Why I Took The ‘Coward’s Way Out’ When I Saw Some Men Laugh At ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’


“I am so excited to watch this movie. The wait has been too long,” I excitedly said to my girl-gang as we entered the hall to watch “Lipstick Under My Burkha”.

Much has been talked about this movie which was almost not certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The opinions range from ‘a blow to patriarchy‘ to just ‘being fashionable‘ about women empowerment. However, as the movie progressed, the blunt truth of the present societal structure could not have hit me harder. It was brutal – but most importantly, it was also truthful.

But the most shocking and hard-hitting thing in the entire experience was the attitude of the audience. I remember noticing that a majority of the people present in the theatre were men. I was definitely impressed – the inner me thinking that this movie could actually be a conversation-starter to help dismantle the patriarchal structure.

Nevertheless, the audience reacted in a manner incomprehensible to me – but which was perhaps understandable, given the current socio-political context. Throughout the movie, I could hear the men laughing at particularly haunting scenes – such as the one where Shrin (played by Konkona Sen Sharma) was raped by her domineering husband, or the one where Usha (played by Ratna Pathak Shah) was orgasming with the help of phone sex.

This laughter was not the innocent laughter fuelled by comedy. Instead, it was the snarky laughter I’ve heard from men who sexually harass women, or those who’ve mastered the ‘bad stare’ so well that their gaze seems to penetrate to the bones. Maybe, I had just imagined the intensity of the laughter, as impacted by the contents of the movie. However, when all of my female companions confirmed the same, I could not simply blame my over-active thinking process!

Conversation-starter or a matter of laughter?

At this point, there were many courses of action I could have possibly taken. Instead, I willingly chose to take what many people might consider to be the ‘coward’s way out’. During the interval, I chose to talk about this situation with my friends in a loud voice. The purpose was to ensure that the men who were sitting beside me would at least think twice before laughing and passing comments so inappropriately.

The reader may have two important questions here.

First, if I was so hurt by the behaviour of the men in the hall, why didn’t I gather the courage to speak up?

Yes, I agree. I could have done much more. I could have shouted, screamed and made sure that the issue was brought to notice then and there – rather than pouring my angst behind a brightened computer screen. But in doing so, to whom would I be bringing the issue to attention? The majority who knew exactly what they were doing, or the minority who were fuming at the injustice, or those who did not care about the situation at all?

In shouting my anger out, would I not be ensuring a ‘fake sense of silence’ – while knowing that those men would be waiting to talk about those fantastic sex scenes to their friends, without having understood the nuances of the movie? Moreover, in my act of self-expression, I would also be curbing the right of expression of many other people. Laughter is but laughter. The truth is that they had paid the same amount of money as I had – perhaps, only for laughing!

The second question that could possibly arise is that this was probably a one-off incident. In that sense, am I trying to generalise that all men would act the same? I personally do not think so – just as ‘not all men rape’, ‘not all men’ would laugh at those scenes.

There have been many instances of men appreciating or at least maintaining silence while watching the movie. In fact, during the controversy regarding the certification of the film, Sudhir Mishra, Farhan Akhtar and Kabir Khan questioned the policies of the CBFC. However, realising and accepting that such a situation happened and continues to happen is the need of the hour. The more we decide to ignore it because ‘we cannot do anything about it’ – the more it exacerbates the problem.

In all honesty, there is no magical golden solution to this conundrum. The traditions of a deeply-set patriarchy have made it ‘vulgar’ for a woman to express her sexuality – and even more so, to own it. There is a long way to go before society actually accepts that the ‘personal is political’, thereby bringing ‘personal issues’ to the much-needed limelight.

Such untoward incidents should not make us think that there is no hope in the world. I confess that I could not have felt more shaken, empty and vulnerable after watching and going through the experience of watching the movie. Yet, these raw emotions made me brave enough to no longer hide my voice.

At the end of the movie, one of the lead characters said that perhaps the ‘lipstick wala sapna (the lipstick dream)’ did not come true – but at least, it gave her the strength to dream. Therefore, dream I shall – of a society with true gender equality – one where all genders are respected and one where minority gender groups do not have to cower in fear. Call me utopian, sensitive, and/or idealistic – but dream I shall!