy in its audacity. It is unapologetic in giving platform to something largely brushed under the carpet—women’s sexuality—without making a big deal about it.
Shrivastava’s women are identifiable, their predicaments and problems are easy to relate to. What adds more conviction to the portrayals are the persuasive performances by all the ladies at the helm. Shrivastava portrays rebellions as persistent battles than one defining, decisive war. It is evident in the culmination which is realistic enough not to be like hitting the proverbial sixer to victory. It shows that the resistance of these women has to be enduring and they themselves need to remain determined and resolute. The one problem I can envisage is the reaction of men—not a single one comes out with flying colours. All you get are insecure, domineering, jealous wimps.