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Lipstick Under My Burkha takes on feminism in Hindi films

Filmmaker Alankrita Shrviastava hopes her film, which makes its global debut at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival, can help foster discussion about the issue among men and women in India. 

TOKYO: It should come as no surprise that filmmaker Alankrita Shrviastava chose to centre her sophomore film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, around four unfulfilled and unhappy Indian women in search of a little freedom.  

The film, which depicts the secret acts of rebellion committed by the women including an oppressed housewife and mother of three and a burqa-clad college girl, is being shown under the Asian Future section of this year’s 29th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), which will run till Nov 3.  

Ever since her 2011 debut with Turning 30!!!, the Indian writer-director has been committed to telling stories about women.

“I feel that the female gaze is important, for example, how the story is being unravelled and whose perspective it is being told and how woman is being portrayed,” Shrviastava told Channel NewsAsia and regional media at the film’s world premiere at TIFF.

“In most mainstream Indian films, the gaze is predominantly men’s and women are often objectified. It is all about how the camera moves over the female body. It just lacks the sensitivity to depict a real woman with texture so that women are either portrayed as the idols, victims or as heroes.

"Among the female directors there are some that unconsciously portray women in stereotype. The important thing is to examine the perspectives of the characters deeply,” she added.

Shrviastava, who has spent the last 13 years working in the film industry, acknowledges her own “unconventional choices as a woman coming from India”, choosing to write and direct films about women instead of marriage and children.

“I think I have chosen to believe in my dreams, despite the harsh reality around me. Having said that, I really do have an empathy for the women who do find it hard to pursue what is perhaps more fulfilling to them,” she said.

“I feel that society also need to make a change. If the woman has courage and determination, she can do a lot. But I feel that sometimes we also judge the woman who do not make the courageous choices.

She added: "I think in the ideal world you will not just consider the pragmatic reality of the lives and continue dreaming. But I think it is really hard and there is a price for it. One has to be really ready to fight it out. I hope that more and more women across Asia will find the courage for dreaming."

BEING A VOICE FOR CHANGE

While Shrviastava admits that not all Indian women go through the exact same experience as it is a diverse country and women who live in big cities have more freedom, she said that “things are difficult for women in India".

Actress Ahana Kumra, who plays Leela in the film, agreed. She felt that the issues seen in the film are the kind of problems women who live in the more cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai have to face.

What about the smaller cities? Are women really allowed to express their feelings? Can they really talk about their desires openly? Maybe not even to the women next to them,” she shared. “If I had a problem in a big city, I can discuss it with a friend. I could just ring her or just send her a Facebook message from across the globe.

"But what about the women in the smaller city? There are lots of challenges which women in the smaller cities have in India. The women face these kinds of problem on a regular basis and they don’t even speak about it.”

That said, both director and actress are ready for a change and they hope their film can help with the process.

There are changes happening right here in India. I’m sure the film will help the voices of change become stronger and speed up the discussions,” said Kumra.We just hope that there is going to be a discussion between men and women of India.”

Shrviastava added: “I do hope that with films and stories and books and various forms of art and culture, we are able to start conversations and make changes by challenging the status quo.”