The censor board in India does not truly represent the citizens of India but filmmakers must be relentless in their pursuit of hard-hitting stories, believes director Alankrita Shrivastava. Alankrita’s film “Lipstick Under My Burkha” had failed to get a clearance from the censor board for being bold, forcing the makers to approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT).
FCAT finally directed the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to grant the film an ‘A’ certificate. The film, starring Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sensharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, opened the 17th edition of the prestigious New York Indian Film Festival here yesterday. Alankrita, joined by Kumra at the festival, said she got huge support for the film from young women and men in India after her film failed to get a clearance from the board.
“I felt that the time is right for us to really push the envelope and tell our stories and share our experiences even though it might be hard. “Even if we lose a few battles, we must continue. There is no other way to make equality, freedom and democracy real for us,” Shrivastava told festival director Aseem Chhabra during a discussion following the screening of the film.
A packed audience, including Pepsi Co Chief Indra Nooyi, author Salman Rushdie and India’s Consul General in New York Ambassador Riva Ganguly Das, attended the screening of the film at the festival, which is the oldest Indian film festival in the US. The festival is organized by Aron Shivdasani-led not- for-profit arts organisation Indo-American Arts Council.
Alankrita said the whole “controversy” over the movie made her realise that “women in India are not as free as we imagine ourselves to be”. “If as women, artistes, filmmakers and as citizens we don’t claim our freedom and if we don’t live it out, then that freedom is going to be very empty,” she said. When asked why the men in the movie come across as “negative”, Shrivastava said the film is really from the point of view of the women and what they are experiencing.
“I feel that the men may come across as negative but they themselves are victims of patriarchy. They are really stuck. They don’t know any other way. I don’t see them as negative. I see them as people who don’t know any better and without thinking they have constantly perpetuated the same thing.”
She said the idea for the film emerged from her own sense of “not feeling fully free” and “always yearning for freedom. I was preoccupied with that thought.” Kumra, who plays a young beautician seeking to escape the claustrophobia of her small town, said she was thrilled to be a part of the movie where she had the opportunity to do a performance-oriented role.
“In India, it is very difficult for women to get good scripts. I’m sure it happens the world over but you don’t get these kind of scripts everyday. It is actually a performance- oriented role,” Kumra said. Set in Bhopal, the film explores the lives of four women who are trapped in their own worlds but who claim their desires through secret acts of rebellion in small town India.
Shrivastava said in India there are so many women who are living “unfulfilled marriages and don’t talk about it”. “So many women never experience sexual fulfilment. They don’t even know what that means and are spending all their energy just fulfilling the role of a wife. For me, these characters (for the film) emerged very naturally,” she said.
The film won the The Spirit of the Asia Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at the Festival International de Films de Femmes. The week-long festival will close with the North American premiere of Milind Dhaimade’s “You Are My Sunday”, a slice- of-life comedy about five close friends who struggle to find a place to play soccer in Mumbai every Sunday.
The festival will also showcase premieres of 44 shorts, documentaries and feature films as well as pay tributes to India’s iconic actor Om Puri through the Sensharma-directed “A Death In The Gunj”. Also in the line-up is the screening of “Ventilator” and “Sarvaan”, produced by actor Priyanka Chopra.