'Lipstick Under My Burkha' Review: A wasted opportunity that ends up as a lame exercise in voyeurism

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Lipstick Under My Burkha is finally set to release after a long fight with the CBFC over the nature of its content. Produced by Prakash Jha, the film is written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava who has assisted Jha on films like Gangaajal, Apaharan, and Rajneeti. Lipstick Under My Burkha stars an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Ratna Pathak, Konkona Sen Sharma, Vikrant Massey, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur, and Shashank Arora. Slated to release on 21 July 2017, the film is being distributed by Balaji Motion Pictures. The movie was first screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in October 2016 which was followed by its world premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival 2016.

Let’s accept it that when it comes to depiction of sex in movies, Indian filmmakers fail to match the panache of their Western counterparts. Perhaps, it can be attributed to the censorship woes that our filmmakers have to grapple with. Burdened by the endless restrictions on their creative freedom, Indian filmmakers often struggle to express themselves through their highly scrutinized works. Whenever one gets to watch any sexual content in an Indian film its crude portrayal often leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Somehow the finesse is just not there. The only exception that comes to mind is Mani Kaul’s wonderful short film ‘The Cloud Door’ wherein the master Indian filmmaker portrays sexuality with such subliminal perfection that one just can’t help but bask in its breathtaking beauty. But then it’s unfair to compare any average filmmaker with a maestro like Kaul.

Lipstick Under My Burkha makes sex look burdensome. The countless sexual scenarios that the movie offers, one after the other, make us feel a sense of revulsion instead of making us want to celebrate them. One wonders if the movie’s actual intention is to turn us off. But that doesn’t seem like the case, for the movie seems quite desperate to invite us into the world of sexual fantasies that can be accessed through the microcosm of four women: Usha (Pathak), Shireen (Sen Sharma), Leela (Kumra), and Rihana (Borthakur). Lipstick Under My Burkha is essentially about these four women trying to overcome their frustrations in a bid to realize their sexual fantasies. Usha, a single woman in her 50s, is addicted to reading sex stories. Shireen, a married woman in his 30s, finds herself caught in a vicious cycle of pregnancies and abortions. Leela, in her 20s and engaged to a man she doesn’t fancy, is having an affair with a photographer. Rihana, who is a teenager, is a college fresher desperate to break the shackles imposed by her conservative father.

All of these four women are quite capable in their own ways and none of them would pass for a simpleton. In fact, they are certainly above average in terms of intelligence. One can certainly buy that these women have strong sexual urges but what one can’t digest is the unsavory and preposterous ways that these smart women resort to in order to fulfill their sexual cravings. Certainly, women are far more cerebral than what this film makes of them. Sadly the female filmmaker who has made it seems to have underestimated both the grasp as well as imagination of women. Lipstick Under My Burkha lacks the subtlety that the subject matter deserves. It’s too loud and in your face and shockingly makes sex look outworldly. The end result is a movie that’s cheap, sleazy, salacious, corny, and voyeuristic. We will find ample examples in world cinema that tackle similar subjects with far more maturity. Some most noted ones are Nymphomaniac (2013), The Piano Teacher (2001), Belle de Jour (1967), Damage (1992), and Secretary (2002), among others.

Overall, Lipstick Under My Burkha seems to offer a lot of promise but fails to do justice to its subject matter. While the intention behind the film is certainly good the execution is disappointing to say the least. Even as a cinematic story the film falters in the end as it fails to deliver a closure that would extricate these women from their fetters. Why should they pay the price for trying to live their sexual fantasies, as bizarre as they may be? Lipstick Under My Burkha is a wasted opportunity that ends up as a lame exercise in voyeurism. It pretends to liberate women but ends up alienating them further. One can learn more about the nuances of sexual intercourse by watching the episodes of A Girl's Guide to 21st Century Sex or by reading the Kama Sutra. However, the acting efforts are quite commendable, in particular those of Ratna Pathak and Aahana Kumra.  Lipstick Under My Burkha does have its moments but ultimately it fails to pack a punch.   

Rating: 5/10

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

Lipstick Under My Burkah - Official Trailer (YouTube)

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