Skip to main content

Your free what's on guide to the NT

Q&A with Alankrita Shrivastava

DIFF'S opening night film is Alankrita Shrivastava's hit feminist black comedy Lipstick Under My Burkha. The film was so shocking to some in India that it was threatened with non-classification by the country’s film certification board for being ‘lady oriented’ and containing ‘audio pornography,’ she told Off The Leash.

Why did you want to make Lipstick Under My Burkha?
As a woman living in India, I have often wondered why I don’t feel fully free. Even though I was brought in a liberal family, with liberal education, I think the society one lives in seeps into one’s being.

There are often unexplained feelings of guilt and shame and inadequacy, the feeling that something keeps holding me back internally. I wanted to explore this feeling, but through characters and a world where there are external restrictions to one’s freedom as well. I think that’s why I started thinking about these four characters and the film began to take shape in my head.

Which of the four women characters do you feel is most underrepresented, or neglected, in current Indian cinema?
For me, all the characters are in a sense one character. And I do feel that women are overall not represented sensitively in Indian cinema. There is objectification of women, a boxing of them into stereotypes of purity versus evil. There is very little space for ordinary women in Indian cinema, with their many shades of grey.
I also feel that the gaze through which stories are told, and hence women represented, is totally male. I think it’s high time that we actually made a conscious effort to have films made through the female gaze.

The oldest character, Usha, is largely underrepresented in Indian cinema. Because women after a certain age are considered to just be asexual. So I think that is perhaps new. Also the character of Shirin, the mother of three, her story is also not the kind of story one sees often on screen in India. And of course, the meta character of Rosie, the girl in the book, who in a sense speaks for all of them, is also an unusual character.

Why did the Central Board of Film Certification try to stop the film from being screened and how did you feel?

The CBFC said the film is “lady oriented,” “a fantasy above life” and contains “audio prornography” and “contagious/ continuous sexual scenes.” Some reasons like that… But essentially the Board was opposed to a film that tells stories from a female point of view. They viewed the film as a threat to patriarchy, and hence felt uncomfortable with it. For once the women were telling their own stories intimately. I think that scared them. The candid femaleness of the film bothered them I guess. Because here was an alternative point of view, that was questioning the status quo.

I just realized that in India women are not as free to express ourselves as we imagine ourselves to be. I realized that the freedom of expression and gender equality that is guaranteed to us through the Constitution of India needs to be claimed and fought for. I realized that nobody is going to gift me the right to my free voice. I also realized that it is crucial that Lipstick Under My Burkha is allowed to release commercially in theatres in India, because it was not just about this one film. It was about the right of women in India to be heard and to tell their stories.

And it was about setting a precedent that women’s voices will not be gagged and crushed. And that in a free and democratic country, where adults can elect a government, we must be able to make and watch the films we want to.

Also the entire incident was very telling of a society where there is so much violence and discrimination against women. Our popular culture does not allow any space for an alternative female perspective or narrative. I think it is crucial for India to be a healthier society to have much more space for women’s stories and books and songs and films, created through the female point of view.

What has been the feedback from the film – what has surprised you?

The film has got a lot of love and support from across the world and in India. People have really embraced the film, men and women. And that has been very heartening. In India, it has got a lot of people thinking and debating and arguing about what it means to be a woman in India. So that is fantastic. The film has done really well in India theatrically, and that for me has been a huge victory. It feels like the battle was really worth it.

Lipstick Under My Burkha | Thu 14 Sep  | 7.15pm | Deckchair Cinema




More reads

Advertisement: Darwin Fringe 2024