Lipstick Under My Burkha – Just Let The Women Be!

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I finally watched the “lady oriented” movie, ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’. For those of you who do not know, a copy of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) letter to the film’s producer Prakash Jha had stated as follows:

“The story is lady oriented, their fantasy about life. There are continuous sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused.”

Needless to say, there was an outrage. How can a movie be refused for being “lady oriented”, when movies such as Grand Masti, Kya Supercool hain hum and other rubbish that is male oriented and objectifies women is normalized?

I had shared an article on this sometime in February. The response was mixed. One gentleman has directed a question at me:

“Tanvi Sinha, would you show porn to your children, if not then how can you support a movie like this?”

I may not show porn to my future children.  But that does not mean that they would not watch it themselves eventually. Speaking of children…

Recently, I was trying to watch a movie on Netflix with my sister, 9 year old niece and mother. Father was also around in the living room, but busy on his laptop. I checked the parent guide for a particular Hollywood movie, and confirmed that it did not have any nudity.

The movie started. A woman took a home pregnancy test. She told her boyfriend she was pregnant. Ten minutes into the movie, my mother felt uncomfortable. This was Netflix, uncensored. Who knows what would come next? I was strategically reminded that ‘Dhishoom’ was coming on Star Gold.

I complied and disconnected Netflix. We started watching safe Bollywood. A pretty girl appears in a bikini. Varun Dhawan’ character is lusting at her, trying hard to look at her face while admiring her breasts.  There are some cheap jokes. There is a song “Janeeman AAh, Gale lag jaah” with some weird moves.

Everybody is comfortable now.  Good old Star Gold.  We are assured that there would be no nudity. We are watching what we have watched for years and normalized. Objectification of women, women fantasized from the man’s point of view, women not having any mind of their own, cheap jokes with double  entendre. Yes, all this is acceptable to show our children.

Coming back to the A rated, lady oriented movie – I completely enjoyed watching it. The script was crisp. The performances were outstanding.  Here is what worked for me:

  1. Ratna Pathak as Buaji is awesome. In an effective scene, a woman talks about looking for a bride for an old, widowed man. “35-40 saal ki ladki bhi chalegi!” Men obviously have needs. They can remarry at any age, to any age. But how can a 55-year-old women possibly have any desires?

2. The youngest female character in the movie, leaves home in a burkha only to change to jeans, in college with bright red lipstick. How many women do we know who did that in college? I even know older women living with parents who leave their homes completely covered , and end up changing into short clothes at pubs / friends places.

3. Konakana Sen’s character gets raped every night. Her husband is abusive, chauvinistic and a philanderer who is least bothered about her health. He has never heard of foreplay and does not believe in protected sex. However, she catches him romancing another woman. Seems he does know how to make a woman feel good! Just that the wife is his property, someone who does not deserve that affection.

4. The fourth character was the one I could not relate to at all. She runs a beauty parlour, and plans to start a business with her photographer boyfriend while being engaged to a stable, nice and boring arranged marriage guy. I did not like her character, and her scenes in the movie.

Now, coming back to the things that people have raised objections to:

  • Ample smoking scenes including the one at the end.
  • A confused woman cheating on her fiancé with her boyfriend
  • Some graphic scenes that may not be the most tasteful
  • Audio pornography?

Every time a movie like this is made, people attack feminism. Women empowerment is not about having sex, smoking, and getting pregnant before marriage. Okay!! I do not support adultery, cheating and smoking. But who said this movie was about how women should behave? Maybe it was just meant to be watched as a story from a woman’s point of view? Did we not see the warning, Smoking kills?

Another point of criticism was the ending. The women do not really do anything drastic to change their circumstances. They in fact seem to have conformed to patriarchy. In the last scene, they just all get together to express their disappointment about how dreams remain dreams. Reality is so different. But doesn’t it make it more realistic? Do we not do that in our daily life? With all our problems, shattered dreams, and unfulfilled desires, we share our feelings with our girlfriends and get a moment of relief.

What other movies have dealt with women’s emotions and desires, maybe with lesser visuals and more ‘seriousness’?

  • Remember that speech of Tabu’s character in the movie Astitva?
  • Nafisa Ali’s track with Dharmendra in Life in a Metro

What could have been a different ending:

  • Konkana divorcing her husband?
  • Ratna Pathak giving a speech on widows’ happiness like in movies such as Baabul?

Maybe. But no, this was not that kind of a movie. Every movie is differently made. Maybe in two hours, that’s all they wanted to convey.  Maybe it would have been boring if it went on and on with an ‘empowering victory’ for every character. Maybe they just wanted the women to be. The characters were real, and they were doing what they could in their own capacity to empower themselves. There was no conclusion. There was no preaching.  It was meant to be more entertaining, and I did enjoy it. Most people I know who watched it liked it too. Why can’t we accept it for what it was?

Maybe if we had 100 movies like this, “lady oriented” we would not have put so much pressure on it to be necessarily empowered. But we don’t. We have very few, and when we do we somehow want to justify it was worth so much of rebellion with the CBFC. It should earn its place with something useful for women like  – employment, voting rights, driving rights, rising against domestic violence?

Do we put so much thought into our regular ‘normalized’ , senseless Bollywood rubbish? Why did Badrinath gag his would be Dulhaniya in the trunk of his car? Why do our heroes smoke? Why is it cool for them to have multiple girlfriends?  No! it is just a movie, after all. If we do attack these movies, we are told: Why do feminists have to get so serious about everything? Where is their sense of humour?

So there. Women need not be fantasized. Women need not be idealized. They are regular human beings. Just let them be….

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