Daring to unshackle, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ opens 15th annual IFFLA

Director/ Producer Shirley Abraham (Film: Cinema Travellers), Director Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick under my burkha), Actor Aahana Kumra (Lipstick under my burkha); names left to right

(Left to Right) Director/ Producer Shirley Abraham (Film: Cinema Travellers), Director Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick under my burkha), Actor Aahana Kumra (Lipstick under my burkha); Courtesy: Twitter

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — The 15th annual Indian Film Festival kicked off Wednesday evening with the opening night film Lipstick Under My Burkha. One of the words that stood out during red carpet interviews was ‘bold’. This is absolutely the case with the opening night film. It is apparently so bold that it is currently banned in India because according to the Censor Board, it is “too lady oriented”.

The director Alankrita Shrivastava and one of the lead actresses Aahana Kumra were in attendance and talked about the film during the Q&A after the screening. Kumra reminisced in front of a sold out crowd, her first thought about Shrivastava when she read script, “Man! This woman has guts to write a film like this!”

The film is set in the old town part of the city of Bhopal in Central India and the story follows the public and private lives of four women – two Hindu, two Muslim, living in close proximity sharing more than they know, in common.

The world around them and their circumstances stifle their lives but they all rebel in their own ways to follow their dreams. “It represents a lot of truth of the existence of women in India…there is a lot of discrimination against women” explained Shrivastava. The film blends these characters well by switching between them in a way shows how different and similar they all are.

Although entirely fictional, Shrivastava says, the film exposes the real truths of the life of women in India. The four women despite their different lives, lead a very similar existence, one that is shackled by societal expectations suffocating their dreams.

(Left to Right): Plabita Borthakur, Aahana Kumra, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak in the movie, 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', the contraversial film that opened the 15th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 5th, 2017

(Left to Right) Plabita Borthakur, Aahana Kumra, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak in the movie, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, the controversial film that opened the 15th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 5th, 2017

A widow and a matriarch is expected to be there for managing financials affairs and protecting the family property from greedy builders, but never again to dream of sex let alone, love or romance. A teenager in college who hides her Rock’n’Roll persona under a burkha. A young woman who is being forced into a marriage with man she does not love. A young mother in a loveless marriage with an oppressive man.

The film shows how each one of these women in their own secretive and bold ways try to unshackle themselves, daring to dream as they gasp for freedom against the contrasting backdrop of Bhopal. A city that suffered a huge tragedy in 1984, caused by a gas leak causing thousands of deaths and long term injuries leaving the city divided with no development in the old city and a newer more modern and developed part of town.

The young and gifted director shines when you look at the contrast in Bhopal as analogy to the the old traditions and societal norms these women abide by and the new world they want to build and live in. When asked why was the film set in Bhopal,  Shrivastava shares, “I wanted a place where Hindus and Muslims live in close proximity because two of the characters are Muslim and the other two are Hindu”. She adds, “I liked how the small town aspect captured the essence of old and new and the changes that are reflected in the town as well as the characters.”

While a crowd of nearly 500 film-lovers filled the theatre to watch this film at the Regal LA Live in Los Angeles, the film might never see the light of day in India.

Currently the film cannot be distributed or shown in India, without the appropriate approval and certification by the Censor Board, Shrivastava says, she is hopeful. When the Censor Board wanted to label the film ‘pornographic‘, Shrivastava and Kumra point out how this reaction is really telling of the “patriarchal society in India trying to control change”.

However Shrivastava is not backing down, screening the film world wide, showing at festivals and with the support of her producers, fighting the Censor Board through a legal course of action. When asked if she feels scared or concerned about her safety, to be taking on hundreds of year of Indian patriarchy, Shrivastava responds with a sublime clarity, “there’s no other way!”

She also takes comfort in the fact that so far the film has received a lot of positive reaction and she notes that wherever it screens, “people feel a heart to heart with the film.” She believes, even though the film is set in India, viewers, especially women anywhere can associate with these characters because what women go through transcends culture and race.

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