CIFF 41 Film Review

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Morgan Minch

​March 30, 2017

​I prefer to ignore any buzz before I go into a show.  I knew from the title this movie would be taboo. But, I didn’t know what I should expect in terms of format. I secretly hoped to see something bright like Bollywood, sonata-like in form and heavily romanticized. But my better judgement told me this would be darker and raw, an anti-Bollywood.
Only after seeing Lipstick Under My Burkha did I read about it. The Central Board of Film Certification in India refuses to certify this film, which means it cannot be publicly exhibited in India. The film is considered to be too ‘lady oriented’ by the CBFC. That’s actually the point of the film, though.
It starts with a narrator speaking almost lyrically about a woman who feels oppressed. She is careful not to reveal too much. We are introduced to four women in short bursts—a seemingly happy couple taking honeymoon pictures, a college-age girl slipping off her burkha in the restroom to reveal jeans, an ‘auntie’ figure in the courtyard of her community, and a burkha-clad woman going door-to-door selling insect-spray.
I learned about each character’s particular oppression. What was hard for me to wrap my head around was the fact that the film is quite funny as it showed you these issues.  Was that a characteristic of Bollywood shining through, or was this humor dulling the shock of their opression for Western audiences? I have to imagine that this was made with the notion that was to be an awareness film.
Each woman’s struggle could, in a way, be involved with the narrator’s sinful prose she elicited from time to time. She hints at secrets and pleasure, but most of all, fantasy.
The couple who posed for pictures are lovers actually doing a demo reel for their dream business of personal honeymoon photography, but the young woman is betrothed. The college gal has dreams of being a feminist rock-star, but has to hide herself from the world—until she meets the right classmate.  The saleswoman is forced to have babies while secretly excelling at work, and finally asks her cheating husband if she can take the promotion.
The auntie figure is the lonely landlord of the fortress of condos all these women and their families reside in, which is being encroached upon by the feds on a daily basis because it is too old to be a residence. This strong lady had the balls to sign up for swimming lessons after being shamed for jumping in the pool after her flailing nephew. She grows close, in her mind, to the chiseled young lifeguard.
The scarlet sin of the narrator’s words applies to each woman in a sequence of vignettes. The longing for passion is too strong. The deeds are done.  What will happen to them?
My critique would be that it is too lighthearted. A film about women’s inequality in India doesn’t warrant this chick flick development. It was almost campy at times. The movie focused on their passions more than their terrible oppression. The development was less dramatic, more optimistic. Perhaps it was made to show the course of women who’ve made similar choices, or are thinking about it, and how they might begin to deal with the consequence society has for them. I guess it hits you after seeing it when you think to yourself, “It doesn’t get better for her, or her.”