Rehana seeks the freedom to be who she wants. A two-timing beautician (Leela) seeks to escape the claustrophobia of her small town. A housewife (Shireen) with three children seeks the alternative life of a saleswoman. A 55-year-old widow, Usha finds sexual reawakening through a telephone romance with a young swimming coach.
Review : Let’s address the elephant in the room first. This is NOT a film about sex. Period.
Okay, now that that is out of the way, let’s discuss what Lipstick Under My Burkha (LUMB) is about. It is about women, women who come from Bhopal, but who could represent any woman from any part of India. Their dreams, problems and gilded cages are universal. And therein lies the beauty of the film.
The four women are residents of an old building called Hawai Mahal in the old part of the city. Usha aka Buaji (Ratna Pathak Shah) is the matriarch of the family that owns the building. The rest are tenants. There is a sub-story about the sale of the building to make way for a mall but thankfully, it remains a minor note.
The main theme remains the cloistered lives of the women. We start the film with a narration about the desires and wishes of Rosie. We see Rehana on the screen, looking at high-end garments and accessories in a shop. The story of Rosie keeps continuing till the end. It takes us a while to figure that this Rosie is no one, or everyone. She wants to be in the arms of her lover and break free of the barriers of society (and her room’s window). But Rosie, and our four protagonists, is trapped in realities that are far more difficult than her fantasies and aspirations.
The youngest among the four wants her freedom and her life. The second is getting married to a person she doesn’t love. The third has three kids and a husband for whom she is little more than a sex doll. The fourth, in her mid-50s, is a widow. Decades of conforming to society’s aspirations has left her high and dry. When she finds a blossoming bud in this arid landscape, she goes after it wholeheartedly, despite the danger of taboo and stigma.
The performances are fantastic. All the leads have done fine work, specially Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sensharma, the two acting heavyweights. Sushant Singh as Shireen’s husband is so good that every time he comes on screen, you want to punch him in the guts.
There is a scene in the second half where Leela’s fiance explains to her about the house they’ll live in after marriage. A train passes by. In the sound of the train, Leela’s mind goes off to travel. She doesn’t hear what he says. Compare that to a scene in the first half where Shireen tries telling her husband about an opportunity she has to work as a saleswoman. He has barely any time to listen, over his lust. That’s the kind of gender relations we have here. Men and women are rarely, if ever, equal. And even in the one story where we could have had a man who stood up for women’s rights, it falls flat. The one negative thing about the film isn’t its choice of not providing easy solutions to our protagonists’ dilemmas. No! That’s okay. Life rarely has easy choices. The negative thing is that there isn’t one single male whom you could put up as one of the “few good men.” Not one. And while I accept that this is a film that shows the plight and dreams of women in urban India, it didn’t have to demonize every single male it has to make its point. True, the men needn’t be driving the women’s progress, but surely, not every man is a sexist, chauvinist, horny pig?
Keeping that one grudge aside, this is a film that very sharply captures the problems of 21st century Indian women. More power to director and co-writer Alankrita Shrivastava for that, as also to Ekta Kapoor who has produced the film along with Prakash Jha. Her films have always had an angle where they try to stretch the boundaries of the possible. Last year’s Udta Punjab (review here) and this one are in that mould.
The film could have been a shade tighter than its relatively-taut 118 minutes. At times in the second half, things seemed to drag, especially with Rehana’s storyline. The cinematography and production design are fabulous, capturing the essence of small-town India. The climax of the film left me unsatisfied though. While it was perfectly reasonable for the film to end where it did, I felt it was a deliberate balancing act between its art house sensibilities and commercial demands.
Director Shrivastav, in her second effort after 2011’s Turning 30, has made a film that ought to get her noticed by various production houses. More women directors please.
I would like to add a few lines about the censor board here. This would have remained a festival-type movie had they not denied it certification (and the resultant hype) on preposterous grounds. If you wished to stop Indian women (and men) from seeing a movie about women’s desires, you should have used another trick.
P.S. : The “steamy” scenes. None of them are meant to excite the viewer in any way. All they do is bring to light the stark realities of our protagonists.
Verdict : LUMB is a recommended watch for its realistic portrayal of the lives of modern Indian women.
Viewing Guide : I think the ‘A’-certificate (awarded after making 16 cuts) tells its own tale.
Genre : Bollywood, Drama, Romance
Rating : ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Have you watched LUMB? How do you think it is? Did this review measure up to your own appraisal? Please tell me in the comments section.
All images credits : Google Images
Thanks for reading.