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‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ comes back to Britain (#LAFF2017 update and repost)

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ comes back to Britain (#LAFF2017 update and repost)

This is an ACV FB repost from March 19 – the site was temporarily down and much of our coverage of the London Asian Film Festival (March 9-19 2017) remains on Facebook. The film returns to the UK – see tweet below…

Painting the town red – Indian womanhood comes of age…

Controversial film is hardly so in western filmmaking context but power and fury confront India reality…

IT’S caused a stir wherever it’s been shown but one of the stars behind ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ wished it hadn’t been ‘banned’* and that people could watch it as a film on its own merits.

Ratna Pathak Shah, a well-known face from the acting world in India, said: “I know people say it’s good publicity, but I just wish the film could be seen as a film and not with the controversy around it.”

Rosie (Ratna Pathak Shah) ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha

She spoke at a special panel following the screening of the film at the Court House Hotel in Shoreditch, London, last night as part of the London Asian Film Festival, which closes today (March 19).

In a wide-ranging post-screening discussion which involved Oxfam CEO head Nisha Agrawal, the panel, collectively, said the film expressed a sense of wanting to break free but being restricted by society’s perceptions – and both men and women acting as a terrible break to ambition and desires that should be recognised as normal – not taboo or dangerous.

Agrawal said Oxfam supported the film and had to get the message across because the issues were so pervasive and all-encompassing. It gave the film an award last year in India. She said things were changing but not fast enough.

“Women say they are bringing up their sons and daughters equally but they have yet to work on themselves,” she stated.

Shah, who is married to well-known actor-director Naseeruddin Shah, plays one of the four central leads in the film which has failed to get a certification licence to be shown across cinema halls in India.

To all intents and purposes, though not completely accurate, the film is ‘banned’ from being shown in theatres up and down the country where it was made. It did premier at the Jio Mumbai Film Festival last year and was rapturously received.

Rosie (Ratna Pathak Shah) likes saucy novels…

Usually the certificate board recommends cuts to filmmakers to obtain a licence for general screening, but in Lipstick’s case the whole film has been deemed unsuitable for viewing.

When Shah was asked in an open question segment, what had led to the ‘ban’ – ‘was it the depiction of women’s empowerment or the content?’ – Shah said it was both, and that empowerment probably frightened people far more.

The crude translation or truth is that India’s establishment or the powers that be are neither ready nor comfortable for a film like this to be shown up and down the land, especially in small towns where mores remain steadfastly conservative and unyielding.

“OMG women want to have sex,” stressed Pathak in mock horror.

The film charts the conflicts and pressures of four different women in small town India.

In this case in Bhopal, India, which obviously has a life beyond the gas tragedy.

Shah plays ‘Usha’, a widow in her 50s who yearns for love and affection and reads racy Hindi novels.

Leela (Aahna Kumra) in ‘Lipstick under my burkha’

A handsome swimming coach becomes the subject of her desires and wants – with disastrous consequences.

In the same block as the old crumbling Mahal which Usha owns, is a young college student ‘Rehana’ (Plabita Borthakur) who aspires to be a pop star and idolises Miley Cyrus but is from a very traditional Muslim family who disapprove of her even dancing in public.

She is the one who wears lipstick and jeans but leaves her house in a burkha to placate her strict family.

Another mid-20s woman is Leela (Aahna Kumra) who is in a passionate physical relationship with a photographer colleague but is set to be married off to a wealthy, mostly sweet, but unworldly partner, while the woman who makes up this quartet is Shirin, (Konkana Sen Sharma) a very successful saleswoman – but is sexually abused by her husband who is also having an affair and detests her working and not being at home with their three children.

“It is about modern India and what is happening,” said Pathak.

The other members of the panel were Dr Naila Kabeer, head of the gender unit at the LSE, and Natalie Perera, star of ‘Bazodee’ which also screened at the festival and a rising actor/writer in the UK. Kalyani Rhodes-Gandhi from Oxfam UK and Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry, director of LAFF, also contributed to the debate.

Review: The film itself might be a little uneven but there is no doubting it pushes a lot of buttons on the pressures facing modern women, especially the young. As such it is entertaining, fun and insightful, but director/writer Alankrita Shiravastava may have packed in a bit too much for one film. Nevertheless, you can see why audiences connect with it and champion it – this is Indian womanhood as you are unlikely to have ever seen it before – and deserves to be commended for its boldness and strength of purpose. The world needs more women filmmakers – full stop. (Sailesh Ram, editor) .

Postscript May 31 2017
*The film has now been granted an ‘A’ certificate in India and can be legally screened there – it is understood some changes have been made but reports in India suggest the certification board continues to prevaricate. Watch this space as they say.

Q&A and panel discussion from London Asian Film Festival screening March 18

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture