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Filmmaker Alankrita Srivastava is relieved that her film, which the CBFC deemed “a threat to women” and hence banned, will finally arrive in theatres later this month. Ahead of the release, she sits down with indianexpress.com and talks about how inception of Lipstick Under My Burkha came from a lack of internal freedom she feels being a woman and why it is important for every woman to break the inner shackles and embrace the ‘F’ word.
Q. The trailer is quite in your face, it’s crude. Some have loved it, while a few have found it discomforting, unsurprisingly.
Alankrita: It has widened the number of people who know about the film. That was our idea, to reach out to more people. After the film has gone through so much, you are like you just want to say what you want to say – say it like it is and now I just want people to come to the theatres. It changes the way you look at things when you have had a rough journey. We applied for the certificate at the end of December and we got it in June.
Q. After getting huge acclaim at international festivals, how was it to experience a struggle to release it back home?
Alankrita: It was very strange and dichotomous. It was very confusing because there was an excitement about how much the film was being loved internationally and then constantly that feeling that we have to fight for the release in India. But I think it was good that the film was travelling because it was giving me a lot of strength and making me feel I was on the right track. It just gave me so much strength and validation and emotionally, it kept me going because I was like even if it hasn’t released in India, somewhere people are watching it.
Q. How did the film happen?
Alankrita: I was looking to explore this yearning for freedom that I have, I don’t feel fully free and I wanted to explore that. I wanted to set it in a city where there are both old and new parts so that I could explore the juxtaposition. I love Bhopal, I have spent time there but more than that the old Bhopal has a lot of Hindus and Muslims living together. My two characters are Hindus, other two are Muslims and they live in the same structure. I wanted that sense of overlapping.
Q. While this film is set in Bhopal, don’t you think even the women who live in metropolitan cities don’t feel free?
Alankrita: Sometimes, I think it is internal. I’ve been brought up in a liberal set-up and there were no external restrictions to the freedom but there was this internal restriction, which was always there. Sometimes you have feelings of shame, guilt, not feeling good enough, sometimes you enter a room and you feel you don’t own it and you feel when men enter a space, they are so entitled, they feel the world owes them something. Sometimes, we are very apologetic about ourselves and our existence. These were the kind of things I wanted to explore.
Q. You must have come across many women, who appear independent and liberated from the outside, but are not free from within.
Alankrita: Yes, of course. There’s this struggle inside. Someone like me might appear very strong on the outside and might have so many layers of self-doubt and so many vulnerability from within, which is the case with so many people. That feeling of something that has still not happened, is still not well…
Q. How did shooting for Lipstick change things within you?
Alankrita: It has made me grow up as an artiste and a person. I have become stronger and resilient. It has been a very intense and emotionally, a fraught kind of experience. This film hasn’t been easy at all right from the beginning. It has been one of the hardest phases of my life – just making this film. When I was shooting, every day something would go wrong. There were so many times when my assistants told me, ‘Let’s pack up!’
Q. Why do we have a problem showing sex, especially women in charge of it?
Alankrita: We are very prudish about sex. That comes with a Victorian sensibility. That came because we were colonised by the British. We were a socialist country, that means we say no to pleasure, something for fun was always looked at as bad. Many thing played into giving us this strange kind of morality. We had sati and dowry deaths. So, we haven’t been a great country when it comes to women’s equality in any case. The moment women gain control over their sexuality, the power dynamic will change completely. The female body is the sight for the maximum conflict. Everything is vested in her body.
Her body means honour. If she is raped, it is said, ‘poori family barbaad’, if she has an affair, it is ‘naam badnaam kardiya’, she ‘loses’ her virginity… There’s so much that is invested in the female body and her main ‘job’ is to produce children and motherhood is (considered) a great thing. So, sex is the purpose of motherhood or fulfillment of the man. (What) if she subverts it all and says ‘my body is for me’? I feel the greatest sight of conflict between the two sexes is a female body.
Q. Nowadays, there are many voices regarding feminism. But at the same time, there are those who use the term ‘Feminazi’…
Alankrita: It’s awful. How can you do that? It’s very wrong. Women need to own feminism because anyone who says they are not feminists feel that men should be superior. We have a problem, we need to own and love our feminism. You and I are sitting here, we are working women, have education and have the right to vote, are citizens of the country because of feminists. Otherwise we would have been sitting in the kitchen and waiting for the men to come! So, we also need a reality check.
Q. It’s sad to see women shying away from calling themselves as feminists.
Alankrita: That’s because they don’t know any better. They don’t realise. Don’t they want equal pay? Do they want to be sexually harassed? Feminism means no to all that. It means gender equality. They don’t understand. Women slut shame other women. They pass comments like, ‘Look she is so slutty!’ What to do about that? Patriarchy is ingrained not only in men, also in women.