The 2016 film Lipstick Under My Burkha, which was directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, generated a lot of buzz. There was a lot going on during and surrounding the movie. The censor board disallowed the movie’s theatrical release due to some of its “graphic and unpleasant” content. However, when it was finally made public, people’s reactions to it ranged greatly. I recall seeing it in a neighbouring theatre and being horrified by the movie’s initial reception. While majority of the female audience members at a multiplex in the nation’s capital were entranced by the representation of the film’s female stars, a sizable portion of the male audience were busy making crude, sexist remarks, notably during Ratna Pathak Shah’s “Bua ji” moments.
But over time, we’ve grown to accept it for what it is—the quintessential female-driven film, delivered from the viewpoint of an educated, conscious woman. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen frequently in Hindi film. Ironically, the sections of the movie that men thought obscene and stupid in the theatre are the parts that I have clung to for so long. Usha/Rosy, who belongs to Ratna, should be treasured. Women rarely display vulnerability or desire on TV, much less elderly Indian women, as was previously mentioned. As the consummate actor that she is, Ratna Pathak Shah not only made Bua ji seem real but also inspired you to cheer for Usha’s success. We were with her on the voyage, encouraging her from the stands, whether she understood that or not is another thing.
Usha’s first encounter with the swimming instructor was the occasion for her to symbolically take off her “Bua ji” robe and realise that she was a full-fledged lady with unwavering aspirations and desires (played by Jagat Singh Solanki). Then, after gathering the bravery, she decides to go shopping in a mall for a “acceptable bikini,” when she eventually runs across Shireen Aslam, who is played by Konkona Sen Sharma.
Director and writer Alankrita Shrivastava described how tough it was to shoot those moments. “We had two days to complete the pool sequences. The good news was that our phone conversation with Ratna (Pathak Shah) and the coach artist was over. We were well prepared, so you know what you’re aiming for when you fire. Although we only had access to the pool for a short period of time, I remember it being a little stressful, but it was also enjoyable. It resembled a romantic setting but wasn’t one at all. It was somewhat a “rom-comy” scenario. At the very least, it was the mood Alankrita was striving for.
The scene in which Usha and Jaspal first set eyes on one another is reminiscent of a typical, formulaic romantic comedy’s meet-cute. The hesitation, awkward fluttering of Usha’s eyelashes, and Jaspal’s ignorance of the kind of impact he had on her were reminiscent of scenes from American teen comedies in which the girl next door meets the popular jock. The sequence is, of course, also deliciously subversive because we already know that Jaspal and Usha do not end up together. Instead, it is his rejection of her that ultimately allows her to be wholly herself.
“The concept was that these are really ordinary women who have the urge to repress a variety of desires. Additionally, Konkona is keeping her prized microwave a secret (in that mall scene). The purpose was to continuously examine modernity and tradition, desire and ambition, and how those things interact with these ladies. A more lived-in lens was used to depict how one woman may support another woman in practical, everyday ways, the director continued.
When asked if real women had any influence on Ratna’s persona, Alankrita responded, “Bua ji was not inspired by anyone. However, you do notice that these elderly folks continue to hold onto the idea that they lack any sexuality.
The filmmaker still has pleasant memories of Lipstick Under My Burkha’s debut screening in Japan, even though it has been almost six years since that time: “I have great memories of filming it, it was a wild, hectic pace. The performers and crew were fantastic. I will always be grateful to the four women (the primary cast, Ratna Pathak, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ahana Kumra, and Plabita Borthakur) who made the movie possible. I can recall a woman in Japan crying after the initial showing when she simply touched both of our hearts. It was quite emotional.