“Sex”, “sizzle”, “bomb” “item” “titillation” and short forms like TNC (thigh, navel, cleavage) are words inserted into the English lexicon purely when the female is the object and men, the subject. But the young Alankrita Srivastava, who has directed LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA has turned the tables on this patriarchal mindset. In a frank one-to-one the director opens up
Is sexual liberation the bottom line you have tried to push through LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA?
Not really. But it all boils down to the suppression of sex or abuse of the woman across the patriarchal map, so the sexual desire of women seeped naturally into the script. I or my scriptwriter did not forcefully impose it into the film.
The four women in your film come from different walks of life, belong to different age groups and to different religious faiths. How did this idea strike you in the first place?
My personal experience of having grown up in different geographical and cultural backdrops in my growing years, my interactions with men and women made me realise that all said and done, women were not permitted to make their own choices. So, when they must apply lipstick, they do it under the veil of the burkha, unknown to their immediate families.
So, the Lipstick and the Burkha of the title are metaphors, aren’t they?
Yes, they are metaphors of how intelligent, angry and oppressed girls and women find their own way of negotiating through the obstacles and oppression and marginalization they live within to make their own choices. They make it in secret, thus creating a double-life for themselves.
We would like to know about your widely dispersed backdrop.
I studied in Dehradun and Delhi. I have been living in Mumbai alone for a decade now. Given this ‘freedom’ I still don’t think I am free. So, this made me think if I, from a privileged and modern upbringing can feel this way, what about the women who come from under-privileged and/or tradition-bound families? If I have little control over my happiness, what is it like for these women? I dealt with this even in my first film OPEN DOOR.
You have structured the film very interestingly with the oldest of the four women, Buaji, reading out from an erotic pulp novel and the content unfolding through the stories and experiences of these four women. How did this unusual treatment strike you?
I wanted to show that women too, love reading erotica but, ridden by feelings of guilt they have internalised through patriarchy, they read it in secret. Buaji, you will notice, mostly reads the book hidden within the pages of a different book. Erotica is written more often from the male point of view and rarely from a female perspective. Why should tales of sex only be the purview of men? It is unfair. I think women subvert the point of view of stories through the way they consume them.
So, that makes Rosy, the sexually aggressive protagonist of the erotic novel Lipstick Dreams Buaji is reading also a metaphor, is she?
Yes, yes, Rosy is a metaphor for all the four women – Buaji, a widow of 55, courageous and outspoken in normal life, tries to fulfill her sexual fantasies by identifying with Rosy from the book she is reading. I think women should be able to enjoy love, sex and romance in ways that fulfill them. If not in real life, then at least through stories. For me the Blush video is about celebrating the idea of female enjoyment and fulfilment.
Let us hear a bit about these four women.
Shirin, a burkha-clad housewife with three little boys, tolerates being sexually raped by her husband every night but seeks freedom through her successful career as a saleswoman, clandestinely, of course. Rehana goes to college in a burkha but immediately takes it off to reveal tight jeans and trendy tees. Leela is the boldest of them all. She seeks all nooks and corners and hidden places to enjoy sex with her Muslim boyfriend but actually seeks to go abroad.
'Slut', 'easy', 'impure' & 'gandi' are the terms associated with women who choose to pronounce and demonstrate their sexual desires. It's 2017 and 'healthy sexual expression' especially by women is still considered a taboo. Is this also a part of your film?
Look at some of the other characters, mainly men in the film. Leela’s Muslim lover pushes her away when she says, “at least let us have sex,” and never turns back. Rehana’s boyfriend coolly backs out without turning a hair when she is in deep trouble. Shirin’s husband not only rapes her every night, forces her to undergo repeated abortions but also commands her to stop her high-salaried career. The elderly Buaji is thrown out of her own house when her family realizes that she has been making dirty phone calls to the sexy swimming coach and also reading erotica on the sly.
So, the CBFC finally okayed the film’s release?
Yes, finally. They said it is a lady-oriented film! "women in the film are shown in bad light, particularly targeting women of certain community which might hurt sentiments." They added that "the story is lady oriented and is about their fantasy about life." The other reason cited by the CBFC is the presence of "sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a… sensitive touch about one particular section of society". Audio pornography was used in the opening scenes of DIRTY PICTURE.
How does it feel like now that the film is showing in the theatres?
Great! the film was cleared for a theatrical release in India after the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) decided that the film can be issued an adult certificate. The FCAT, headed by former Delhi Lokayukta Justice Manmohan Sarin, observed that the CBFC "misdirected themselves in denying certification" to the women-oriented film.