Banners: Prakash Jha Productions, ALT Balaji
Producer: Prakash Jha
Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Cast: Konkona Sensharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra, Plabita
Borthakur, Vikrant Massey, Sushant Singh, Vaibhav Tatwadi
Writer: Alankrita Shrivastava
Music: Zebunnisa Bangash
Seldom does the Hindi film industry produce a film that unabashedly celebrates the essence of womanhood. Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha not only tells a compelling story but also audaciously talks about women’s sexual desires and fantasies, which is still taboo in Indian society.
Neatly woven around four ordinary women, of different ages and backgrounds, in Bhopal, writer-director, Alankrita Shrivastava smartly uses the burkha as a metaphor for the secret lives these four protagonists are leading in order to seek personal and sexual liberation.
Buaji aka Usha (Ratna Pathak) is in her late 50s and she almost doesn’t remember her name. Tagged only as ‘Buaji,’ it is assumed that she is too old to have any kind of sexual desires. While Buaji is fierce, takes care of her grandchildren and fends off greedy developers wanting to destroy her home, she also has a few suppressed desires and turns to erotic novels to indulge her fantasies.
In fact, all these four characters are connected through the lead character of these novels – Rosy – and it is Buaji’s soft voice that reads out the story of ‘Rosy’ in the background during the key moments of the film. Usha Bua is happy in her secret world, but her fantasy takes a real form when a hunky lifeguard coaxes her to learn to swim. She develops a crush on him and even progresses to steamy phone sex, keeping her real identity hidden.
Shirin (Konkona Sensharma) is a married Muslim woman, a mother of three, whose husband (Sushant Singh Rajput) is away a lot and when he comes home, he sexually abuses her, often showing little interest in her otherwise. Shirin is a salesgirl, who has a bright future but is afraid to disclose it to her husband, for fear that he might forbid her from working.
Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) is a sweet, shy girl, who usually steps out of her house wearing a burkha, but once in college, she wears cool tees and denims. She steals her cool outfits from malls and aspires to become a part of her college band.
Leela (Aahana Kumra) is a beautician who has a Muslim lover (Vikrant Massey) but is being unwillyingly engaged to a Hindu boy by her mother. She’s actively sexual and fierce and is planning to elope with her Muslim lover.
How the story of these four interwoven characters unfolds forms the crux of the film. While the screenplay wonderfully takes us through their secret lives, the ensemble tale doesn’t build into a dramatic climax. However, it definitely weaves a colorful, poignant tapestry of these four identifiable characters.
Kudos to Alankrita Shrivastava for making this glorious film, which is not only a gusty representation of some women in the Indian society but is also funny, warm-hearted and without clichés. The film is packed with many heart-breaking scenes, which again are masterfully executed by the director.
Lipstick Under My Burkha also excels technically. Akshay Singh’s cinematography is brilliant. Editing by Charu Shree Roy is breezy and with an easy runtime of 2 hours the film doesn’t make you restless.
Performance-wise, Ratna Pathak Shah excels in every frame and Konkona Sensharma delivers a moving performance. She is brilliant. Plabita Borthakur exudes a fresh charm and wins your heart instantly. Aahana Kumra delivers a memorable and feisty performance. Vaibhav Tatwadi is fantastic. The rest of the cast support the film well.
Verdict: Lipstick Under My Burkha is a bitter-sweet film and clearly one of the best films about women you’re likely to see this year. A must watch!