Disclaimer: This is my first movie review. These are purely my thoughts and opinions. Spoiler ahead.
I call myself a bystander because I'm a girl who is not allowed to go to movies in theatres. According to my community (Pentecost Christians from Kerala), it is a sin. Especially as a girl committing this act, I would be condemned and judged by everyone. I have to prepare myself to go to the movies.
There are only three girls in my office including myself. We had decided a couple of weeks back to watch some good movies together. Something like a girls day/night out. We live in three different parts of Kochi, Kerala. Finding a movie time keeping in mind our work timing and safety is a bit hard.
When Lipstick under my Burkha was released, we decided not to miss this 'women's empowerment', 'fearlessly feminist', 'must watch' movie. We picked a weekday and checked out the tickets. The show timings were ridiculous. In fact, all the women centric shows we have checked out so far have had ridiculous timings. It would be during office hours or really late in the night. To make sure that none of us had to roam around alone at night, we decided to stay at my place after the movie.
There were very few people at the theatres. And of course, there were those indifferent people who would laugh at scenes where they showed women being suppressed. Lipstick Under my Burkha was no different. There were hardly twenty people watching the movie. And this made us curious about the hype this film has garnered over time.
We had great expectations from this film. Just days before, I had read posts which said there were a lot of scenes which were censored by Pahlaj Nihalani and the team at the film certification board because: 'The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contagious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society.'
We had heard great reviews from our friends who had already watched the movie. I mentioned the same to some of my male friends that I was going to watch it and they said, "Oh, 'that' film?"
Multiple guys had the same reaction. Why, in this society, is a women centric film called 'that' film? I can't figure it out. This same thing happened during the time Parched was released.
The first half of the movie takes it's own time introducing us to the four protagonists in the movie. Rehana Abidi (Plabita), a college girl who earns to be free and dreams of ripped jeans as a symbol of liberation; Leela(Aahana), a beautician who wants to escape the chains of her community; Shireen (Konkona), a housewife with three children, who is raped every night and wants the alternative life of a saleswoman; Usha (Ratna), a 55-year-old widow who hides erotic novels under religious texts and finds a reawakening through a telephone romance with a young swimming coach.
Director Alankrita Shrivastava opens the door to show us what goes on in the lives of these four protagonists. Each of them shows rebellion in unique ways. While the Muslim girl closes her door to dance her rage without music, the beautician sells off her trusted ride to buy a ticket out of the claustrophobic community she lives in. The housewife sleeps next to her kids to get away from her rapist of a husband at night after she finds out he is cheating on her. The older woman closes the door to her bathroom and lets the tap run to muffle the moans of her reawakened desires.
Each of these characters reminds you of someone you know. Makes you look at older women, at suppressed house wives, at freedomless college girls and working women in a new light. I noticed that the cast in the movie were entirely fair women. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, I am not aware.
The second half moves a bit faster and ends abruptly. The backdrop of Diwali crackers when the four of them face the consequences of their rebelliousness would make you feel the explosive weight of the consequences. Are we to imagine that their lives would turn out alright after the grim ending? Does the movie mean that women empowerment can only be shown by portraying the transformation sexually tepid women into sexually active women? Does the movie mean that even though you rebel against the suppression, you won't win and will have to suffer the consequences of your rebellions?
For me, the movie left me hanging. The ending where all four of them sit laughing and smoking the cigarettes, makes you realize that Lipstick under my Burkha might not change anything for women in India, but, will surely encourage us to change the way we perceive women and talk about empowering them for real.