Lipstick Under My Burkha Movie Review: It Is Bold But Not Beautiful!

Movie: Lipstick Under My Burkha

Starring:Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ahana Kumra,Plobota Borthakur

Directed by: Alankrita Shrivastava

Rating: ****(4 stars)

An inherently murky claustrophobic  air pervades this inconsistently brilliant hard hitting raunchy ‘ram’-com, very conscious of its responsibilities as post-feminist cinema on women’s powerment.

Here is a film that deserves a rousing ovation for bringing out the sexual fantasies and other unspoken yearnings of four middleclasswomen in a non-metropolitan milieu eking each out an exciting existence from the hard brutal raw material of her inert life.

But the film falls short of  being  genre-defining. Shrivastava whose earlier and only film Turning 30 only hinted at the post-feminist explosion of Lipstick Under The Burkha, takes charge with an all-knowing confidence of  four women from different walks of life and belonging to separate generations .

Perhaps  to offset the mess that they make  of their  lives, the lineup of women is a little too tidy and symmetrical. Usha(Ratna PathakShah) is 50-plus, Shireen(Konkona Sen Sharma) is 30-plus, Leela(Ahana Kumra) is in her 20s and Rihana (Plabita Borthakur) , the baby of the empowering harem, is in her teens.It all adds up with a tantalizing cohesiveness, leaving nothing to chance. Maths  in  place, I had seen the same galactic configuration of representational women in Leena Yadav’s fabulous Parched last year, except for the fact that Parched though a celebration of feminism  at the grassoot level , was a visually beautiful  film thanks to its desert scaped panorama which caught the women’s sexual candour in vivid colours.

Lipstick Under My Burkha revels in its deliriously designed dimensions  of dinginess. This is Bhopal at its most basic strata. The film resolutely refuses to capture the film’s beauty, focusing  instead on the crowded stifling lanes and gullies where furtive sex is undertaken in community toilets and where women have to  toil over sewing machines and microwaves while father, husbands, boyfriends and lovers sow their wild oats and come home in time for the cornflakes.

This film is actually about four women leading dual lives and hiding  dark dirty secrets from the men in their lives.The men  of course are blinded by the floodlights of patriarchy. They are not allowed to show in sensitivity.

To their credit the vast cast has a blast breaking one kind of gender stereotyping that such films breaks, and also dodging the trap that a film of this  nature lays down for actors who have to talk about condoms casually . Ratna Pathak Shah is expectedly outstanding as the repressed Bua who has phone-sex with her swimming instructor(Jagal Singh Solanki, excellent). She manages to make the character’s inviolabe coyness  a cute cocoon awaiting metamorphosis. But the explicitness of her conversations with her sex-object(interesting reversal of traditional roles here) elicits more giggles than shock from us.

Surely, this Buaji could have  done better that …errr…this.KonkonaSen  Sharma has the most sympathetic and therefore most difficult role as an oppressed Muslim wife who gets raped every night before sleep.Yawn! While the actress is habitually competent here I find Konkona relying excessively  on stock expressions of wistful yearning. Sushant Singh as her insensitive husband shines in a thankless role even when he has to  utter banal lines like, ‘Biwi hoshauhar ban-ne ki koshish mat karo.’

And I thought this line of spousal thought went  out of fashion withSahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.

The youngest rebel of the quartet Rehana(newcomer PlabitaBorthakur, just about adequate) throws off her  burkha , steals Britney boots from malls and parties wildly with girls from homes far  more privileged than hers and romances a drugged drummer(ShashankArora, dutifully dazed). And when her mortifying secret life is discovered by her shamed father we are supposed to feel protective towards Rehana.

Sorry, not happening.

The most unsympathetic protagonist is Leela, played with persuasive  gumption by Kriti Kumra. Leela  has a perfect (read: boring)fiancé(Vaibhav Tatwawdi, excellent), a mother who leads a life of shame to bring up her daughter(the mom  has been posing for nude paintings for years, she tells us and we are meant to sob), and yet all Leela wants to do is f..k, f…k and f..k with her scummy photographer boyfriend(Vikrant Massey doing an incredible  volte face from his virgin angel act in A Death In The Gunj).

What does Leela want? I can’t say. Neither can she. Kumra playing beautician, shares some excellent erotic screen-time with Konkona in a sequence where the former removes the latter’s hair in private places.Again this sequence has  a direct echo in Parched whereTannishtha Chatterjee sponges the abused wife Radhika Apte’s breasts.

A  pity,   Lipstick Under The Burkha couldn’t do to the post-feminist genre what Dunkirk has done to the war epic. It moves with seductive stealth through the lives of the four women but does not eventually evoke  the memorable images  from the great feminist and post-feminist films of Indian cinema including Parched. Nonetheless this is a vital and in many  ways, great film more remarkable for what  it doesn’t say about women who long for sexual salvation than what it does say, so explicitly.

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