Banned in its home country of India but winner of the Glasgow Film Festival Audience Award, Lipstick Under My Burkha follows four small town Indian woman dreaming a better future for themselves.
The film has been recently refused certification in India because it was considered to be “lady orientated”, and contained “audio pornography”, additions which would surely only endear it the vast majority of adult moviegoers; but you do you, censor board.
The women’s stories are only loosely connected by them living in the same building as each other, so the film has a lot of ground to cover in order for each them to achieve a viable story arc. Director and screenwriter Alankrita Shrivastava balances this exceedingly well, spending enough time with each girl so we have a sense of their motivations and personalities, but keeps the film skipping along at fast enough pace that that the action never drags.
The only sacrifice is the fleshing out of the male characters who are all two-dimensional disappointments. This might have been intentional on Shrivastava’s part, the film after all is about how a patriarchal society can be so invasive in even the most private moments of a woman’s life, so why waste time beating around the bush by giving them redeemable qualities? The difference between the beautifully crafted female characters is stark, but perhaps forgivable in a film so intent on illuminating the private world of women.
Despite its subject matter, the film never veers into dreary territory and is filled with warm, comedic moments throughout. The screen is saturated at all times with a dusty sepia, but burst into full colour and life at pivotal moments and events in the main character’s lives.
There’s a really fun musical scene early in the film, where some of the characters’ dance at an engagement party. The words of the song playfully reflect the action of the story, and the characters wordlessly reveal things about themselves through dancing or furtive glances. Shrivastava is great at creating energy and unspoken emotion on her screen while still always managing to push the story forward, and the dance scene is the epitome of that particular talent.
The idea that this film might not screen for the women it was created for is a sad thought, but I don’t doubt for a second the filmmakers will rise to overcoming that challenge. After all, the message of the film is that women will always be afflicted with dreams of a better life and opportunities, no matter how much they or others try to stifle it.