Beneath the Burkha and the Turban

Lipstick Under My Burkha is a film that starts with, stays on and ends just like life; subtle, messy and abrupt. And that’s the amazing thing about this film. That, despite being so subtle and messy and abrupt, it left such a haunting impression in my heart that I had to take at least two days before I could write what I really feel about this film.


There has been many attempts in past in Hindi films to explore “women’s sexuality”. And I am not talking about what most folks know as “sexual orientation”, which by the way is problematic in it’s way. Many like, Arth and Astitva, have been great. Lipstic… takes the conversation forward. And no, I am also not talking about women’s sexuality, and hence the quote-unqoute above. This film for me is about intensely personal spaces between people where sexuality lives, thrives or is obscured, be it women, men or in anyway one experiences and expresses one’s gender and sexuality.

While what Shirin (Konkana) experiences is her part of sexuality it is as much as her husband’s and his girlfriend’s. The duality of what it means to dominate, and almost oppress and rape, someone in bed (wife) and what it could mean to secretly explore the tenderness of romance outside marriage with someone you can’t really control (girlfriend) has long been part of male sexuality. Leela’s (Aahana) story doesn’t talk about her own but also what it means for her boy friend and fiancee and also presents a side of what it has meant to her mother which is expressed through her profession. Rehana’s (Plabita) claim to her fullest expression – love the scene where after being stopped from dancing in a function and scolded, she goes back in the room and starts dancing to her own tunes on the bed – is also about how her parents, friends and boyfriend view womanhood. While Usha’s (Ratna) story is about her deepest desires, its also about how her own family and Swim coach looked at what’s possible and acceptable as a desires.

So if this film is about women’s pursuit of their liberation from repressed understanding about sexuality, it is as much as a call for us to recognise, name, unpack and possibly transform the limited notions of romantic, sexual and individual possibilities within human relationships. And in that, this film is as much about women seeking their libration as men being so blind that they can’t even see how they have shackled themselves to the unwritten but deeply coded rules of patriarchy and are at such a loss of the possibility of realising their full potential and that of their relationships.

While booking a ticket on BookMyShow, it offered a special screening for women. I think it should actually offer a special screening for men, because it’s them who must watch this film, if there must be special screening. Central Board of Film Certification called it a “lady-oriented” film. I only wonder how limited their understanding is around human relationships and in that human sexuality.  If you haven’t watched this movie yet, rush to a theatre as soon as you can.

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