Intolerance, oppression, frustration --- these are some of the issues filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava addresses in her film "Lipstick Under My Burkha", the story of four very different women living in a small town in India. Striving for any semblance of freedom through their own personal acts of rebellion, each of these determined women risk everything to achieve just a little happiness.
Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) may leave her home every day in a burkha, but it is off, halfway to her college classes, where her fellow students are protesting a ban on jeans. She wants desperately to be like the popular girls --- burkha-less and clad in trendy fashions.. Her desire to be a pop singer clashes drastically with her parents' cultural demands, resulting in her shoplifting everything from lipstick to stylish boots which she hides in her burkha.
A betrothed beautician named Leela (Aahana Kumra) plots her escape from the limited confines of an arranged marriage with another man. Shirin (Konkona Sensharma) is the number one
salesperson for her company, but she must hide her success from her husband, who is unemployed and has a mistress. She's already had too many pregnancies, three children at home, the rest aborted, and her doctor warns her not to get pregnant again.
And Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is a lonely 55-year-old widow --- Auntie to all her know her. She keeps the wolves who want her property at bay, until they discover her darkest secret. There is no help for these pitiable women --- the discrimination of their society is harsh and very real.
Shrivastava admits freely that this was not her upbringing. She has never worn the burkha, and no one has ever challenged her freedom. But she has stated that she has never really felt totally free, thus her connection to these characters and her compelling reasons for writing their stories.
"Lipstick Under My Burkha" is not a perfect movie, but Shrivastava tries mightily to bring to attention to the struggles of women in everyday India. Her effort, "Lipstick Under My Burkha", was initially banned from theaters in India for being "lady-oriented", but she persisted and the film was released in her home country in July.
The dialogue by Gazal Dhaliwal is laced with a good amount of humor and pathos. It's also sexually graphic without showing any female nudity. And, in spite of all that I know and see of other cultures daily, it is forever shocking that in 2017 we are still witnessing the denigration and violence against women in a supposedly free and democratic country.
Shrivastava is doing her part --- claiming a "true victory for the voices of women in India". Let's hope others take up her mantle in the name of freedom.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!