Spoilers ahead, be warned.
So what exactly was the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) and its chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, against after watching Lipstick Under My Burkha, which they had refused a certification to? After all, they were so traumatised by what they saw, they didn’t think it deserved even an Adult certificate. Does Mr. Nihalani not think women should be allowed to use birth control by their husbands? Or is it that he thinks women need not have consensual sex with their husbands? Could it be that he finds it appalling that women might want to earn a living and contribute to the household? Or is it that he thinks daughters should be married off against their will? Or maybe he and the CBFC feel that widows should indeed have their heads shorn and be sent off to Varanasi, because god forbid they have sexual urges and want to live a normal life?
I watched Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha on a Wednesday afternoon in a hall which was full of women of all ages. All of whom laughed at the right moments and grimaced when they were meant to. Unlike when I watched Rahul Dahiya’s film set in Haryana, G Kutta Se, and the Haryanvi men sitting next to us, guffawed and tittered at every scene of domestic violence and marital rape and sexual harassment in the film.
The audience for Lipstick, thankfully, seemed slightly more evolved.
To give the CBFC its due, this is a “woman-oriented" film. It’s about women who want to break free from the shackles of their everyday lives. But no, contrary to popular discourse, the film is not about the sexual awakening of these women. Exactly one woman in the quartet has a sexual awakening of sorts. The film is about a young woman played by Konkona Sensharma who moonlights as a saleswoman and wants to contribute to the family income. She also has to deal with a husband who refuses to use birth control, and tries in as subtle a way as possible to get him to use a condom, and let her work. It’s about another young woman, Aahana Kumra, who is being married against her wishes and who simply wants to leave small-town Bhopal and become a honeymoon planner in New Delhi with her photographer lover. There’s a young Muslim girl, Plabita Borthakur, who is allowed to study in college by her parents, but is a closet Miley Cyrus fan and wants to wear jeans and go to parties and hang out with boys much like most college-going girls like to do. And then there’s Ratna Pathak Shah, who is a widow who loves reading Hindi soft-porn romance novels and falls in love with a younger man.
Also read | Film Review: Lipstick Under My Burkha
It is a film about their various attempts at breaking free from their lives of repression and establishing some semblance of being
According to the CBFC, this was a film which was “too bold for the audience". Which again makes me wonder what kind of people are sitting in the CBFC and deciding what is permissible for Indians to watch or not. Which right-thinking educated person has a problem with women wanting to partake of consensual sex and not be forced to have sex by their husband? Which right-thinking person thinks that young girls should be kept behind a burkha and be thankful that at least their parents are providing them with a college education, so what if they have to come straight back home and stay locked up after that?
Also, the CBFC’s reaction to the film shows a clear lack of comprehension because this is not a film which shows that breaking free of your shackles is either easy or beneficial. In fact, there is a comeuppance for each of the women. Which makes me wonder if the CBFC watched the entire film or not.
Should you watch Lipstick Under My Burkha? You must. Whether you’re a man or a woman. Watch it to understand how regressive the CBFC is. Watch it to remind yourself or educate yourself about the everyday lives of skullduggery, discrimination and sexual harassment that many women endure, while slapping a smile on their faces when they step out of their houses. And watch it because finally after nonsensical “woman-oriented" films like Mom and Maatr with superstars, here is a small-budget film which makes sense and doesn’t make a joke of the response of women to sexual assault.