Adding to the pile of censorship issues we’ve had to deal with, the most recent decision to ban award winning film Lipstick Under My Burkha has led to an outrage across the country — and understandably so. Jagruti Verma & Khevna Pandit spoke to a few people to gauge public opinion
When Alankrita Shrivastava was handed a poorly spelled and ineloquent letter that informed her about the ban of her film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, it started another one of those much-needed conversations about equality, censorship, the arts and of course, freedom of speech and expression. The film was banned for several reasons, including that it contained certain sexual scenes and being too lady-oriented among others. By now you’ve probably read all the flimsy reasons why it won’t be screened. The critically acclaimed film, which revolves around four women of different age groups who rediscover their sexual desires and fantasies, continues to win accolades at festivals around the world. Although several films have seen their fair share of controversy through the years, the ban of this ‘lady-oriented’ film in particular has sparked a different level of outrage that we find ourselves on the same page with. While many believe that the film takes a progressive approach portraying Indian woman, there are some out there who think that the country isn’t ready for it yet. We decided to speak with a few people in the industry to find out what they think.
PORTRAYING REAL ON REEL
The question about whether we are ready for a hard-hitting narrative that shows us the real lives of women in our society today comes into the picture when we talk to Smita Gondkar about the ban. The Marathi cinema actor tells us, “Judging by the trailer, the film looks interesting. Of course, I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say much about it. The characters too seem to have been derived from real people, which adds a genuineness to the narrative.” However, she believes that the portrayal goes against long perpetuated images of the customs and traditions followed by women in our society. She adds, “The fact remains that the reality of today’s women won’t change.” She disagrees with the ban, saying that filmmaker’s should have freedom of expression, and nothing is larger than the truth, even if it may seem harsh sometimes. Closing our eyes and mind towards it, she says, won’t change the facts. “It takes a lot of courage to face the truth,” she adds.
MISREPRESENTATION & DISCRIMINATION
Another issue highlighted during this conversation is that women are often simply portrayed as objects to lust after in our films, and so, it’s sad that a narrative which actually focuses on their lives, wants and desires, is suddenly frowned upon. Sanchaita Ghoshal, a Hindustani classical vocalist and the co-founder of Raagreet tells us, “On one hand, we have women wearing close to nothing and dancing around on the screen being applauded, and on the other, a story is denied screening because it is too ‘lady-oriented’. It would be okay if they give it an A certificate, but making it hard for the film to be released at all is discriminatory and unfair.” We have to say we agree there.
THESE ARE UNCOMFORTABLE TOPICS TO DISCUSS
Just because a story talks about a certain community, doesn’t mean that it is defamatory to its identity. Shiv Relan, founder of The Indian Music Channel, thinks that people need to understand that cinema is not a religious property or necessarily representative of cultures and religions as a whole. He says, “Lipstick Under My Burkha is not a film based on religion. It is an artistic piece about individuality, experiences and the lives of women. A couple of years ago, the film Oh My God also faced similar controversy. Even then, it wasn’t about insulting certain Gods, but starting a conversation about the superstitions that are widely believed.” According to him, it is high time people began to make the distinction between propaganda and art, and allow art the freedom of expression to flourish without restrictions.
CINEMATIC EXPRESSION IS UNDER THREAT
Arnesh Ghose, the founder and director of The Mirror Merchants Theatre Company, thinks it’s silly to be stuck in the rut of discussing gender issues and finds it sad that we have been unable to evolve into a society where the conversation is a healthier, more mature one. He says, “On a technical level, this is something that has happened to a couple of films in the past, including Haraamkhor, where the makers have been forced to go to a higher legal authority and fight for the release of their film.” Especially after the Udta Punjab controversy, where the Central Board of Film Certification was clearly told that their job was just to certify the film and they couldn’t ask for cuts in the manner that they did, these incidents are on the rise. “I saw this film at the MAMI Film Festival last year and I can tell you how wonderful it is! I hope Alankrita and the team are able to fight the ban and release it in our country, so that people have the opportunity to watch it.”
IT MAY NOT BE MAINSTREAM ENOUGH
Manasi Chandu, a second year media student, saw the movie at MAMI last year. And, although she loved the film from the first frame to the last, she has mixed emotions when it comes to the controversy. She says, “I think it’s a film that is way ahead of its time and our society won’t be able to accept it. Although they have done a great job portraying the four stories, people may assume that it’s against their culture. It may lead to protests if it is released. Although I completely disagree with the ban, I understand why it happened. It’s a film meant for the art industry.” While she may be right about the intolerance in certain sections of the society, we’re not entirely convinced that this means the film should not or cannot be one of the few pieces of art that will help make stories like this mainstream.
While films go back and forth with the censors, and we look to foreign characters for inspiring, women-centric roles (we’re still waiting for someone to create a show about strong, independent women, where they are in lead roles and not simply supporting characters), there are a few instances where we weren’t entirely disappointed by portrayals on our own television sets. Unfortunately, they’re all still riddled with drama and stuck in a time-warp, but we’re hoping new ones take a hint to combine these tiny bits into a spectacular show somewhere down the line.
Talk the talk Balika Vadhu has touched upon child marriage, widow remarriage and the importance of education for women empowerment. Although it may not have kept it up till the end, we loved the promising start of the conversation.
Seeking support A wife with dreams, ambitions and who is more educated than her husband, we saw a couple beat the odds in Diya Aur Baati Hum. We loved the support system here, that society definitely needs more of.
Tackling sensitive issues When in 2004, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi showed a 15-minute long marital rape scene, the makers had to face outrage and legal action. Subsequent episodes highlighted the importance of consent, starting a much needed dialogue about the issue.