Why audience reaction to Lipstick Under My Burkha left me horrified

Audience reaction to Lipstick Under My Burkha has convinced me that Pahlaj Nihalani was right, and apparently, words like bra and condom are funny. Read on.

Lipstick Under My Burkha released last Friday after a long struggle with the Censor Board of Film Certification, and was finally cleared after 27 cuts. One of the main reasons for the delay: the film was ‘lady-oriented’. A term, we feminists hadn’t realised could ever be used as an insult. But my happiness and excitement for the film was rather short-lived. As I entered the movie hall for a late-night show I saw gangs of boys entering as well. Good sign, you’d think. About time men viewed something from a woman’s perspective too. As the night and the movie progressed, I realised I was wrong.

The movie starring veteran actresses Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, and newcomers Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, with brilliant male co-stars Sushant Singh, Vikrant Massey and Titli actor, Shashank Arora was what it portrayed to be, not some revolutionary tale but a story of four ordinary women whose stories matter. Was it wrong to expect the Indian audience to be sensitive towards women’s needs and understand a movie that was from a woman’s perspective? Turns out, it was.

The audience watching Lipstick Under My Burkha with me clapped, yelled and laughed at scenes of marital rape. An act that sent shivers down my spine, made them jeer mockingly. The sheer inability of these men in understanding a woman’s point of view and their absolute non-acceptance of a woman’s desires or rights was shocking to say the least. In those 127 minutes, what was going on the screen and off it was so numbing that it left me wondering what future our society is heading towards.

The movie is not about revolution – as even the director, Alankrita Shrivastava pointed out in one of her interviews to a leading news channel – but about telling the stories of four women in a patriarchal world. But in doing so, she clearly wanted to sensitize the audience about the wants and desires of women, the issues they face at different stages of their lives, how they try to counter them and how society seeks to pull them down and ‘put them in their rightful place’ — be it by means of force, humiliation, shaming and/ or restrictions. But in the end, they come together. They find support in each other, deriving strength from their mutual experiences.

The crowd clearly enjoyed the movie. No, they were not celebrating the idea that women were trying to take control of their lives and being vocal about their sexual desires. They just seemed pretty kicked about those scenes where these characters were humiliated for having .. well, thoughts of their own:

1. Konkona Sen Sharma 

Konkona plays a married woman who tries to help out her husband, Sushant Singh, by working as a saleswoman. She is raped almost every night by her husband. A particular scene where he forces himself on her, she tells him ‘jalan ho rahi hai‘ , the entire row of guys sitting behind me erupted in laughter.

In one of the closing scenes, when she again gets raped by her husband, as he holds her hands and puts his hand over her mouth, the crowd behind me jeered.

2. Plabita Borthakur

Plabita plays a simple girl from an orthodox Muslim family, whose father has ‘allowed’ to let her join a college. There’s a scene in the movie where during Aahana Kumra’s engagement ceremony, Plabita’s character who is a follower of Miley Cyrus and Led Zeppelin almost goes into a trance while dancing and starts head-banging. As her father looks on, her mother scolds her, asks her to ‘have some shame’ and locks her inside the room. Singing a Miley Cyrus number, she starts head-banging and dancing again venting out her anger, the audience behind me audibly wondered, ‘isko kya hogaya, pagal hogayi hai kya?‘.

3. Ratna Pathak Shah

One of the finest actors of the industry, Ratna Pathak Shah plays Buaji, an old woman. Without getting into details, I shall straightaway come to the scene where she is humiliated by a younger guy who she secretly likes. The guys sitting near me found this very amusing and couldn’t stop themselves from agreeing with the ‘rightful punishment’ being meted out to her as she is thrown out of her house.

Double-standards, hypocrisy and different parameters for genders, call it whatever you will but by the end of the movie, I was, at least, sure about one thing — that Pahlaj Nihalani was right in trying to ban the movie. For the ‘refined sexist’ taste that we have in movies with Sultan, Dabanng, Kick, Bodyguard and more making it to the blockbuster list, we do NOT deserve a movie like Lipstick Under My Burkha.

(Also Read: Man who’s never bled 5 days a month claims period pain is a myth, Twitter responds)