“Name! What is your name?”
“What? Shall I write Bua ji on the form? Tell me your name !
She hesitates and stumbles. It has been time since she last uttered those words. In a cracked voice, she manages to utter, “U-USHHH-USHA PARMAR.”
This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie, and Ratna Pathak Shah enacts it beautifully, with her sheer cinematic brilliance.
Four women, from completely different walks of life, living in the same locality, have their stories, beautifully interwoven, to finally create what ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’ is, where Burkha becomes the metaphor of the life these four women lead, becoming the voice for those millions of stories of repression and brutality, and the Lipstick becoming the metaphor of all those dreams and desires that are silenced, hidden beneath this flag of morality and a un-justified way of life, creeping into our living systems, like a parasite feeding off on a dead body.
The mode of narration is a book titled ‘Lipstick wale Sapne’, in which the protagonist called Rosie, admires taking glances at her landlord, while he is bathing, and dreams of one day, developing an intimate physical bond with him. This is narrated by Ratna Pathak Shah, with absolute erudition, her voice having an element of excitement, almost similar to a child while reading a new story or getting a new toy. Her character, widowed for several years now, finds refuge for those silenced desires in erotica like the one mentioned above, which she hides in a book that people expect to be read by people of her age, especially women.
There’s a married woman, who works outside as a salesperson, scaling heights in her work, takes care of her three children, while her husband mostly works overseas and comes back every two weeks. It is unknown to him that his wife is financially independent, and in his mind, his honor as the breadwinner of the house is exclusively reserved for him to enjoy. The only interaction he has with his wife is forcefully having sex with her, and telling her that since she’s a wife, she should act like one, and not try to act like a husband.
There’s a college fresher, who leaves her house in a Burkha, wearing it over to hide what she is wearing beneath, what she actually wants to wear. When she’s away from the prying eyes of her family, she is herself. There’s a scene in which she gets scolded by her parents for an absolutely worthless reason. Of Course, elders don’t need a reason to command the women in the house, do they? She goes to her room, puts on music and dances as if it is the last night of her life. She lets go and that is how she transcends her limitations.
And finally, there is this feisty young woman, who is a beautician, but also an aspirant entrepreneur, who dreams of making it big in her life, a character not so appreciated in a woman. She’s sexually independent, and when her mother finds that out, wants to get her married. She wants to run away, but she can’t. She wants to stay, but she can’t. Stuck between a life that she wants to live, and lives that are unfortunately dependent on her, she dreams, although sometimes cursing herself for that, but she still does, because no matter how much patriarchy tests you, it cannot possibly succeed in letting you forget who you are, not permanently at least, and permanently, you can only be one thing, a human!
All these narratives get interestingly interwoven by this story called, ‘Lipstick wale Sapne’, is narrated in the background. Alankrita’s directorial skills are absolutely brilliant and work absolutely perfect.
However, the strength of Lipstick under My Burkha lies in its absolutely honest, truthful, brutal, funny, raw and hard-hitting manner. I watched this with a very dear friend of mine, and she said that the representation is beautifully crude. All that I could manage saying to her was, “Yeah. Because it’s real. The reality is crude.” All the characters in the film know what they want, and where they want to be. They try going beyond the shackles of patriarchy, in their own beautiful ways, and although the ending is not what it would have been expected, where all those erotica in Bua Ji’s Closet, are tore apart and thrown away, she can be seen collecting the torn pages, as if what is lying scattered are not pages of the erotica, but dreams and desires, tucked inside the closet. Lipstick wale Sapne, Chandni Raat wale Sapne, honeymoon wale Sapne, and dreams much more important than attending Moni Baba’s Satsang, or getting married earlier or covering herself with a Burkha or staying at home and cry.
I am a proud atheist, but if any human I would ever worship on this earth would be Ratna Pathak Shah. She’s an acting goddess. Nobody but her could have portrayed the vulnerability and yet a certain sort of childhood in Bua Ji’s character, so transparently. Konkona Sen Sharma registers her remarkable capabilities as an actor yet again, with this outing. Ahaana Kumar feistiness and boldness will make you fall in love with her, but that, only if you understand the arbitrariness of Gender and are not equipped with this wonderful habit of boxing people in. Plabita Borthakur also impresses with her skills to portray the complexities of a young girl’s life.
“Aakhir kyun itna darte hain hamari aazadi se ?” “Why are so you afraid of our independence?”“Of course, the time comes in every girl’s life, when she experiences the desire to be a woman, for the first time.”
What really does it mean to be a woman? I guess it’s time we realize that this question has no answer. Just because a body is born with a vagina, and not a penis, does not mean that it is not capable of taking its decision on its own.
Lipstick under my Burkha does not offer any solutions. It represents, in a beautifully crude manner, what happens all around us, all the time. It could not have been any other way because like I said, it had to be real and reality is crude.Peace!
#Staytuned for more from Aman Sinha!