Movie review – What makes Lipstick Under My Burkha a compelling watch!

“Naam bataiyye”

“Buaji”

“Kiski Buaji? Meri to nahi. Naam kya hai?”

“Usha. Usha Parmar.”

A mid aged Ratna Pathak Shah, who’s referred to as Buaji by almost everyone including people elder than her mumbles as she realizes that in quite a long time this was the first  that someone had asked for her name instead of addressing her as just Buaji.

Cast –

  • Ratna Pathak Shah – Buaji /Usha Parmar
  • Konkona Sen Sharma – Shireen Aslam
  • Aahana Kumra – Leela
  • Plabita Borthakur – Rehana Abidi
  • Vikrant Massey – Arshad
  • Sushant Singh – Rahim Aslam
  • Shashank Arora – Dhruv Bose
  • Vaibhav Tatwawaadi – Manoj
  • Jagat Singh Solanki – Jaspal

Direction – Alankrita Shrivastava

Duration – 1hr 59 mins

Genre  – Drama /Black comedy

Plot –

2017 can easily be termed as a breakthrough year for Bollywood. Directors and actors ventured into hitherto unexplored arenas, dealt with topics that were considered either too mundane or a taboo in the society. Lipstick under my burkha can easily be labeled as one of the most controversial and bold movies of the year and as an audience when you watch it without any preconceived notions, you realize why it is absolutely spot on.

lipstick1.jpg
A still from the movie

The movie starts with stories of four women each having an individual lifestyle residing at Hawa Mahal in Bhopal but bonded by mutual love and respect towards each other. Shireen is the wife of Rahim Khan who comes to India from Saudi every year for two weeks. Each visit had resulted in either Shireen getting pregnant or having to terminate her pregnancy. Already a mother of three, her husband is least bothered about using a condom or that sex is painful for her with severe infection down under. She also has a hidden identity as Magic company’s top sales girl. All she yearns for is her cold-hearted husbands affection and to have an identity of her own. Yet she can’t muster the strength to either shake off her husband when he forcefully penetrates her every night to curb his sexual desires or tell her about her promotion a a sales trainer.

Leela is a beautician in a relationship with her photographer boyfriend Arshad who also runs a small studio. Their relation is full of sexual innuendos. Her mother doesn’t approve of the relation and through Buaji gets her engaged to a boy living two lanes away. The prospective groom Manoj turns out to be too boring for Leela and the only reason she fakes agreement is because of his assurance of building her mother a house of her own. Leela dreams of travelling the world with Arshad instead of a future stuck within the four walls of her marital home.

Rehana is a college going fresher who’s also a rebel at heart. She listens to Miley Cyrus, jams English tunes, breaks into an impromptu jig at any opportunity yet maintains the dual identity of a burkha clad young obedient girl sewing burkhas at home along with her tailor father. However she has high aspirations and doesn’t mind taking not so ethical route to fulfill her little desires. In the process, she ends up flicking couple of items from few of the big shopping stores in malls.In college, she meets Dhruv who plays drums while auditioning for one of the jam sessions. They eventually connect and get close to each other.

Usha or Buaji is a middle aged widow who has still managed to retain the ownership of Hawa Mahal instead of selling it to promoters through her understanding of business and negotiation skills. She reads bunch of erotic novels in the dream series that deal with raw sex , the latest being Liptick dreams. As  part of her daily ritual, she takes out the young children of the house for swimming lessons and is pranked by one to them into the pool. Here she meets Jaspal , the swimming instructor who she starts fantasizing about soon after. She enrolls for swimming classes only to get close to him and eventually ends up talking to him over the phone pretending to be Rosy, the protagonist of Lipstick Dreams. Soon the conversations turns wild and Buajis fantasy of pleasure is satisfied through phone sex.

lipstick4.jpg
A still from the movie

All the stories run parallel with little interference in each others lives on a regular basis. On the night of Diwali, what was assumed to be progressing towards a happy ending for each one of them turns out to be a nightmare instead. I am not going to divulge the details of the happenings. But the ending of the movie is what gives out the beautiful message of picking up the broken pieces or dreams and moving on. The ending definitely leaves craving for more.

Analysis –

This film is about dreams. Every female lead in the movie dreams bigger than her circumstances or what the society permits her to. While Rehana dreams of being a rockstar and Leela dreams of being a globe trotter, Shireen dreams of an individuality and independence and Usha dreams of satisfying the desires of her body. Whether they realize their dreams or pay a heavy prize for dreaming beyond their boundaries is for the audience in the course of the movie.

This is the directors second directorial venture after the movie “Turning 30” and I cannot help but appreciate her choice of subject here. Every single character is etched out so well and detailed that one can easily identify and relate with them. These are just the regular kind of people fighting out the regular problems on a regular basis. A lot of empathy and sensitivity has gone into shaping up each character and thus at no point any of the sexual connotations or scenes come across as cheap or titillating. The humor of the film is subtle and on the point. Like the scene where an elderly gentleman also refers to Usha as Buaji or the swimming costume purchase act in the mall that leaves one in splits.

Characters –

Ratna Pathak Shah as Usha is brilliant. She sways between her desire to be like Rosy and her forced circumstantial being of Buaji. Nobody slays humor better than her and this movie is a perfect example of why she deserves meatier role in well crafted films. Konkona Sen Sharmas portrayal of Shireen is endearing and fabulous. I ended up wishing her to show a little more strength by leaving her abusive husband. That’s how strong she makes the audience connect with her. Aahana Kumra, the loudest of all of them, is spontaneous and hilarious. Plabita Borthakur beautifully brings out the layers of  conflict in Rehana. It is difficult to figure out that these two are newcomers from the depth that they bring to their individual characters on screen.

lipstick3.jpg
A still from the movie

The not so favorable point –

However, in the process of trying to be a women oriented film, all the male characters have been stereotyped into either an abusive husband, judgmental relative,dominating father, spineless and manipulative boyfriends. While the film deals quite sensibly with the real life situations of women in small cities where malls have arrived yet the thought process dates back to primitive ages, I felt it would have been equally good to see few positive and supportive male characters in the process. But this is only a minor hiccup in an otherwise brilliant movie.

My rating would be

4 out of 5

Lipstick under my burkha is one of the most relevant, realistic and brilliant films made this year dealing with the topic of suppressed dreams of the female gender. Indeed this movie is the perfect example of why women need to stand in support of each other instead of against each other. The fact that at 1 hr 59 minutes it leaves one wishing to see and know more about the happenings in the lives of these four women goes to speak volumes about its success on hitting the right chord with the audience.

Edited to add on 14th Dec – Thank you #KonkonaSenSharma for the encouragement. Indeed it feels awesome to have the review liked by my favorite actor who’s also the protagonist of this movie.

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Author: Sonia Chatterjee Banerjee

Who am I? Ex-Banker turned Blogger/Writer/Solopreneur. Any qualifications? A Post graduate degree in Chemistry followed by Post Graduate Diploma in Management. I am still trying to figure out how and when I can connect all these dots to what I do presently. Have I done any real work? If two years in Market Research and six years in Banking (three different Banks though) as Branch Head can be considered as real work. Where do I live? After a nomadic sixteen years in Delhi, Bangalore & Mysore, I am back to where it all started from - Kolkata. My favorite things - Food, travel, books and my two and half year old toddler son What is this blog about ? Sonia's musings is an attempt to channelize emotions through words and pictures hoping they touch a chord with my visitors.

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