‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’

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‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ definitely doesn’t talk about unfamiliar, unconventional women-oriented issues. Nor does it raise voice against something untrodden by the Indian society. It is another leaf in the tree of women empowerment after many of its kind in Bollywood. However, its USP is the narrative structure. What the film primarily does is knit together the lives of four women stamped under the patriarchal boundary, of what women should be and what they should do.
Having said that, the film does shock at certain junctures! Shireen Aslam is mocked at by her husband for buying a condom, though she uses the written word ‘cap’ on a piece of paper to obtain it from the chemist. This is alarming, when we think of how an adult, married woman in the Indian society is shy to buy something that the doctor recommends her as absolutely essential because of her deteriorating health due to repeated abortions. And even more shocking is how the husband disposes the unused condom like a piece of shit! Shireen (Konkana Sen Sharma) is both vulnerable, as well as convincing in her role under the burkha.
Rehana Abidi represents the new generation Burkha-clad women, who dress provocatively under the black restrictive attire. Her story does not break stereotypes. Caught up between tradition and modernity, she forces us to think what actually is the concept of modernity in India today? Is it torn-jeans, a cigarette puff or rock band? Can’t one be modern simply by respecting one’s parents and religion? Plabita Borthakur brings to Bollywood an unprecedented freshness with her cute look and natural acting prowess.
Leela is the epitome of every modern Indian girl sandwiched between two men. She is rebuked and abused by her lover. However, she keeps returning to him. When she finally moves away from him towards more a ‘lucrative’ man, he again returns to haunt her. Leela wants love, more than security, comfort and the wealth of a man; however, she cannot decide what real love is! Her rebellious self is caught between a man who lusts after her (that she mistook for love), and one who respects and deifies her. Aahana Kumra is bold, beautiful and has a streak of aggression that makes it relatable for the young girls of today’s India.
What makes the story come alive is the narrative technique of seeing every woman in the film through the rosy lens of ‘Rosy’: a fictional character in the cheap, erotic thriller that Usha Buaji (Ratna Pathak) is reading every night. The icing of the film is definitely Usha – the sexually frustrated middle-aged unmarried aunty, who is shy to buy a swimming costume but wishes to go into the pool. Lusting after her swimming coach and indulging in phone sex with her, Usha’s fantasies are coloured by Rosy’s. But caught in her ‘act’, she is humiliated, and driven out of her home. Pathak is amazing in her endeavour of showcasing the heart of a teenager- full of dreams and passionate desires-that lie repressed in her heart which hasn’t aged though her body has.
What unites all the women is their need for seeking something that the men in their lives fail to understand. Shireen wants recognition, Ahana wishes for freedom, Leela desires love and maybe a bit of respect and Rosy aches to awaken her passion.
A story for all those women out there who dare to dream – beyond the barriers of religion, culture and age!