Why I love lipstickwale dreams
In Lipstick Under My Burkha, the men are incidental.
- Total Shares
In May, in a conversation with the great Gilles Jacob at Cannes, he said two important things: Indian filmmakers will have to tell authentic stories if they want to win the world; and he has great hopes from women and their ability to tell new stories.
Perhaps he should have urged his successors at the Cannes Film Festival, who choose cinema from the world, to pay attention to Alankrita Srivastava's little gem. Lipstick Under My Burkha is that rare movie which leaves you with a tear and a smile.
Both moving and exhilarating it tells the story of four women in Bhopal with one thing in common - dreams. As Buaji, the lovely Ratna Pathak Shah's character says at the end of the movie, of her favourite guilty pleasure, romance novels: "Jhoot bolti hai par sapne dikhane ki himmat deti hai."
She's a 55-year-old widow who is the widely respected head of a 1902 residential building, Hawai Mahal, where Hindus and Muslims live together in a cheek-by-jowl existence - the song playing on the TV in one house echoes into another.
There's Shireen, played by the absolutely fabulous Konkona Sen Sharma, a homemaker with three boys, whose husband works in Saudi Arabia in a construction company and leaves her with a baby every time he comes home for two months. She has a secret life as a salesgirl, and she's pretty good at it too.
There's Leela, Aahana Kumra, who works in a beauty parlour, frequented by all the women in Hawai Mahal. She's in love with Arshad, the local wedding photographer and imagines herself to be Anushka Sharma to his Ranveer Singh in Band Baaja Baraat. She will start a wedding company that will take them both out of the dump they are currently living in. But of course, she is expected to get married to a man who is decent enough but insists on waiting till the suhaag raat for them to have sex.
And last, there's Rehana, played by Plabita Borthakur, daughter of a tailor who is studying in the local college and has a voice like an angel. Her hero is Miley Cyrus and she has dreams of becoming a singer, while all her parents want for her is to work hard and get a good education.
Her head though is up in the clouds, literally, with Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven being her favourite song. Dhruv, the local drummer, and hence the rock star, takes a fancy to her.
But in Lipstick Under My Burkha, the men are incidental. Yes, they are important to underline the oppressive surroundings in which these women, all residents of Hawai Mahal, live in, and they are important for sex, but that's it.
The women understand that their happiness is in their own hands (er, literally so in the case of Buaji) and not dependent on the men - whether he is a boor like Shireen's husband, a confused randy dandy like Leela's Arshad or just a careless, self-styled cool dude like Dhruv.
The character of Shireen has been played by the absolutely fabulous Konkona Sen Sharma.
In Lipstick, every woman is treated as an individual and the men in her life just a way for her to express her deepest desires. Rehana's dream, even as she shortens and loosens other people's burkhas on her sewing machine, is to be Miley. Shireen wants to become a sales trainer, even though her husband still doesn't know she has a job. Leela just wants to see the world. And Buaji, well, Buaji wants to learn how to swim because she likes the swimming instructor's rather broad and muscled chest.
"Ladkiyon ki life main rules hi rules hote hain," says Rehana's character. "Lipstick mat lagao affair ho jayega; jeans mat pehno scandal ho jayega," she says angrily, while demanding why girls can't wear jeans to college.
But each chooses to defy the suffocation of small town India - Shireen who is raped every night by her oversexed husband, Leela who imagines herself to be one half of a couple in an Imtiaz Ali movie, Buaji who reads Hindi versions of Mills and Boons every night, losing herself in evocatives phrases like "jism ke andar ka toofan and vasna ka bawandar'', and Rehana who dances like no one's watching.
It's that rare film that leaves you feeling hopeful even though it refuses to settle for the endings tied in pretty bows, with bells on. And if it doesn't encourage every woman who watches it to have a fantasy (maybe even two) I will be disappointed. Go on, you know you want it.