For those of you, who felt that the film ended on an open note, well, here’s over to the director
Alankrita Shrivastava, the director of the feisty film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, is one happy camper. Not only has the film left an indelible mark on the box office, it has also been garnering some good reviews and very positive word-of-mouth, thanks to which, the film is now in its third week and still enjoying a good run. Speaking to us in an exclusive chat, she opens up about how she finally feels vindicated after a long struggle with censorship. While she is ecstatic about the success of her film, she also expresses the desire to see more such films do well in India. And for those of you, who felt that the film ended on an open note, well, here’s over to the director to present her side of the story. Read on…

Lipstick Under My Burkha is going great guns at the box office. Do you feel redeemed especially after the film faced such issues with certification?

I am just happy so many people are engaging with the film and I am getting so many wonderful messages from people – both men and women, surprisingly. So yes, I do feel vindicated. Also, I think that the time has come to tell women stories unapologetically. It is so important to have this space for women to express themselves. I feel it was very unfair that they were trying to gag this voice.

Do you think the CBFC controversy actually helped catapult a niche film like Lipstick Under My Burkha in the league of mainstream films?

I can’t thank the censorship for anything. In a free and democratic country like India there is no space for censorship. I do think the good thing that came out of it was that there were a lot of conversations about women and sexuality and how that is represented in cinema, where storytelling has been in control of the men and the female voice is missing. I feel that these were conversations that we should have had long ago, but we had them in 2017 because CBFC refused censorship to the film. It’s important to speak about what’s happening to 50 per cent of population in India. If you see other industries the glass ceilings are being broken, how long will we live with this censorship and heroes being the center of everything?

Talking about glass ceilings being shattered, there is a raging debate in the industry where actresses are demanding pay parity. Your thoughts…

First of all, for actresses, other actresses are around. But just look at the disparity between the ratio of male and female directors, cinematographers and other technicians. The profession is very unstable. A lot of female assistant directors, end up taking channel jobs. It is very important to have female voices as a part of popular culture especially in a country like India where there is so much violence against women. Why should only the male perspective be perpetuated in the society?

Do you think Lipstick Under My Burkha will bring about a positive change in the manner in which niche films are viewed in India?

There needs to be more space for independent cinema. What’s interesting about Lipstick doing so well is…we did not have a theatrical trailer, we did not have promos for radio, we did not have media-net, we could not afford TV promos, we did not even have those big newspaper ads, so it is really the power of the film due to which it is running. We need new economics for independent cinema and I hope the film turns out to be a ray of hope in that direction.

Did you receive any reactions to the film that surprised you?

There’s a blog written by an Engineering student on how he went to watch the film expecting it to be a sex-fest and how he came out feeling he was glad he went for the film. There was a girl who shared how her father had gone to watch the film but when asked he said he had watched Munna Michael because he was too embarrassed, too shy to tell that he had watched Lipstick. A girl wrote to me saying how she watched the film with her mother, who kept holding her hand and crying throughout the film. I am quite surprised to see so many messages of empathy from men. Also, I am being told by people how men around them start laughing when there is nothing to laugh about, in an attempt to hide their discomfort.

The film has an open ending. Why did you keep it so?

You know in India, there are two things I absolutely detest – one is the intermission. I don’t think there should be one and I want to start a campaign against it as then people start comparing the two halves of the film, which is one whole part. And the second is the expectation of happy, resolved endings. Only in India we want everything to be sorted but real life is not like that. If I had to resolve their lives, I could have done so. But I think what the four of them would have done the next morning isn’t important, what’s important is that now they have each other. We may or may not be happy with the choices that they make the following morning but they will make their own choices. I felt like whatever I would choose for them wouldn’t have been the right thing.

I feel like there was only so much that Shireen could do, or Rehana would do. It is not like Khoon Bhari Maang that they would take up guns and shoot people. That is not how life is. Life is how you subvert things and try to live. I feel that it was a happy ending in the sense that they had realised that the power lies within them – whether they choose to change their life the next day or a year later. Life is like that…we cannot resolve everything overnight. I didn’t want to have an unrealistic ending.

So, there’s nothing that you would want to change about the climax of the film, then?

No, I wouldn’t. I feel there is strength in sisterhood. And I think it is more thought-provoking in this manner that the audience will go home and think about it rather than be happy thinking these four women have their life sorted. I would rather you imagine what happened to the characters. We are not used to realism in cinema…this is the most real ending possible.

Don’t you think that awareness wasn’t really a problem as far as these issues were concerned and that people might have wanted to know what the solution is?

No, I am not a doctor to have a solution. Neither do these character know. And I don’t think that there is one clear cut answer to that. I was only telling the story of these four ordinary women. It’s a slice-of-life. I have always maintained that there is no message in the film. Just that, for two hours I want the audience to feel what it’s like to be these women, to experience their ups and downs, and joys and sorrows. That’s all that there is to the film.

The track of the girl who is soon to be married also didn’t go down well with a few of my friends, who questioned her integrity, since she had agreed to marry a guy while cavorting with another. Is cheating on someone a form of rebellion?

I think we should stop judging women. It is a huge thing that we do and we should stop doing that to ourselves and other women. She didn’t want to marry that guy, right? Why is she two-timing? She is in love with someone else? What would she do?

People expected the film to be about rebellion since the name is very radical but when, in the climax, the character goes, “Jhoot hai, lekin sapne dekhne ki ummid deti hai” isn’t it sort of defying the whole sense of fight for freedom? Are we, as women, only allowed to dream big and be content in the dreams being crushed under the patriarchy?

I can’t decide what the people decide to take back from the film. That’s not my intent though. I feel like these women are anyway rebelling. I think in small towns women are constantly rebelling to work their way around the patriarchy, to find that little happiness. I am honestly not into messaging at all. So, it’s really on people as to what they take back. According to me, it is a very hopeful ending and the four women would do something very interesting the next day.

It was being said that men would be uncomfortable with the film. But when buaji is thrown out of her house, Shireen is told to quit her job, Leela is left by her would-be husband and Rehana told to quit college and stich burkhas – How is it empowering women? Won’t women feel rather helpless considering that they were rooting for these women throughout the film?

That’s for them to decide.

If you had to do a spin-off on any one of the characters, which one would it be?

I would choose Rosie from the book.

Do you think educating children about sexual expression is more important than the clinical sex education?

Sentisising children about sex from an early age is a great idea. But I can’t comment on this because I don’t know what the sex education curriculum in India is like. But, to normalise sexuality is important.

According to you, how pressing is the issue of women empowerment in India, where a rape takes place every few minutes?

I do feel, even rape in India is so prevalent because we don’t stop molestation. Obviously this is only my theory but I think rapists get confident when their acts of molestation go unchecked. They get more and more emboldened to do these things. Instead of asking women to alter their ways, tell the men, who are committing the crime, to stay at home.

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