The censor board’s alleged reasons for the stay were as follows: “The movie was too lady-oriented”, “The movie placed fantasy above real life”, “It had sex scenes, abusive words and audio pornography”. In addition to these concerns, the board also stated that it could hurt a particular section of society.
While explicit sentiments, dialogues and fantasies in a male-oriented project have not been withheld by the censor board (released examples include Great Grand Masti, Kya Super Kool Hain Hum and others), the same in a female-oriented project became too much to handle for the board members. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the delay brought the very issue under the spotlight.
Shunned by the CBFC censor board of India, the director Alankrita Shrivastava took his work to various international festivals and screened the boundary-pushing project. After receiving accolades around the globe, the movie was finally slotted for a release in the country. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) came as a savior for Lipstick Under My Burkha and demanded an explanation for the delay from CBFC.
What’s the film about?
Exploring female sexuality via the stories of four women in Bhopal, the movie shuttles from one protagonist’s plot to another with seamless ease, showcasing the desires, dreams, and voices of different women from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, who suffer similar issues of being questioned by society for wanting more than they are taught to receive. The first woman, 55-year-old widow Buaji (Ratna Pathak), finds her sexuality awakened by a swimming coach. Expected to act as a chaste widow, she struggles with self-expression in a society that has already decided how she should live her life.
Shireen (Konkana Sensharma) is married to a man who sees women as pliant bed warmers and a source of reproduction. Oblivious to the concepts of consent and women working, he humps his wife at free will, gifted to him as a husband by society. Meanwhile, Leela (Aahana Kumra), who is being forced into an arranged marriage, decides to use her sexuality as an escape and a form of rebellion by plotting an escape with her lover – she dares to dream.
For Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), the burkha she wears as forced by her parents adds to her tendency to rebel. A stone’s throw away from her home, she sheds the burkha and embraces herself as a singer who idolises Miley Cyrus. Each of the protagonists longs to be heard, accepted, and move beyond the lives they are trapped in.
After months of a battle to be heard, the release has given a voice to the women of India – women who belong to all economic classes, religious backgrounds, and family settings. By breaking the norms of patriarchy, where women are objectified and given a certain role, Lipstick Under My Burkha shatters the dominant narrative with a woman’s point of view.
Yes, the movie is about sex, desire, needs and wants – and yet it deals with matters beyond that. It is more about freedom, choice, consent, and expression. As the censor board plans to live in a box, burkha or not, women in India are supporting bright and bold lip shades.