Theatrical release of ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ crucial, says Alankrita Shrivastava
New Delhi: After more than six months of battling the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which refused it a certificate for “contagious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”, director Alankrita Shrivastava will finally see her film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, hit the screens across the country on 21 July.
A push from the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) that granted her an adult certificate and acclaim from several international film festivals only add to the buzz around the controversial film. In an interview with Mint, Shrivastava speaks about why the theatrical release of this film symbolizes a wider acceptance for women’s expression and freedom in India and what she wants people, both men and women, to take away at the end of two hours. Edited excerpts:
How does it feel now that Lipstick Under My Burkha is finally getting released? How important is that for you compared to all the wide festival acclaim already received?
I think it’s a wonderful feeling to know the release is on Friday, I’m very excited to see how people in India engage with the film. At a deeper level, I feel a sense of victory, not just for myself but for the whole idea of women in India being able to express themselves and tell their stories from their point of view. Of course, I feel like I have the added bonus of really having travelled with the film. I’ve lost count but I think it’s travelled to 35 film festivals which are all sites for great cultural experiences and it’s really wonderful to see your film compete with other independent cinema of the world and see some sort of resonance of themes and style. There were very strong emotional reactions to the film and I’m very happy about it.
I don’t know about the ultimate aim but a theatrical release means a lot because so many years of your life go into one film and it is very important to have people watch and engage with it. Also, the film is made in India, it’s about people in India which is why a theatrical release was crucial and I was very clear that we must release the film theatrically. Especially in the case of independent cinema, it’s so hard to get your film funded, distributed and exhibited.
But I don’t want to disrespect any platform. However people watch the film, the idea is they should connect with it.
Are you okay with the version you’re bringing out as approved by the FCAT?
The good thing is the FCAT actually never asked us to delete anything except trim a few seconds of the sex. Not that I think that should be done but it’s okay. Considering the context where the CBFC was not going to let us release at all, I think to cut a few seconds of sex to release the film is all right. But I think we had a fair discussion with the FCAT. They were very clear in their judgement to call out the CBFC for their decision. The inner desires of women cannot be a reason to refuse certification to a film. I’m very happy we’re living in a functioning democracy where some form of redressal is possible.
Does the story of Lipstick Under My Burkha come from some personal space or experience?
I think it’s a very personal and intimate film. It does come from a very lived experience for sure but not in the direct way that this may have happened to me. But I think the film comes from that kind of turmoil and space where as a woman, you’re searching for freedom and not feeling fully free because of external restrictions.
How have logistics of distribution and exhibition been for the film?
I haven’t directly been involved in those. The distribution team at Ekta Kapoor’s ALT Entertainment is taking care of that (distributors and presenters of the film). They and Prakash Jha Productions will look at things like the spreadout of screens, which cities will have how many theatres showing the film, I think all that will be locked in the final week.
You’ve come out with some really fun videos on social media to promote the film.
When ALT Entertainment came on board as distributors and presenters of the film, the marketing team began thinking of what we could do. There was a lot of brainstorming and reaching out to different portals, we knew we were not advertising on television, so we had to make the most of the digital medium. Ekta and her team have been really fantastic in figuring out what we can do with the resources especially considering we don’t have money for stuff like promos. That explains things like tie-ups on digital platforms, “The Lipstick Rebellion” campaign and not wasting even an element like the poster and making it about the spirit of the film rather than just have stills. There are a lot of innovative ideas and a couple of more videos are to be expected.
How does it feel to be releasing the film in an industry that still thrives on gender stereotypes?
I have spoken out a lot on this but what bothers me more is that the audience is not given a chance to engage with content that does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. And that was my big problem with the CBFC decision as well—the hypocrisy of us being okay with such objectification and the audience being conditioned to it without there being enough alternative content so people should be free to choose and know there is another way of looking at things. In India, I feel the space for that is too small. The mainstream will always be the big brother in the room but there should be a level-playing field. The other onus is on the audience as to whether they can embrace alternative content. As long as there is variety and space, it’s good enough but we are very far from that place.
What do you want people to take away from your film?
At the end of those two hours, if whoever is watching the film can take away the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the tears, heartbreak, laughter, madness, passion, ambition, the little secrets and triumphs of these four women and feel like they’ve lived and understood a bit about them, I think my job as a filmmaker will be done.