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Film Review: Lipstick Under My Burkha


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This bold feminist film by director Alankrita Shrivastava focuses on the sexual desires, dreams and ambitions of four middle class women in a small society in India.

Though feministic films have been seen before in Arabic countries, Lipstick Under My Burkha stands out in India for showing a daring and colorful picture of the secret life of women.

Lipstick Under my Burkha is narrated by the voice of Rosy, a character from the forbidden erotic novel “Lipstick Dreams” read by one of the main characters. This voice becomes the expression of the dreams and desires of the “every woman” of India. In this case, this is represented by four very different women who are each having their own rebellion against the patriarchy.

Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) is the young Muslim girl who hides her burkha as soon as she comes near college ground and dreams of being the next Miley Cyrus. But she spends her evenings, ironically, sewing the burkhas she tries so desperately to escape, in her family’s shop.

Leela (Aahana Kumra) a Hindu beautician in love with her Muslim photographer boyfriend dreams of freedom, but reluctantly gets engaged to a nice, rich Hindi boy, who wants their home to be so comfortable she'll never have to set foot outside it.

Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) is 35 and the mother of three. Every night her husband forces himself on her, in the daytime she lives the secret life of a successful door to door salesman. But as a promotion happens, she faces the dilemma of giving up her job or telling her husband.

And then there is Auntie Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah); 55 years old, widowed, and a very respected member of the community, secretly reads erotic novels, but when a family outing leads to meeting the young swimming instructor (Jagat Singh Solanki), she can no longer repress her desires, and she starts a phone affair with him, pretending her name is Rosy.

What all these women have in common, is they have to lie and hide their dreams from not only the men in their world, but their entire community. This is a place where the norms dictate women to act in a very specific way.

Of the four stories, the one standing out is the sexual re-awakening of Auntie Usha. Ratna Pathak Shah as Auntie is both hilarious and a bit pathetic, but you can’t help being engaged with the naivity and clumsiness which she uses to ensnare the young swimming instructor.

The film draws a very harsh picture of Indian men, but the heroines in the film are not painted as pure either. For instance, we see Leela’s struggle with having two men, and how she uses sex to try and keep her boyfriend, while still being engaged.

What we meet is women who take desperate measures, lying, stealing and living double lives to get a sense of freedom, and to be in charge of themselves in a world where being your own woman will get you disowned and disrespected.

The cinematography of Akshay Singh's is generally hectic, showing us the many people living here, but at the same time using colors to make the main characters stand out.

An amazing scene is the engagement party of Leela where we get a bit of the Bollywood vibe with Indian music and dance, and Rehana embarrasses her family by getting so caught up in the music, that her passion for modern twerk dance doesn’t hide very well.

Despite the very catchy and thought-provoking title of the film, not all the main characters are in a burkha or even Muslim, but the metaphor of the veiled desires of these women seeking liberation to be themselves holds very true.

Watching from the western world, Lipstick Under My Burkha is a reminder that gender equality is far from achieved on a global level, and that it is something worth fighting for, so all women can enjoy the human right of freedom.

Getting this film to the cinemas is an amazing step for India, and the fact that it was first banned from cinemas, for being “too lady orientated”, is a sure sign that films like Lipstick Under My Burkha are still very much needed.

Watch the trailer for Lipstick Under My Burka below.

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