Alankrita Shrivastava: A woman looking at women
The writer-director on her new film, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, and the scarcity of feminism in Hindi cinema
The intriguingly titled Lipstick Under My Burkha, Alankrita Shrivastava’s second film, was one of the most talked-about films at the recent MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Shrivastava moved from Delhi to Mumbai with the sole ambition of making movies. Since her debut in 2011 with Turning 30!!!, she has been committed to telling stories about women, from a woman’s gaze. Edited excerpts from an interview about the new film:
‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ is a multi-story narrative about four small-town women. How did you find the characters?
I was brought up in an upper middle-class, well-educated milieu, but I have never felt fully free. Therefore it started with me wanting to explore this one feeling. Turning 30!!! was set in my urban milieu, so I thought, why not explore this feeling in a setting which is not mine, but where the feeling is the same? Then I thought about exploring a society where there are external barriers. How will women react then?
The first character to trigger things off came out of a meeting with a former landlady. I always met her at the landlord’s house, where she sat quietly in her burqa. Then one day she called and asked to come and see me. I thought it was about the flat lease, but she came and just chatted. That’s when I realized she was a dynamic person and both of us had so much in common. There is something very universal about the inner turmoil of a woman. The title is metaphorical and more about hidden desires.
How would you describe the film?
It’s a light-hearted story of four women of different ages who know each other. Each one is a complete story. They are all chasing their small dreams and looking for a little space in their own lives. But how much can you keep rebelling in secret? At some point you have to be brave and take the step forward. Konkona Sensharma plays a housewife who secretly works as a salesperson. Ratna Pathak Shah is a widow who has a phone thing (affair) going on. Aahana Kumra plays a beautician with a two-timing life going on. Plabita Borthakur plays a student trying to be cool in college. My former landlady set off Konkona’s character; the others are imagined.
Do you think there is enough feminism in the Hindi film world?
I am very critical of anything that propagates patriarchy and misogyny. A lot of mainstream cinema does this. Some films propagate stalking, and you wonder, do they not know what it means to be stalked? This idea that “no” means “yes” makes me livid. I feel a very strong connection with women writers and with writing about women. The work of Doris Lessing, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Elena Ferrante, Penelope Fitzgerald and many others influences my work. As for women-centric films, I loved Pink. It was path-breaking and moved me.
So are we breaking stereotypes?
To see where we are, you have to see where we came from. And in that sense this is a step forward. It’s better to have some films that are addressing these questions, even if we don’t like the way those questions are being answered. There are still too few films about women. A discourse can build up only if there are more films with more nuanced stories.
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