Thanks to the immense reach of social media and a campaign that leveraged upon the best-selling topic of today’s digital world, Lipstick under my burkha managed to gather a lot of applause even before its release. Sadly, while the promotions had a progressive and outspread view of feminism, the movie turned out to be almost one-dimensional.
Lipstick under my burkha is a story of four ordinary women of different ages seeking emotional and physical contentedness. Director Alankrita Shrivastava paints four characters in the hustle and bustle of old Bhopal. She cleverly divides these into two of each religion to establish the uniformity of gender inequality. There is Plabita Borthakur as Rehana, a student who juggles between a veil clad obedient Muslim girl and a rebellious Miley fan. Konkana as Shirin is a talented saleswoman outside her home, but inside she is a baby popping sex slave to her jobless husband. Leela played by Ahaana Kumra is strong headed and ambitious girl, stuck between two different men for love and marriage. One old woman Usha, only known as ‘Buaji’ to the world played by Ratna Pathak Shah proves to be the strongest character amongst all. This ‘buaji’ is not a relationship that the world shares with her, it is a tag, a reminder of the expectations and boundaries drawn for her by the society for her gender and age.
What weaves these stories together is an unusual narrative of Hindi erotic fiction and also the ‘red’ lipstick. There is one scene in which all 4 women apply the red lipstick, even if there is already a different shade of lipstick in place. So much to emphasise the symbolism. Though it is interesting how a walkthrough of their near ordinary life attempts to take us through their gravest of problems, all this effort seems half-hearted. While the performances are persuasive, the characters themselves are half-baked. Despite all the women pouring their heart out, there are hardly any emotional peaks. The plot fails to live up to its expectations with feminism being handled so loosely. The most surprising part is the shallow depiction of women’s liberation through sex and cigarettes. Of course, there are moments of brilliance but most of them are credited to the veteran talents more than anything else.
The inconclusiveness of the film works in its favour as it rightly leaves you with a thought provoking question of what might happen if these women break their shackles. An underwhelming experience after all the build up, watchable for its heart in the right place and the talented ensemble.