The Lipsticks We Hide Under Our Burkhas

Posted by sanika athavale in Culture-Vulture
July 28, 2017

After a long day of lectures, my friends and I excitedly packed our bags and raced to the nearest cinema hall that was screening “Lipstick Under My Burkha”. Extremely enthusiastic about the film that made it to Indian theaters after months of debate and argument with government authorities, we used our dupattas to imitate the head piece of a burkha and decorated our lips with vibrant shades of pink and red, to support its cause.

We wore our lipstick proudly as it stood for every dream we’ve dreamt – some light and shy as pink, and some bold and strong as bright red.

Throughout the movie, we empathized with every character and left the hall with the hope that this bold piece of work will bring more awareness amongst the masses about female sexuality.

The next day when I excitedly asked a male colleague if he’d watched the movie, he said, “I don’t watch this kind of feminist stuff.”

As much as that staunch chauvinistic, misogynist, sexist reply shocked me, it made me realise the importance of bringing more movies centralised around feminist themes into commercial cinema, for it is such a powerful tool to question, inspire and bring change.

The word ‘lipstick’ here symbolizes a woman’s ambitions and the word ‘burkha’ stands for the visible-cum-invisible obstacle that hinders her path towards the accomplishment of those aspirations.

Apart from bonding over the movie, my friends and I realised that each one of us had a shade of lipstick to hide as it was either too intense for the weak eyes of society or too scandalous for its rigidity. These shades represented our want of professional freedom, right to pursue financial independence, autonomy over our choice of clothes and authority to choose our time of marriage.

It is hard for me to forget the times when I heard women question their wishes. Sometimes, these wishes were trivial (to wear an off-shoulder/crop top, to drink some alcohol at a friend’s wedding, to smoke outside the work premises, to ask a guy out first, to run in an open field, etc), and sometimes extremely significant (to study, to work, to marry late, etc).

Each time a woman wishes for something there is always a cloud of doubt surrounding her. Culture, religion, society have always been impediments and continue to tell us what not to do.

There are workplaces that don’t treat women equally. There are universities that try to tame girls by forcing a dress code on them. There is moral policing. There are families where women don’t dare to dream and in our society, a woman’s importance is measured by her ability to reproduce, clean, and satisfy her husband’s desires.

Female ambitions were never meant to materialise into reality but the current generation has been growing its consciousness about gender equality and the situation has begun to change at a snail’s pace (I am happy that at least the process has started).

There are still a lot of regressive blocks that make modern descendants think of their aspirations as inconsequential. It makes them unconfident of themselves and believes that their dreams are ignominious. These hurdles need to be obliterated in order to empower every woman to lift her veil of insecurity, self-doubt, and fear.

If you think about it, in the film, the hurdles that fall on the road to gender equality could be represented by the burkhas. These hurdles are primarily the mindset of the communities we live in, that impede our vision and focus on what lies ahead of us by adding a black curtain of patriarchy-led ostracism, disempowerment and helplessness. (Here, I’d like the reader to note that the personification of the burkha is metaphorical and has no connection whatsoever with its religious significance)

The movie showcases hidden desires (not only sexual) of four women belonging to different age groups and the societal impediments that stand in their way. It ends by leaving the audience with no typical climax but raises several questions about how the movie should have ended. It bravely brings out the rarely touched topic of female sexuality into light as it elaborates on completely different sexual needs of four women.By doing this, the film implicitly tells us that it is normal and natural for a woman to crave for the kind of sex she enjoys, which must also be accepted by society.

I didn’t feel that there was anything amiss with the story. It was realistic for every woman who understood what it meant to have hopes (lipstick) stuffed under a bed (burkha), never to be given a chance at life.

There will be experts who would comment on the film’s direction, screenplay, etc but as a common viewer and an ardent feminist, I’ll continue to encourage and support works of art or anything for the matter that stand against all forms of discrimination.

There is still time for the ‘burkhas’ to be permanently removed so that our lipsticks can be passionately applied and uninhibitedly seen. A valiant few are doing it in these times of intolerance and controversy. I believe someday there won’t be curtains standing in our way, separating the dreamer from the dreams. Someday, I believe that there won’t be lipsticks hiding under burkhas.