Lipstick under My Burkha: Review

The lady oriented” film has arrived with all guns blazing, giving patriarchy and misogyny the red lipstick finger”

Cast: Ratna Pathak, Konkona Sen Sharma, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur, Vikrant Massey, Sushant Singh, Shashank Arora, Vaibhav Tatwawaadi, Jagat Singh Solanki

Movie Director: Alankrita Shrivastava

Story: The movie dishes out in a frank manner the female desire and fantasy that runs like a strong, fundamental thread through the film. “Dreams can keep you alive, and age is just a number.”

Review:  The deep red lipstick becomes the color and mode of rebellion. It gives us a hint of what goes on inside a woman—the turmoil, the pain, the ingested humiliation, the unshed tears, the unspoken resentment, and anger.

Co-written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, Lipstick under My Burkha casts an honest, unsparing look at what it means to be a woman in a small-town in India. This is a city on the verge of modernisation. While shiny new malls jostle for space with centuries-old apartment blocks, mindsets have remained as narrow as the bylanes.

Shirin, a Muslim woman (Konkona Sen Sharma), works discreetly as a door-to-door saleswoman. She hides this fact from her conservative, Saudi-returned husband. As far as he’s concerned, her job is to raise their three children and satisfy his frequent and egotistical sexual needs.

Leela, a feisty young Hindu woman (Aahana Kumra), works at a local beauty parlour. She has a business plan with her Muslim lover, she frequently enjoys sex with. Leela plans to escape the arranged marriage, her widowed mother is forcing on her.

Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) wears a multi-layered Burkha. She goes to great lengths to hide her Miley Cyrus hangover and pop star ambitions from her strict Muslim parents. The Burkha is the shield that protects her when she shoplifts at malls. And at college, she stuffs it into her backpack to fit in with the other students protesting for the right to wear jeans on campus.

Then there’s 55-year-old widow Usha Parmar (Ratna Pathak), the respected ‘Buaji’ who runs the family business.  She secretly reads Hindi erotic fiction at night. When she falls for a brawny swimming instructor, her repressed desires find an outlet in steamy phone sex. As Buaji reads out the fantasies of Rosy, the protagonist of her pulpy romance novels, the character becomes a symbol for everything that the four women long for.

The movie is engaging, and the makers narrate it with gentleness, pathos, sexual frankness, and a large dollop of humour. The four women, loosely connected, are neighbours in a dilapidated housing complex. They share an unspoken sisterhood of sorts. These women are fighting to express themselves, yet they’re practically invisible to everyone around them.

Shrivastava navigates sensitive areas like female desire, the sexuality of older women, and religious conservatism, without titillation or cheap sensationalism. It’s helpful that she picked a first-rate cast. Newer actors like Plabita and Aahana earn their place alongside seasoned performers like Ratna and Konkona. They are in excellent form, both in the film’s dramatic and laugh-out-loud scenes. On the flip side, the male characters are all dominating and unsympathetic. They perpetuate the popular feminist stereotype of men.

The film’s ending, however, comes off as contrived and clunky. One of the only bits that might not ring true. But these are minor hiccups in a bold, honest film that hits the right notes. It is one of those rare films about female empowerment that delivers plenty of laughs. And I can tell you that it’s absolutely worth your time! This is exactly the kind of a film that we need more off.  A deep, personal, political and powerful look into women’s lives! One which says what it needs to and makes its points, without being preachy or sensational.

About the Author

Sammy Sahni is a writer by profession, crafter by passion and a blessed mother. She is easy going, free-spirited, nonjudgemental and has a strong opinion on women’s issues!

Edited by Dr. Shruti Kapoor