On 16th July I read an article about a groundbreaking book The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide to Mind Blowing Sex  the first such guide written by a Muslim woman. The author has chosen to remain anonymous but the book is making waves with women loving it and even men asking for specific advice.On 23rd July I read an article about the Saudi King’s royal decree on May 4 to repeal the male guardianship system. On 23rd July I read an article about Syrian civilians celebrated their escape from an ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, north Syria by burning burkhas, which they were forced to wear under the group’s oppressive rule. On 23rd July I watched Lipstick Under My Burkha (LUMB), a film that forces me to ignore all the above and acknowledge male dominance in every possible way.

LUMB could also be called Rosie’s story. Is Rosie the young college girl who shrugs her burkha off in a public toilet to saunter into college wearing designer jeans and boots? Is Rosie the young beautician who craves sex as well as adventure and hatches plans with her boyfriend to escape the dreary confines of her hometown? Is Rosie the devoted mother of three young boys who moonlights as a very successful sales lady without her husband’s knowledge? Or is Rosie the devout fifty five year old matriarch who lords over her ancestral home, business and family; reads steamy romances hidden between pages of prayer books and has anonymous phone sex with a much younger man?

Rihana Abidi (Plabita Borthakur) shoplifts to dress like the cool girls in college and stitches burkhas every evening, for sale in her father’s store. She loves Miley Cyrus, hums Led Zep and falls for Dhruv (Shashank Arora) the stoned college drummer. Leela (Aahana Kumra) waxes, threads and beautifies the neighbouring women when not engaged in steamy, clandestine sex with Arshad (Vikrant Massey) the local photographer. On her mother’s insistence, Leela gets engaged to Manoj (Vaibbabh Tatwawdi), an eager to please young man who dreams of losing his virginity to his bride on their wedding night. Shireen Aslam (Konkona Sen Sharma), a super saleswoman during the day is a mute sex slave at nights when Rahim (Sushant Singh) her Gulf returned husband demands his conjugal rights with no foreplay, tenderness or consideration. She dreams of a life as a successful professional, beyond frequent abortions and mundane domestic chores. Usha Buaji (Ratna Pathak Shah) is a successful entrepreneur and the apparent matriarch of Hawaii Manzil, a crumbling mansion in Bhopal, where all the abovementioned ladies and their families live. Buaji reads thrilling romances and has anonymous, erotic phone conversations with the studly swimming coach.

Rosie is the embodiment of them all. Ladies, we have all seen Rosies. We have also been Rosies at some point. When we wanted that dress our parents wouldn’t allow; dated the wrong boy; sneaked out of home for a forbidden party; smoked; drank; flouted tradition; fought to be independent; wanted more in the bedroom; buried our notions of excitement and settled for humdrum; dreamed; desired; lusted and wanted more. More than what we were taught we could have; more than what the society was ready to accept…..

Writer Director Alankrita Shrivastava does a very competent job as the narrative weaves in and out of these four lives with dexterity, offering us glimpses and insights of happiness, camaraderie, bias, infidelity, innocence, prejudice, love, obsession, dependence and more. The talented cast puts on a great show and you get carried through the film with not much effort. Ratna Pathak Shah is a delight and Konkona Sen Sharma sparkles as brightly as ever, even through her hijaab. The film neither preaches nor offers solutions and therein lies its success.

However, there were parts where I wanted the film to deliver more and was disappointed that it did not. While painstaking efforts have been put into detailing every female character, the men are uni dimensional, almost cardboard representations. Talented actors like Sushant Singh and  Vikrant Massey, the latter in a very different avatar from his earlier films, have predictable roles which is a pity. The narrative suddenly goes into fast forward mode just before the ending. A series of incidents leading to the climax are put together so quickly and haphazardly that they seem contrived and I wonder why the director did not spend a few extra minutes to make them more believable.

Lipstick Under My Burkha sets out to make a point and does it rather well. An important film that questions the social fabric of our country; it leaves you with many unanswered questions. Questions that will have no answer unless we educate our future generations to think, feel and act differently. And if you are a person who seeks answers beyond the obvious, it may also leave you with questions about right and wrong, not just from the perspective of the Lipstick Ladies.


Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa July 2017

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